Will Mamta Sharma please shut up?

Book update: Confessionally Yours, my first novel, should be out in book stores soon. In the meanwhile, you're most welcome to preorder with uread.com

I was recently asked by Outlook magazine (ie one of their journo's) to contribute 500 words on how Indian urban women are unsafe and how India is becoming a nation of voyeurs. Below is the original piece that was submitted to Outlook.

The magazine has used some quotes from the piece that appear in its current 'Obama- Underachiever' issue (July 30, 2012). You can read the Outlook story here.
(Correction: The story mentions 'Calcutta' against my name; it should say Melbourne. The first-ever groping/grabbing incident happened in then-Calcutta, but I don't live there)

The Righteous Mob or Will Mamta Sharma Please Shut Up?

I am 33 years old and my first time was when I was 14. I was wearing perfectly “modest” clothes – National Commission for Women (NCW) would approve – and was walking down New Market, Calcutta, with my mother. Mamta Sharma of NCW please note, it is not Western culture to walk with your mother.

A balloon vendor grabbed my right breast, while my mother helplessly watched. As I yelled at him, Ma dragged me away, “Scene create koro na,” she whispered urgently (don’t make a scene). We were surrounded by at least 20 men; most either laughing or leering. No one helped.

By 19, I was a second year media student with a penchant for “making scenes”. Every incident had the perpetrator, me and the crowd that gathered around and watched. No one has ever helped. There have been times I’ve dragged a man to a police constable. Each and every time I’ve been told – by the cops – “Madame, he is saying sorry, jaane do, don’t make tamasha.”

In the 20 years since that first time, some things have changed, some haven’t. While the police still don’t react or do much about sexual harassment (or rape complaints, or eve-teasing), the crowd/mob is no longer content to just watch. It wants to participate. The perpetrator has now become a collective entity. I suppose now my mother would say, “Don’t or the mob will molest/beat you.”

So what happened? How is it that despite India’s ‘largest democracy’ tag, we are closely emulating the Taliban when it comes to our views towards our women?

Each time a Guwahati happens, women are reminded of the dire consequences if they forget their rightful place – at home, not after 6pm, never alone, always accompanied, not in Western clothes and heavens forbid, never at a pub. Yet there are women who’ve been molested at temples, fully clothed and accompanied by parents. There are no answers to that and no one ever helps.

For the woman in the city – any city, anywhere in India – it doesn’t matter what clothes she wears, the company she keeps or the places she does/doesn’t visit. She knows she could be the next ‘Guwahati’ victim/target simply because the Righteous Mob might decide she is not doing the right thing (read “Indian” thing). She cannot and does not expect help from any quarter.

The Righteous Mob has all reasons to believe in its righteousness. It has gotten away with mob-molesting in Mumbai (2007). It has entered pubs and attacked women (Mangalore 2009). It has beaten women wearing “Western” clothes (Bangalore 2009). It has recently beaten and molested another girl for wearing western clothes and being at a pub (Guwahati 2012).

And all the while, the police, the politicians and the National Commission for Women has let the Righteous Mob get away with it – and often abetted them – because they’ve been busy reminding women of their rightful place.

Former top-cop Kiran Bedi recently tweeted that “pubs breed hooliganism” – meaning women should not go to pubs? NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma has declared women should dress “carefully” – meaning women are going around topless? When the Pink Chaddi campaign (2009) happened, various womens’ groups ignored the message – women do NOT ask to be molested no matter what they’re wearing and where they’re going – and reminded that good Indian women wear saris and don’t discuss “pink chaddis”.
What happens next? I don’t know… Another victim perhaps, because the Righteous Mob is safe in the knowledge that no one can touch it. Meanwhile its cousin, the Silent Mob, the one that never helps, watches -- either on the scene or on the internet as videos of women being molested go viral.


shiv_87 said...

Dear Blogger, I enjoyed reading your lucid blog entry. However, every time I read or write on anything that concerns women in India, I get disturbed. When people in authority are saying publicly that it is in the interest of women to dress "carefully" in public, any amount of efforts towards preventing such harrowing incidents of molestation fail miserably. An increasing number of such incidents are occurring in full public view even as bystanders watch silently as the molesters take sadistic pleasure in these deplorable acts.
A lot of these men think they can get away without so much as a protest from the victim, let alone punishment. I feel our cultural ethos have much to do with this callous disregard society has for women's safety and their rights. India has failed its women.

Espèra said...

You know, the age old "Dressing provocatively", "She asked for it" can only ever be spoken of in an urban rape context. So many rapes happen in villages, in highly unsafe areas where Naxals operate for example, or other "gangs".

The same logic can not only Never be applied THERE, but incidents like these also escape everybody's attention when talking about crimes against women. Those women weren't going to pubs, wearing skirts or jeans, or walking alone.
Yet they got raped.

Guess what's the common factor here?
Hint: it's NOT the clothing, the time of the day, the company (or lack of) the victim was in.

It's the men. And anger, and very little regard and respect for women.

JB said...

@ Espera: SO very WELL said. Can't add anything more to it. Succint. Bang on.

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