'It happens to everybody': But, why silence is a crime

'It happens to everybody': But, why silence is a crime


 They looked unnatural and fake like his bravado. They also brought back memories of being brutally ‘eve teased’ as a teenager in the North, being beaten up in a BTS bus in Bangalore and then told by a well-meaning colleague, “What more do you want? You slapped him and the poor man possibly lost his job.”
A relative added, “Why did you get into an argument with the man? Withdraw the case against him. He and his cronies might target your husband. We are worried about him.”

Speak up, make a noise
This was told to me when I was still bandaged and had a swollen eye and a bruised lip. I still remember that summer in 1995 and how perilously close I came to losing my mind, and my sense of self-worth after this episode. How long it took me to accept the fact that women are often alone in their battle to for dignity and that if I wanted to fight the man who had beaten me, I would have to do it alone. I decided to move past this episode. I hoped that the initial FIR and the newspaper clippings would deter the man from doing to another woman what he had done to me.
But this was not the first time when I was made to feel accountable for something I had no part in. At various points of my life, whenever I stood up to battle a potential molester on the streets, in a college campus or elsewhere, I was told in not so many words by assorted well-wishers, “Don’t make a fuss, it happens to all girls at sometime or another. What’s so special about you that you can’t take it?”
The unsaid was clearer than any words spoken, “It happens. That’s the way it is. Noise is not dignified. Silence is.”

I never stayed quiet, always hit back and I was luckier than Ruchika because I never came up against a Rathore. Who knows if my family had also been systematically destroyed by a vengeful, powerful man, I would have given up on life too. There is a Ruchika in almost every Indian family. Girls who are molested by relatives, family friends or strangers and are hushed into silence. In Ruchika’s instance, at least her family stood by her refusal to stay quiet. As did her friends, especially Aradhana and her old parents who felt what few bystanders in India feel when they see a crime happen. A sense of responsibility. And kinship with the one wronged. Nineteen years after a bully came after them with police muscle and batons with the blessings of political goons, Ruchika’s family and friends have finally been joined by thousands of supporters, the media and sheepish politicians. Today Rathore can do little more than smile incredulously at how the worm has turned. And how a wrong is a wrong even it takes us 19 years to acknowledge it. There are lessons in this story for us all. The first being that we must teach our daughters to make a fuss every time they are touched inappropriately or treated with disrespect. Let us please teach them that it is not okay to accept eve teasing, molestation or worse as part of their reality just because these things happen. That it is okay to stand up and speak inconvenient truths and that only a woman must decide what her self-respect is worth.

Bring them to book
Even if justice comes to Ruchika 19 years late, it still would just be a droplet of light in a murky, lawless system that watches on mutely as a Manorama is raped and killed in Imphal; Aruna Shanbagh, a bright young nurse in Mumbai is reduced to a vegetable and sentenced to life in a hospital bed for over 36 years while her rapist walks free after just seven years in prison; the Nithari trial drags on without a final, decisive verdict; the mass killings in the 1984 anti-sikh pogrom and the mass graves in Kashmir go unaccounted for.
There must be some fatal faultline in the distribution of power in our system that allows such things to come to pass. That allows grinning bullies like Rathore, megalo manics like Mayawati, the inexplicable N D Tiwaris, the divisive Thackerays and innumerable corrupt and self-seeking politicians to thrive at our expense. Why they do what they do is because they expect no resistance and usually come up against none. The reason why they get away with the unforgivable is because we let them. Because we believe that if it hasn’t happened to us, it hasn’t happened. But make no mistake. What happened to Ruchika will happen again and unless we decide to not just speak for ourselves but for every wrong that is done to another, neither we, nor our children are safe from the Rathores, the Pandhers, the drum beaters who dispense hate and bloodshed for personal gains. We must take sides, loudly, unmistakably, with our votes, with our words, with our solidarity with victims because in our silence, we defend the indefensible.

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