Speak Up!

Swapna Narayanan

#MeToo seems to have rocked our nation this time around with stories tumbling out of closets. Some believable, some shocking, and some deeply upsetting. And, as with all things of late, the country is strongly polarised and divided into two factions. One that believes these women and wants them to get justice, and the other that wonders why were the women silent for so long if the incident indeed happened.

Well – to all those who belong to the latter – do you even realise how deeply ingrained the thought of keeping quiet is, in the heads and hearts of every woman in this country? The society has subconsciously drilled into our heads that if I speak up, me and my family will be in trouble, and not the person who misbehaved with me.

It is not that they did not think about raising it then, maybe they did talk it out with their sounding boards. But probably they got the most common response – ‘rehne de yaar‘ or ‘chod, jaane de‘.

Talk to any woman in this country, she can list innumerable instances where men – known or unknown – have misbehaved with her and she has chosen to keep quiet about it.

speak up 3It is so unfortunate that all this begins as soon as one is just a few years old, and invariably the first encounter of such misbehaviour is someone from the close circle of family or friends. And even if one takes the courage and speak about it to one’s parents, it is never taken seriously. For the fear of ridicule, name shaming, and what not.

Harassment in family functions, festivals (specifically Holi), at schools, on the roads, at the workplace is always going on. I once was hit on the chest by a Government School boy standing on the road while I was in a moving cycle rickshaw when I was in Class 5. Though I had a very supportive mother who came back with me in the same rickshaw to catch the boy, the damage was done to my psyche. The laughing boy had a few seconds of happiness and I have a lifelong feeling of disgust and some deep scars in my mind which I have probably not yet got over!

While these incidents leave a deep impact on the women, what happens to men who take on the women in their surroundings with a sense of entitlement? Nothing.

Dear men, have you ever tried living a life bound by the invisible chains of decorum, modesty, appropriate behaviour etc.? At home or walking around the roads with your hands, feet and mouth tied? Try it. I am sure you all – who cannot even adjust and sit with your legs close to each other in a bus – will not be able to live like this for even a week, leave alone a lifetime. Well, we women have been doing this since we were born!

While I am not equipped to discuss or pass a judgment about these women who have opened up recently, I do know that going forward at least none of us should keep quiet.speak up 4 No girl should go through any form of harassment or misbehaviour and then be asked to keep quiet. Or worse, do not open up at all fearing the ridicule from the world around.

Teach your daughters to open up and speak up then and there. Empower them to give it back to the perpetrators and not take any misbehaviour lightly. Encourage them to be bold and not cow down to any threats.

And most importantly – hear them when they walk up to you and complain. And do not shun them or worse advise them to keep quiet.

speak up 2

I live to see a day when young girls and woman are no longer hesitant and immediately call out and speak up against those who misbehave with her.

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