Just this morning, I had a conversation with an old college mate [Let’s just call him/her ‘Friend XYZ’] around a couple of social experiment videos. Y’know… The lady all dressed up walking on the streets of her city checking if guys verbally molest her or not… Yeah, that one.
For everyone living under the rocks, here are the 2 videos that we were talking about:
A bit of context: the reference to this discussion was another conversation we had with our friends back in college about how different women were treated in India and the US. Stuff about gender equality, women’s rights and so on… back then, I maintained a stand that developed countries like the US, Australia and those in Europe were far ahead of India in these matters, albeit weren’t free of crimes against women and their rights. Not sure everyone liked what I said, neither did Friend XYZ but, in all fairness, it was a very good and serious discussion among our friends. I was tagged on The Manhattan Video a few weeks ago to see that I may have been wrong… probably not with any malicious intent, but to prove me wrong.
The initial reaction to the Manhattan video was mixed. At least, it was here, in the US, where some people argued that a few of the calls like “Have a good evening” and “How are you this morning?” weren’t as much as catcalls as they were general street courtesies. But, there’s no denying that the rest of the video blew the cover on the unacceptable street harassment showcased by ‘The Greatest City in The World’.
I maintained my stand… To quote my reply:
I still maintain that US treats its women better than India does. Be it the people, government or law enforcers.
Which is not to attack India for the sake of it or to imply that US is perfect or that this video is a lie, but, India is still too far behind the ladder of gender equality to defend itself in this day and age… Plus, this is video is from Manhattan, officially the rudest city in the US. We could do the same social experiment in many other cities and I guarantee you results far different from this.
The reply 2 weeks later was a cheeky taunt along with the Mumbai video which went viral on my Facebook news feed too, with more than 5 people sharing it on the first day captioned with clichés like ‘Respect’ and the ‘Spirit of Mumbai’ and a Mumbaikar‘s general sense of pride in the city.
Yes, it was so nice to see the young lady in a tee and short skirt walking through some of the crowded places of Mumbai and not even being ogled at, let alone cat-called or harassed in public. Everyone is happy, proud and goes back to minding their own businesses with their head held high…
What a laugh! I’m sure most other streets, suburbs, and even train travelers would paint a different picture. And the streets are still not completely safe for girls to travel alone at night.
I’ve paraphrased and expanded my reply in the interest of protecting Friend XYZ’s information. I’m not writing this to show him/her down, but I just want to get my point across:
To understand my perspective, you need to have lived around both cultures. In most cities in the US, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk up to a random girl in broad daylight to start a conversation by paying them a compliment about their clothes or looks. That’s part of how their dating culture works. Don’t get me wrong. There’s still every chance of getting shot down unless you’re Robert Downey Jr. in a Lamborghini… But you can’t do that anywhere in India except for at decent bars and clubs, that too, only in metros or you’ll get slapped or get called a ‘tharki‘ for trying to hit on the next girl you see. You simply cannot look at the girl beside you in the bus and tell her she’s really pretty and that her jacket looks nice on her without looking like a creep.
Plus, a few of the lines in the Manhattan video were general conversation starters which are actually acceptable in the US but would earn the tharki slap anywhere in India. Having said that, nobody will walk up to a girl in the broad daylight and crowd of Dadar/Kurla/Andheri Stations and Bandra Bandstand or even downtown Manhattan to molest or rape her. Even they aren’t that stupid. Exceptions exist in all societies but, this video proves nothing.
My point on gender equality and treatment of the fairer sex goes far beyond a couple of videos taken completely out of context, setting and understanding of different cultures (which, also, essentially highlights the root cause of many problems dealing with progression and backward movements against the so-called ‘westernization’ in India). There’s a gulf of difference in the way the two masses of population look at a girl child, the way their societies treat its rape victims and what they and their leaders consider the solution to rape and molestation (don’t let women wear short clothes vs. mass appeal for ethics and sex educations).
The Mumbai video showed a girl walking around some of the most crowded places in the city where no molester would dare make a move. If someone did try to molest a girl in public (or even appeared to have done), he would probably have been cornered by the crowd, publicly thrashed in another exhibition of the frightfully unlawful citizen justice that we’re so used to seeing, our innumerable stupid leaders would come out with ridiculous statements like “why was the girl wearing jeans?” and “who asked her to travel alone?“, which we’ll protest by having silent marches and candle-light vigils at Gateway of India, Jantar Mantar and College Street, Arnab will find another topic to shout at random people on his primetime News debate, people will get back to work/school next morning while the victim and her family get hounded by the media and shunned by the society and we’ll never get to the crux of the issue anyway: finding the real solution.
Crime against women is still a prevalent society issue that will eventually fade away like racism and women’s rights, but, not unless we do something about it. There is always one solitary solution to all problems in the society: Education!
I’ll say this again: no country is perfect. There are rapes the US and Europe as there are in India. There are people who beat up their wives, molest children and treat women like objects. But these countries have been proactive in fighting these crimes. Crimes against women have gone down by over 64% over the last 2 decades in the US, while the same number continues to grow at a rapid rate in India, not to mention a meagre 2% conviction rate and more than 85% still awaiting trial.
Obviously, I still maintain that India has a very long way to go to compare to other countries… ’cause identifying the problem and implementing a solution it is a much more complicated ball game in India than it is in the US and other developed nations. It won’t happen unless there’s a radical change in the thought process of the masses… Not unless people change their perspectives and not while we still have self-proclaimed moral police trying to prove that the problem with rape is the girl in ‘inappropriate attire’ and not the guy who targeted her with his perverted thoughts and unclipped wings… Not while we have a Union Cabinet minister saying that sex education should be banned because it’s vulgar and against ‘Indian Values’. We have educated urban citizens who already see sense, but that’s a very disappointing minority.
The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.
And our heartfelt rejoice in the Mumbai video (and maybe to some extent, the video itself) proved once again, that we are ever ready to accept that we are better than others without any second thoughts. We’ll even attack someone who tries to correct or change us from behind the veil of culture and tradition: Coz Mera Bharat Mahan and who the fuck are you to tell me otherwise, eh?! We’re too bound by blind faith (yes, I blame religion, too) to be able to think rationally and identify these issues even if they stare us straight in the face.
As much as I disagree with some of the things our idolatrous new Prime Minister Narendra Modi says or does, nobody can deny that he has the whole country behind him. He has successfully channelled the thoughts and prayers of an inconceivable majority in his quest to save India. I hope he recognizes that among other things, one of the most crucial elements that define a country’s success is the way the people treat their women. He knows the power of his words on the people of India… I just hope he uses it like he did with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) to make people question their outlook on this and many other issues in our society… coz at this moment, he’s the only one who can control what the whole country thinks and inspire change.
That, along with setting up stricter laws to deal with rapists, people who speak bullshit about women’s role in rape and a transformation in the education system to blend ethics, morals and sex education along with the academic content to raise the next generation not only as learned, educated people, but also respectful ones.
Then, maybe a generation later, mera bharat will be mahaan. We’re just not there yet… But we will be.