Every girl dreams about something or the other to be in life. But, in the journey from being a little girl to growing up into a woman, her dreams’ wings are cut in different ways. This is where feminism emerges for me. The word Feminism is interpreted differently across the world. Some connect it with the oppression women are facing, unequal pay, womanhood; while some think that drinking, smoking, or hanging out the late-night is feminism. But, feminism is much more than that for me. It means an ideology or a way of life of dignity, respect, and equality which does keep men as the benchmark.
The journey from being a little girl to a grown-up woman!
I come from a family where paying for a TV was equal to bringing a Mercedes home. We had a neighbour who used to welcome us to watch movies at their house. Unfortunately, the neighbour was a relative. My parents were also very comfortable to send me to their house because it is “SAFE” to send our kids to a relative’s house. Once, I remember at the age of 12 I was watching TV at my neighbour’s home. They had two elder sons who were both around 24-26 of age. There was no one in the house and the innocent little kid sat in their home until the cartoon ended. I was really not expecting I would have to pay so high a price for just an episode of the cartoon. An unwelcome hand started touching me under grown boobs, and before I could speak he put his dirty hands in my pants and seeing straight into my eyes he said- nothing, it will take just a few minutes for me to show you how much I love you. It was very shocking for me because this had never happened to me. Before I could shout loudly he grabbed me and put a tight hand on my mouth. And this way he destroyed my entire childhood. I started hating my body. I used to punish myself in different ways and for my entire childhood, I blamed myself for whatever happened to me. Only because I had a “Vagina” between my legs. Now when I look back to my childhood, being that little girl, the sky is not the same anymore.
Those hands were so craving, with eyes full of lust for that innocent girl in me who didn’t know what the cannibalistic world was about. This incident not only destroyed the feelings of being alive but also gave a me blazing lens to see the world. This incident happened multiple times at various places: like at the shop, once in the school auto, on the bus, train, and even while walking on the road.
This picture is the same for girls all over the country. According to Save the Children data, 94.8% of rape cases saw children being raped by someone they knew, not strangers. This needs to be taken seriously. The childhood incident made the little girl crumble, but the struggle for understanding the self and the boys were still on. Growing up as an adult was also tough too. Once I was waiting for the bus around 8 pm at the station. A boy around the age 26 to 28 was continuously checking me out. I was wearing a full scarf over my head and jeans with a long top.
The bus arrived and very few spaces remained in it. I tried to enter the bus as soon as possible because it was already late. A person from behind me grabbed my boobs so tightly and pressed it and went away. Before I could look back and speak the bus started and I was left with that unspoken horrible memory. I can’t even express how terrible the feeling was. All those situations made me an extremely rebellious woman. That was just a start for me to understand the self but the hate for the self-body continued.
It’s very important for parents who are gifted with baby daughters to raise them more safely. Most of the girls are harassed between the ages of 10 to 16 (POCSO). The harassment percentage increases if the girl is from a lower caste. For men, the lower caste women are “own property” so that they can use them the way they want. Most of the unreported child sexual abuse, rape cases are not registered in the police stations because the harasser is from the upper caste. Justice for Dalit, tribal, and minority Muslim women is death. Cases such as Asifa, Khairlanji, Unnao rape cases are the current examples of how ‘caste matters’.
According to the Indian justice system, when a person gets raped they get money, the accused goes to jail but what about the memories which the rapist has given to her. Justice is only for those who are at least not murdered during rape, what about the other cases. The rapist still roams around the world. The process of the investigation, until she gets justice, makes her suffer more. Hence, justice differs from person to person.
Rape is a heinous act but society makes it more difficult for the survivor to live with it. Even if the survivor wants to fight back or wants to start a new life, society makes it more difficult to do so. Girls bring shame to the family if their hymen breaks; marry the girl as soon she is eligible for marriage so that her husband can “Protect” her. But marrying away is not the solution. Because marital rape is still not recognised by the Indian justice system.
As a researcher, I conducted research on the topic ‘Sexual harassment of Elected Women Representative at their workplace’ in 2019, and the findings were very hurtful. Out of 50 respondents, 39 women were harassed either sexually, were asked sexual favours, subjected to mental harassment, touching of private parts, staring, and sexual comments. One of the women said, ‘It’s my dream to change the entire village and want to sit in Parliament one day but not at the cost of my respect’. The space is so hyper-masculine and patriarchal that it is a tough fight for women to deal with.
During my masters, I was with different people and my understanding of love was also completely different. I thought love means caring, sharing, and being there for each other every time and expressing it in different ways. And one of the ways was by having consensual sex. But, even that definition of love for me was changed by the boys I was with. They never understood the meaning of ‘Consent’. The word ‘No’ is so naturally dismissed by them as it was just a matter of making a small noise.
The socialization of both genders really needs to be reworked. I understood that it is completely ok to say “No” and if the partner doesn’t understand it, then sorry you are stuck with the wrong person. It’s ok to have more than one relationship if you are not comfortable with your partner because, in the end, it is always better to have peace in life than a violent and toxic relationship. And when I started behaving the way which my ideology of feminism made me do, then I crossed the “social rules” and henceforth I became a woman who manipulates an innocent man. This has given me the third intersection to look at and comprehend the “Man of the society”.
During my educational journey, I have seen people around me talking about violence and women’s rights but at the same time doing violence on their sisters, mothers, and female partners. The scholars want to talk about women but not for all those women who are inside their house. It’s like Divvya kale Jalandhar (‘darkness under the lamp’). Various educational scholars and people who talk about caste, women, and equality do the same thing the upper castes are doing in the context of women. By then this question always makes me rethink, will the cat stop catching the rat??
But, then this does not mean that all the men are the same. I have also seen men who are feminist and more assertive, supportive and understand the feminist movement. There are amazing fathers who want their daughters to get educated, to be independent, and let them live their life the way they want to. There are brothers who fight their sisters’ battles so that she can become much more in life. At the same time, there are male partners too who want their partners to be the way they want to be, they do not even hold their thoughts either, so that they can have a relationship based on trust than on power and control. But, the percentage of such men in society is considerably less as compared to the men who have the patriarchal mindset.
Understanding men in society is challenging as the journey is difficult and painful but at the same time, but it made me a strong woman. Like the incidents that occurred with me, many women might have gone through similar experiences and are still going through them. It’s not so easy to forget all those memories but it’s not so difficult to survive if you really have that courage to fight back. You need to break the chain of silence. There will be no correct time. This is the correct time to speak about it and stop whatever is happening around you.
It’s ok if your childhood was horrible but you still have so many wonderful things to do. You still can become something. It’s ok if you have or had been in many relationships, what matters is you spoke up against the ‘Sexist space’, you spoke for your safety and mental health. What is most important is ‘You take your own responsibility’.
It’s high time for the media and television to upgrade their shows and stop victimizing women where the women would be waiting for the hero to save her from the bad person. The government needs to make more empowering strategies and plans so that everyone can work in a safer place. Only providing reservations for women won’t work. Supportive strategies and actions also need to be planned at the same time.
Parenting also needs to be questioned. It’s important for parents to be protective but at the same time, they need to understand to be friends with their kids. The educational institutions must add compulsory Sex Education in the schools. Students must be taught good touch and bad touch properly. The male scholars from marginalized communities must stay out of spaces the women create so that they can assert their own stories and spaces.
At the same time, I also realize that men can be the best feminists too but society has to stop generalising gender work, gender discrimination, unequal education and suppressing voices. From the family to schooling–everyone must be taught equality and respect for every gender.
Today’s feminist movement is lacking because of the gap between the rich and poor women and in the context of India, ‘caste’ has been ignored. The upper-caste women have to share the stage with the Dalit, Tribal, Muslim, and other marginalized sections of the women in society. It’s important for all of us to become one voice and make a loud noise so that the ” So-called Protectors” hear us loudly. There must be spaces where all the women can speak and connect, not only because of ‘womanhood’ but also to share the stage when required equally.
It’s crucial to remember that dignity and respect matter more than any other thing in the world. I want to convey my sorry to ‘Patriarchy’ because now it doesn’t frighten me and the voice which I gained after all this does not listen to anyone who tries to stop me. The head which used to bow because of shame that all those things that happened to me, now rises up with respect.
Harshali Nagrale is currently working as a School Academic Consultant at TSWREIS, Telangana. She’s a feminist writer and an independent researcher on gender and education.