Musings

The deafening silences

The rattling noise of skeletons tumbling out of India’s cupboards keeps me awake all night. For the fourth night in a row. The roar of India’s #metoo revolution rages on in the media. The high and mighty are being pushed down from their pedestals. But the mind is very turbulent.  It is pitch dark — both on the outside and inside.

And then it occurs to me that that nothing is ever forgotten.

(Watercolour by Consilia Karli. Used with permission)

The breach of trust by someone who was sent to bring you back from school. The shock of being awakened from your sleep by a filthy hand within your clothes. The bile of disgust at being groped by a stranger in a bus. The anger of being touched inappropriately by a colleague. The horror of being asked by a teacher to meet him alone after college. The seething anger on being denied a room in the resident’s hostel by a hostel warden because you “didn’t have a boyfriend”. The confusion of a new bride on being pawed by a brother-in-law she barely recognized. The revulsion of seeing a senior professor fondle a young patient with a breast lump. The nauseating vulgarities yelled out on your morning walk. The revolting comments from fellow passengers on a train who know you are travelling alone.

Despite all the years. Each memory is just as vivid. Just as painful. None of these people or incidents are a figment of my imagination. How many of these incidents were reported? All. And the action taken on the perverts? Zero.

It takes an enormous battle with oneself to put yourself out in the open. You know the fingers will point at you. Why did you go alone? Why did you trust him? She is doing it for the attention. Distressing stories posted by courageous women, devoured with lascivious intent. Is it worth all this effort? Your predators are not celebrities. They are people you have lived with and worked with— people you trusted. How do women pay for saying no? They lose jobs and their freedom to move. They are denied posts and promotions which they deserved — for standing up to bullies and bastards. They are humiliated in seminars and meeting rooms for their rebuffs. They are given embarrassing labels.

But my battle is not with the perpetrator of these crimes.  We can’t expect depraved minds to react differently. I see the reaction of men and women on a group of professionals. One meme after another is forwarded. Why didn’t she report it earlier? She used him to climb up the ladder.  A strong woman doesn’t need this revolution. A slap would have sufficed. And the repeated refrain of why men no longer feel safe. It goes on ad nauseum. A supposedly hilarious forward goes: Thank God none of the chotis (slang for student nurse) have said #metoo yet or all the doctors would be finished. What was that? Truth concealed in a forwarded message? Confessions of the power equation in hospital wards? This is supposed to be laughing matter. Lots of smileys and thumbs ups being shared. Not an ounce of shame. Not a morsel of regret. Unashamed pretence that all is well. Complete denial. I am imagining their reaction (or lack of it), god forbid, if one of their children succumbs to one of these predators.

My contention is with all those men and women who support these crimes with their silences. The parent who didn’t believe their child’s truth. The spouse who thought that the family’s pride was more important than calling out a molester. The teacher who shielded another teacher by asking students to hush up. The friend who pretended not to hear when help was being desperately asked for. The exalted souls who sermonized you to heal because ‘the fabric of your nature has been spoiled’ by the act.

To all those who stood in judgement and denial when faced with the ugly truth.  It is you, the dumb and voiceless, who perpetrate the vicious cycle of sexual harassment with your deafening silences.  Washing your hands off this revolution is going to be mighty expensive. The sins of looking away will catch up sooner than you imagine.  For this isn’t happening on another planet. This is happening in your homes and workplaces. Speak up before it is too late.

(The painting is a work by 19 year-old Emma Krenzer. It depicts the lasting impact touch can have on an individual.)

10 Comments

  • Neena

    By far the most honest, most poignant, most stirring writing on #MeToo that I have read. Dr Anshu – “Deafening Silences” articulates this many-layered complex issue so well.

    Only yesterday I wrote on FB about sexual harassment at what we call home & family. You put is simple & straight –

    “The spouse who thought that the family’s pride was more important than calling out a molester”

    Many thanks to Dr Sita Naik for sharing the link , thereby leading me to your blog

    in appreciation
    neena

    • Anshu

      Thank you Dr Neena. It has taken a lot of emotional upheaval and distress to write this. I kept putting it off until I could no longer do so.

  • Saumya Shivkumar

    Stunning and an absolutely elaborate piece. This is relatable at so many levels because if not a victim we all have in the tiniest ways been witnesses to one or the other. And how humiliating is it for someone to put herself or himself in this vulnerability again, to revisit those haunting memories with a hope to voice out against the unfair. It makes me question that why are the norms Normal in a way where women need to fear as much but definitely those scoundrels remain care free even when they’ve silenced an innocent soul.
    Like Oprah said when she was receiving the prestigious Cecil b demile award.. “women who have endured years of abuse and assault, because they – like my mother – had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know” and in the very next line she said “but their time’s up. Their TIME IS UP!”
    With this #metoo movement… this one spark, I wish THEIR time is genuinely up. But i think there should be a very clear demarcation as to what is considered harrasment and what is not. You can’t bring up your personal boyfriend girlfriend quarrels and call them abuse and fade this revolution in a wrong way. It may be just a chance for you but for many their entire dignity is at stake.. In the hope that probably someday no woman or man would ever have the need to say #meToo and would go places with heads up and without a number of the saviour in her or his speed dial.

    • Anshu

      Yes Saumya. The people who question intent when a woman dares to speak up neglect the fact that there is nothing she has to gain by being in the limelight. It is being vulnerable to the same violation that she went through earlier. Who wants to relive those haunting times again?

  • Niranjan Chogle

    Perfect blog. It’s a good response to the way some people show indifference to the metoo movement, and make poor jokes about it.

    • Anshu

      Clearly a lot more education is needed. Treating a woman poorly was always a birth right. Many feel uncomfortable because they have been guilty of ‘minor crimes’ along with the herd…which are no longer labelled minor.

  • Upreet Dhaliwal

    Brutal. Honest.
    Anshu, you’ve killed it!
    I have tears – of anger, of frustration, and of sorrow.
    I’m nearly 57 years old – I look over my shoulder still.
    There are so many wonderful men who don’t objectify women – and yet, there are many who still do. To some, it’s just a joke, and yet the consequence is that I’m always looking over my shoulder.
    Half a century of ‘ignore’, ‘ignore’, ‘ignore’ – time to end the deathly, deadly, deafening silence.

  • Saunved

    The painting gave me the chills, and so did the post. Some people call this the “third wave of feminism”, the first being in the 1970s, and the second in the 1990s. They say that there will be more waves and that this will die down like the ones before. I laugh at them.

    The difference between now and then is the presence of the internet and social media in our lives. The fact that one hashtag can begin an entire revolution is proof that this time there is no “wave”. This time it’s a purge – a societal, mental purge that has been long overdue; and I’m happy that equality seems much closer than it has ever before (we still have lots of work to do before we get there though!)

  • Monika Kalra

    Right from the heart and true to the core!
    Brutally honest, sad and enraging…..
    It’s women like you who will bring about this much needed change!!!
    Super proud of you!

    Love the painting by Emma Krenzer!

Leave a Reply