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.)