"One man wakes, awakens another
Second one wakes his next door brother
Three awake and rouse a town and
turn the whole place upside down
Many awake will cause such a fuss
It finally awakes all of us
One man awakes with dawn in his eyes,
truly then it multiplies."
The Tehelka case where the editor in chief Tarun Tejpal has been accused of sexually assaulting his junior colleague in a Goa hotel elevator has yet again brought to the fore the sort of harassment and sexual exploitation that women face in the world, including the work place.
The first reaction that most people I know had was surprise. I assume they were aghast at how something so deplorable could take place within a media organisation where people are believed to be pro-women-empowerment, patriarchy-condemning liberals who generally claim to be custodians of human rights and justice.
I, on the other hand, find myself becoming more and more cynical with every case that I read. I don't find it surprising that a man who found himself in a position of power tried taking advantage of a woman. My initial empathy turns into despair. I end up blaming the world for having gone wrong. I blame society for instilling violence in men and I blame men who become monsters for being penis-wielding sadists whose only aim in life is debauchery.
This courageous woman journalist who says she is fighting for the integrity of her body makes me angry. She makes me angry because she makes me realise that if anyone is to be blamed for the fact that such atrocities continue to happen in our world every single day, it's me and my kind.
If only the nine year old had complained about her cousins' probing fingers instead of being in denial, a couple of other children could have been saved from the trauma of familial betrayal and alienation. If only the 14 year old had told her parents about that sadhu at the railway station, some more would have saved their children from the clutches of pretentious god-men. If only the 16 year old had told her mother about her music teacher's out-of-control hands, some children might have been saved the horror of being molested by their tutors. If only the 23 year old had reported her professor to the police instead of helping the university women's cell and the head of the department to hush up the whole matter, he would perhaps have known by now that he can't get away easy by doing what he did to her. It might have even given someone else courage to speak up about something similar.
I am not saying that things would have been greatly different if that one voice had spoken up, but it would have scared some people off. It would have instilled the fear of god in some more. It would have given someone else the courage to speak up against sexual exploitation.
Stories of sexual harassment cannot just be confessions you whisper to your best friend or write in your secret journal. Each of us is a part of that very society we condemn for letting men treat women like second class citizens who don't have rights, not even over their own bodies, the same society that hushes up incidents of sexual assault for reasons ranging from fear to 'what will happen to his children'. If I decide to keep quiet when I am at the receiving end of a something that I verbally encourage everyone to stand up against, then a) I am a hypocrite and b) I am doing nothing but encouraging the act and those who perpetrate it. What right do I have then to turn around and point fingers at that very world which I help build?
Women can't and mustn't shirk their bit of the responsibility, towards themselves and the world they live in. And if there is anything that they should learn from the last one month, it is perhaps this.