#BoysLockerRoom: old story, new outrage

There is no piecemeal solution. If you want to get out of the boys locker room, you will have to burn it down, I write in FirstPost.

Take a good look at the locker room. It’s where we live. Here’s WhatsApp Uncle with his daily forward of sexist, offensive ‘jokes’ about wives under lockdown. There’s filmmaker-wala Uncle with his twitter meme from some years ago on what makes the Nano the safest car for women (because they can’t get gang-raped in it). A pregnant Safoora Zargar is arrested and sent to jail under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Kapil Mishra, the Delhi BJP’s motor-mouth, comments: “Please don’t connect her pregnancy with my speech. It doesn’t work that way.”

If you are as outraged as I am over the leaked screenshots of #BoisLockerRoom – an Instagram handle where teenage boys (and a few girls) shared obscene messages and screenshots of underage girls — but found any of the other instances above ok, just harmless fun yaar, then, yes, you live in the locker room.

It’s an old concept that went global when Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, was caught on a hot mike bragging about his ability to grab women. Just locker room stuff he said and won the election.

Locker room ‘banter’ is a raging epidemic, except, unlike Covid-19, nobody really talks about it or seems interested in pushing for a cure.

Wage a battle against India’s rape culture

India can solve its rape problem. The question is: Do we want to?

Protest against rape/Creative Commons.

A week after an “encounter” with Telangana police left four rape and murder-accused men dead, it might not be out of place to ask if India has solved its endemic problem of violence against women.

Have men stopped raping women, or killing them, or dousing them with acid, or beating them just because women talked back, didn’t heat dinner adequately or simply because the men felt like it?

Sadly, no. We’ve done the easy part — brought in tough laws, sanctioned fast-track courts, reduced the age of juveniles, and raised the age of consent. Now comes the hard part of mindset change, of demonstrating the will to stamp out violence against women, of realising there are no short-cuts or half-measures. To stamp out rape, you must battle all forms of gender-based violence.

Are we beyond redemption? I believe we are not. The first prescription is to demonstrate political will. In 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office, he asked parents to rein in their sons. That message needs to be repeated. Often. We need a clear message of zero tolerance to violence.

What we talk about when we talk about rape

A new book by my friend and college room-mate  Sohaila Abdulali explores the idea that victims of sexual violence are not broken beings. Awful as it is, rape is survivable, and those who have been raped are deserving and capable of happiness again. 

I don’t remember the precise moment when my then college roommate, Sohaila Abdulali, told me about being gangraped when she was 17. It was just an incontestable fact of her life: she was from Mumbai, she loved to dance, her parents grew orchids, she had been raped.

This is not to imply that being raped was not a big deal. It was. If I remember correctly, this is how she explained it. “It’s like being run over by a bus and getting terribly hurt. You might never fully recover from your injuries. But you go on living. You can be happy again.”

In the three decades that Sohaila has remained my friend, she has never let that single event define her life, even though it is an inseparable part of who she is. Three years after being raped and while writing her undergraduate thesis on rape in India, she created a minor stir by writing about her own experience for Manushi. Nobody, at least not in India, had ever written about being raped. Nobody had run such an article with their photograph.

Continue reading “What we talk about when we talk about rape”

Abuse of Children in India’s Institutions Reveals Nationwide Crisis of Reform

In IndiaSpend, I look at the state of India’s shelter homes for children to discover endemic abuse and, worse, absolute apathy. 

She has no memory of her early childhood, no recollection of her biological parents and no idea of how or why she got separated from them when she was about three years old.

What she does remember is the day she arrived at the Udayan Home for girls in south Delhi.

“I had then been living at a government-run shelter for some years,” said Ritu, who often uses Udayan as her last name. “I must have been around six years old when this lady came to take three of us away, to give us a life. It was so exciting. I had never sat in a car. Never been anywhere. I was curious about everything.”

Now 25, Ritu is one of the exceptional ones who grew up in a shelter home and found a family. She calls Kiran Modi, the founder of Udayan homes, her bua (aunt, or father’s sister) and the two girls who came to Udayan with her, sisters.

“I had a perfectly normal childhood, going to school, going to the park to play and getting the kind of pampering any child would get in a loving home,” said Ritu, who played basketball for her school team. “I was so pampered and so protected that when I left Udayan, I was scared about how I would cope in the outside world.”

Not every child placed in an institution is as lucky.

Continue reading “Abuse of Children in India’s Institutions Reveals Nationwide Crisis of Reform”

It’s time we recognised that men can get raped too

Now that we are making our child sexual offences law gender neutral, isn’t it time we started talking about adult male rape survivors?

Sohaila Abdulali is telling me about the time many years ago when a man called up a Rape Crisis Centre in the US. He had been raped by a teacher some years ago, he said. But men can’t possibly be raped, replied the people at the centre, and hung up.

This would be unthinkable today, says Abdulali whose book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is out in October. The fact that men too are victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape is a no-brainer. “Rape is a horrible violation,” she says. “Why would it be any less for a man?” Continue reading “It’s time we recognised that men can get raped too”

The bigot in my drawing room

In Hindustan Times: Atul Kochhar is the symbol of a far more widespread problem – the normalization of prejudice against Muslims.

I run into my college friend after a gap of some years. Post the usual small-talk, she wants to know my views on the tolerance/intolerance debate. I tell her I am worried about the erosion of this country’s social fabric in recent years.

Elaborate, she says.

Muslims, I tell her, at least the ones I speak to, are scared of living in this new India. They worry that they are being watched all the time. They worry that the mutton they cook at home could at any minute turn into beef and this would have deadly consequences for them. They worry about their children. They are just scared.

Good, she says. They should be scared. Continue reading “The bigot in my drawing room”

Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country

In IndiaSpend: Anti-trafficking activist Sunitha Krishnan, one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity spoke to me on sex slavery, rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking and death for raping children.

New Delhi: She’s dodged an acid attack, had a fatwa issued against her and survived 17 separate physical assaults. But Sunitha Krishnan, 46, doesn’t seem to be the sort of person to be easily disheartened. The founder of Prajwala, an organisation that describes itself as a “pioneering anti-trafficking organisation working on the issue of sex trafficking and sex crime”, has just been chosen as one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, a global humanitarian award established to recognize modern day heroes.  The prize-winner gets $100,000 (Rs 66.3 lakh) and an additional $1,000,000 (Rs 6.63 crore) to distribute to organisations doing humanitarian work.

Continue reading “Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country”

Laws by public emotion

In response to public outrage against a spate of reported rapes of children, the government has now brought in an ordinance that imposes death to anyone convicted of raping a girl below 11. Why I think this ordinance won’t work, and what I think will.
The remarkable fact about recent Indian law-making, particularly when it comes to crimes against women, is that it seems to be based entirely on public emotion.

Public anger against the gang-rape of a physiotherapy student in December 2012 led to tough new amendments to the law against sexual violence.

It was public anger again – media folklore had it that the juvenile rapist in that crime was the ‘most violent’ — that led to the lowering of the age of delinquency from 18 to 16. What if the rapist is aged 14, asked one MP, Anu Agha. Notwithstanding that objection, Parliament voted to reduce the age in line with public opinion.

Continue reading “Laws by public emotion”

Why women are falling off the employment map

The murder of a woman in Alwar points to India’s most shockingly under-reported story on why nearly 200 lakh women have quit jobs.

All Usha Devi wanted was to give her kids a good education. The wife of a construction worker knew that her husband’s income was not enough to educate her children, Tanuja, 15, and Dheeraj, 10, and, so, she took a job at a plastic factory.

Not everyone was pleased. Incensed that she was ‘going against Rajput tradition’, her husband’s uncle, Mamraj Singh, objected and, when she refused to quit, hacked her to death on March 15. Mamraj Singh has since been arrested and the murder weapon, a sword, has been recovered. Meanwhile, at Alwar district, Rajput villagers are reportedly collecting funds for the children’s education. Continue reading “Why women are falling off the employment map”

The lamentable humiliations of Hadiya

At the heart of this controversy lies not so much the right of a woman to choose her religion and spouse, but society’s attitude to women.

We should be grateful for small mercies. On International Women’s Day, a day when hashtags were declaring ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘My Body is Mine’, our highest court reaffirmed a more basic right: the right of an adult citizen — woman citizen, I should clarify — to marry.

Social media was split into two camps: Those still convinced that the 24-year-old Hadiya was a victim of brainwashing and, thus, incapable of making rational choices, and those celebrating the court-ordered granting of her ‘freedom’. Continue reading “The lamentable humiliations of Hadiya”