It's not okay for you to look at me that way
I was 12 when we moved from Boston, USA to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It was a huge culture shock for me. I had been living with my family in the States for over five years and I could do what I pleased there. I went to a co-ed school. We went out in groups for movies and lunches. When Madonna burst on the scene, I wore short skirts and tights. I used to go alone to the market to buy groceries for the family. I interacted with old men who were cashiers to young boys who picked things from the top shelf for me. I wore short dresses, shorts, and any old rubbish that was the fashion then. My mom hardly said anything to me as long as my grades were good. That was my life in the States.
Then I came back to my country. Mom left all my clothes there. She told me she would get me a new wardrobe. I was most excited until I realized it was all salwar kameezes and an occasional long skirt with a chikankari full sleeve kurta thrown in. I grumbled. Why did I have to wear this when I was far more comfortable in shorts in the heat of summer in a place that had frequent power cuts and no generator to even keep a fan on? Mom told me that things were done differently here. People would look at me strangely and she didn't want anything bad to happen. I told her no one was allowed to look at me differently; I would scream at them and report them to the police. I was taught that in the US school. She laughed and said the police themselves would stare and not be on my side. And the perpetrators would throw acid on me if they saw me again. From then on, I have never worn shorts again. I have been scared in my own country of what I wear, how I behave, and whom I talk to.
It's not ok.
I thought things would change and I would prove to my mother that the world I live in has become better. But it hasn't.
In Dec 2009 - The Chief Minister of Goa said that women should not roam the streets at night if they didn't want to get raped.
On Dec 14th 2011, The Brahmin Samaj of Muzaffarnagar in UP declared that jeans were "provocative".
On July 2011 the Delhi Police commissioner declared that women were not allowed to drive alone at 2 in the morning and "not ask" to be raped.
There is no reason for a man to rape a woman.
Whether a woman chooses to wear certain clothes, be out at certain times of the night, be drunk silly and flirt, be loose with her language, be at ease with the "boys", have mood swings, and so and so forth. There is no reason for a man to be provoked. There is no reason for him to think it will be ok for him to force himself on her. He CAN NEVER think that he has authorities on his side that will let him get away with it. A man HAS to be courteous. It is his birthright.
People in power need to be more sensitive.
They cannot make statements that allow men to take an inch. We need political parties taking a stand against rape. We need the police to throw the man in jail if a woman files a complaint. We need academicians propounding the theory that men need to respect women no matter what, at home and outside. We need religious groups to tell their sects that women are goddesses and shall be revered at all cost. We need authority figures at homes to not tell women to "wear something else". We need this to happen now!
We cannot be a regressive country. I hardly care how the world perceives us. I don't give a damn if the foreign investors don't come to India. But I do care how I live and how I want my daughter to live. I don't want her to wear only salwar kameezes. I want her to hold her head high in whatever she wears, wherever she goes and whomever she talks to. I want her to know that in her country, the police will back her without looking her up and down. That the Vice chancellor of her University will not lecture on inappropriate dressing. And that she can stand and fight for her rights wherever she is in India, even if it is a small town and she need never be afraid of an acid attack. That's the India I envision for her.
For that to happen we need to bring up our children to respect every woman, even if it is the maid. To sensitise our fathers, uncles, sons, husbands, lovers, and then our community to understanding women better. It's not about women's attire. Respect them for who they are in whatever they wear. Be aware of how women think. Make it important. Do not associate with men who think that women are just sexual objects. It is no longer a joke. It is no longer a "let it be" attitude. It needs to change. Now.
Women cannot let men get away with misdemeanours. If there is eve teasing, it needs to be reported. If a man is rude in the house, it needs to be pointed out. If any person in authority has said something that offends and causes harm, it needs to be raised in the media. We must garner support and change the outlook of every single person who thinks it is solely the woman's fault. Women themselves need to be aware. They need to realize that it is not how women dress that causes rape. It is a man's sick mind. Period. There is no but, and, or to it. They need to be proud of being a woman.
Let that be our resolution for 2012. A common goal. Even if it is uncomfortable in the short run. Even if it takes time. Let us start.
Then we can truly be a better society for each other. And our kids.
More about Madhuri BanerjeeMadhuri is a comprehensive media professional, having worked in all forms of the visual medium -as a Senior Producer with Zoom TV, advertisements with White Light Motion Pictures, Director in her own production house Gray Matter Solution, documentaries as a freelancer with PSBT and commercial Bollywood films as an Assistant Director. She has worked with stalwarts like Subhash Ghai, Kaizad Gustad and Rohan Sippy, and music director Anu Malik. Madhuri graduated from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi with a Bachelor’s degree in English Honours. She continued her education acquiring a Master’s in Mass Communication and Films from Jamia Millia Islamia. Her thesis film, 'Between Dualities' won her the National Award for best documentary on women’s issues. She is an avid reader, world traveler, and film watcher. She gives relationship advice in a column called Love Guru in the Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle every alternate Monday. She has currently finished working on a commercial film script. Her debut book 'Losing My Virginity And Other Dumb Ideas' sold over 40,000 copies in the first year of its release and was on the best seller list for over 10 weeks. Her second novel 'Mistakes Like Love And Sex' is a sequel and was released in November 2012. It’s already on the best seller list. She has her own website www.madhuribanerjee.com is active on Twitter as @Madhuribanerjee, has a Facebook page for Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas, writes for the CNN-IBN blog called Chastity Belt and has her own blog www.madhuribanerjee.blogspot.com which already has over 1,44,000 views.
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