It Is No Longer Not My Problem
So the rapists ought to be castrated and butchered, ours is a nation of political eunuchs, and RIP The-Lass-Who-Died-Unnamed. And soon Tuesday morning dawns, we make our way to work, 2013 washes over us in the blink of an eye, and life moves on ruthlessly, as do people.
But let us not fault them for it because what gives us hope this time is that our people spoke up against government inefficiencies and societal hypocrisies, and that has made a difference. I have gone from saying “Fuck India” and “I am sorry/ashamed to be Indian” to being proud of all those who braved the tear gas and water cannons, and to questioning myself what we as individuals, whether in India or on foreign shores, can do in our little ways to keep the movement in progress.
I had a moment of epiphany on these lines just last week. It so happened that my partner and I boarded a bus one evening in Singapore – where we live – to find it unusually noisy; a couple was blasting out music at full volume on their mobile phone. We glared at them to express our displeasure before we took our seats by the door, a little ahead of the noisy couple.
“I wish I had “Who let the dogs out?” on my phone,” my partner said. “I would have played that in response.”
“Why?” I demanded to know. “So you could piss them off and end up brawling with them?”
“This is not acceptable behaviour, and someone has to let them know,” my partner reasoned.
“It doesn’t have to be you,” I hissed.
The music grew louder at this point, and we turned back to glare at them. They stared back at us stonily. The man looked unquestionably like a brute, his face unpleasant and mean, his glare callous and menacing.
“He seems to be the trigger-happy sort,” I said to my partner. “Don’t mess with him.”
My partner was not pleased.
Moments later, the twosome trundled past and stationed themselves by the door, right in front of us, the music from their mobile phone sounding more and more cacophonous. As the bus skidded to a halt at the stop, the man scowled at us, spat on the floor of the bus, glowered at us some more before stepping off the bus.
Now if you know anything at all about Singapore, you’d know spitting in public is a sacrilegious thing to do here. “What kind of a bastard was that?” I muttered.
“If you were so upset, you should have told him off,” my partner replied. “It is because people like you keep quiet and choose to ignore these things that people like him do as they please and get away with it.”
It is as simple as that. Looking at the state of affairs in India, and in any troubled society in general, we must be fools to believe that our government would hand us a safe society on a silver platter. Sure enough, stricter laws and regulations would be announced but with no guarantees of effective implementation. Why else are we dealing with dowry deaths in this day and age, half a century after the legislation was enforced? Changes in societal mind-sets will take a couple of generations or even longer to come about.
A safe society is something we now have to earn, create and nurture for ourselves by refusing to tolerate misdeeds of any sort.
If someone gropes you in a crowded bus or train, yell for help. Don’t keep quiet just because you don’t want to create a scene. Keeping mum is passive assent. You may need to do a knee-to-the-groin manoeuvre to get the message across, but don’t let that stop you. Reach out for help. Keep looking until you can find someone willing and able to help.
And you, if you see someone being harassed, don’t be a mute spectator. You can no longer afford to say, “It’s not my problem” and turn a blind eye to the scene or walk away with a shrug. Don’t just slink past. Don’t become a hostile witness. You could very well be the next victim.
Of course, there is a significant element of risk. Risk of bodily harm to you, your partner, your friends, to anyone who dares get involved, either at the hands of goons or the government. But that is the price we are going to have to pay, sooner or later. Our freedom fighters did it all those decades ago; it is our turn now.
Not all of us may want to be front line soldiers. And if bodily combat is not up your alley, there are countless roles to choose from. If you are a blogger, blog about it. Tweet about it. Facebook it. If you are witness to a misdeed, take a photo, post it online. Don’t keep mum. Make a noise. One miscreant caught and condemned is another one discouraged. Create works of art to spread the word. Take those raw emotions and convert them to art like this and this. Volunteer towards social causes – not because the deed will boost your resume but because it is good for the society and for your soul. Or donate; fund those who are willing to help. Do your bit instead of throwing up your hands and saying “What can I do?”
But whatever you choose, keep at it for the long run. Because what ails the society is now your problem too. And there are no quick fixes to this one.
[Guest post by Ann (not her real name), who is as disturbed by the recent events as millions of Indians, and hopes things will get better from here.]