#NotAllMen Perhaps, but Every Woman Has Been Harassed

Gender

#NotAllMen Perhaps, but Every Woman Has Been Harassed

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

“She shouldn’t have stepped out at that hour.”

“What was she wearing?”

“She probably asked for it.”

These are arguments that often surface when a woman takes a stand for herself against the harassment inflicted on her by men. The harassment could be anywhere from “harmless” flirting or light sexual harassment to rape, but fingers have always been pointed right back at the victim, their choice of outfit and the time of the day as if the problem to the crimes lay there. In 2020, the situation is barely any different. But women have had enough of the world’s misogyny.

The horrific gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in UP’s Hathras, which continues to be politicised, has now taken the route of victim-blaming.

Over the past weeks, the brutal Hathras gang-rape has been a grave reminder that even in death, women will continue to be vilified. BJP leader Ranjeet Srivastava is a prime example of such ignorance and sexism. The 67-year-old not only denied that the young woman was raped but also questioned her character, and that of other rape victims. In a viral video, Srivastava can be heard asking why “such women” are found in millet fields only, and alleged that Hathras victim was having an affair. In the sorry state of our nation, for people like Srivastava, it is easier to believe that the rape and murder is a political ploy by the Opposition instead.

Srivastava’s statement is only a reflection of his own vile, regressive mindset, and sadly he wasn’t the only one in denial. The UP police too dismissed any evidence of sexual assault but scurried to burn the victim’s body against the family’s pleas. Rather than honouring the law, the cops barricaded the victim’s kin in their house telling them, “Aap log bhi maaniye ki aap se bhi galti hua hai”. Whether the mistake lay in the victim being a woman, or a woman born into the bottom of an anarchic hierarchy remains unanswered.

The victim blame game only worsened when the media got their hands on the call data records of the accused and victim’s kin, insinuating that the victim and the accused were “probably friends” who were “trying to resolve an issue”.

Too bad the victim isn’t even alive to defend herself. But would she have any takers? Meanwhile, the lawyer who defended “Nirbhaya’s” rapists and violators, is now going to defend the accused in the Hathras case. He is the man who famously said, “Should I not ask what the girl was doing with the boy so late at night? It is part of the evidence.” Just like Srivastava in 2020, Singh had made similarly hollowed claims against the 2012 Delhi gang-rape victim. In fact, the man of law had also stated that he wouldn’t hesitate to douse his own daughter in petrol and burn her if she “moved around with her boyfriend at night” and had “premarital sex”.

Even in this vitiated backdrop, women in India are sharing personal stories of harassment, sadly a daily part of their lives. At least there is some measure of solidarity online.

A few days ago, a Twitter user shared events from her cycling routine over the past two months. “I have gone at 5 am, 6 am, 7 am, 7 pm, 8 pm, 9 pm. I have one bad experience at least, no matter which time slot,” she recounted. “I love cycling and walking but I never do it without fear.”

In a series of tweets, user @keepsitrustic highlights how “what time did she step out” does not matter. It does little to guarantee her safety. “I was smacked on the butt 3 weeks back, AT 6.30 am,” she stressed.

She further pointed out that she is always fully dressed, knows how to defend herself but has never been able to, and avoids lanes with less traffic while cycling.

She mentioned two incidents in particular, that could send a chill down any woman’s spine for these are not isolated situations. They never are.

“And every other man on the road is a potential threat.”

What does it mean to be carefree? No woman has the answer.

The thread has caught the attention of many Twitter users, mostly women, who have narrated similar stories in response.

What really is a “safe” neighbourhood?

#NotAllMen perhaps, but unsurprisingly every woman.

Does it really take a pandemic to ensure women’s safety from leering men? What’s the cure for this social pandemic?

When a TikTok user posed the question “what would you do if there were no men on earth for 24 hours?”, the comment section was a heartbreaking reminder of the society we live in.

Many women only wished to do the most mundane of tasks, a sense of freedom and safety that wasn’t granted to them in daily life, walking alone in the middle of the night being one of the common responses.

A reality check.

Imagine how tired we are.

What we need isn’t victim-blaming, and women being told how brave they are for voicing their trauma. No time of the day or piece of clothing could ever justify actions that force women to be “brave” in the first place. It shouldn’t have to be a fight to merely live.

Where are women safe and free? Someday we’ll find the answer we hope to hear. Until then, it’s nowhere.

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