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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Zero tolerance

Put away a man who gropes a woman; and the odds are he won’t grow up to be a rapist

By the time you read this, I am sure you will know all the details about the Sanjay Nirupam-Smriti Irani controversy. But even so, what Nirupam said about Irani during a TV show bears repeating. And not the sanitised English-language translation of what he said, but his actual words. During a debate on the Gujarat election results, Nirupam dismissed Irani as someone who “kal tak toh paise ke liye TV pe thumke lagati thi” (till yesterday you used to dance on TV for money).

The sub-text was clear. As was the image that Nirupam was trying to conjure up: that of a nautch girl who is paid to dance for the amusement of men. How could such a woman expect to taken seriously in a discussion about electoral politics? She really should know her place.

But after the storm of condemnation that followed, there were many who asked just how seriously we should take this. After all, you can take the lout out of the Shiv Sena, but you can’t take the lout out of the man. And in a week when we are all grappling with the rage and sorrow evoked by the brutal gang rape of a young woman in a Delhi bus, did this throwaway comment merit so much attention?

Well, the short answer is: yes, it does.

Why? Because the fact that a woman member of Parliament can be belittled, demeaned, and dismissed as a ‘thumke lagane wali’ on national television shows just how deep sexism runs in our society. And it proves that no matter how high you rise in the world, no matter what you achieve, and no matter what the subject of the debate, at the end of the day, if you are a woman you will never be safe from being attacked by sexual innuendo.

Misogyny is so commonplace in our world that we have become inured to it. It starts in the family where husbands treat their wives as their property, where brothers regard their sisters as second-class citizens, where daughters are seen as liabilities, and all women are treated as beasts of burden.  

It manifests itself in our public places, where no woman is safe. She is leered at as she walks the streets. She is groped in buses and trains. She is sexually harassed at work. And if she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, she is brutally gang-raped and left for dead.

But it all starts with the macho arrogance that Nirupam displayed so tellingly on television. And his contemptuously-curled lip as he spewed his vicious poison is an image that shows us just how terrible things are for women in our society. There may be a vast distance between the TV studio in which Sanjay Nirupam abused Smriti Irani and the Delhi bus in which the gang-rape survivor was so brutally assaulted.  But both are the result of the same mindset: which regards women with derision and views them as sex objects. The same rage that is expressed in contemptuous comments on TV debates also lies behind the innumerable instances of sexual violence against women that are reported every day.

As women, we are used to being treated this way. We are routinely whistled at, jeered, groped, pawed, and worse, as we negotiate our daily lives. And we are routinely told to ignore all this, not to make an issue of it. Move on, is the message we get. Don’t sweat the small stuff. How does it matter if someone calls you ‘achha maal’ on the road or brushes against your breast as you board a bus? There are bigger problems in life.

Yes, there are. But they all start from that one comment that we ignore; that one whistle that we pretend not to hear; that one hand groping our bottom as we walk along a crowded street.

It all starts with this belief that women are nothing more than bodies to be exploited and ends in the brutalisation of attitudes to women. And if we ignore those first stirrings of misogyny, the rage and violence escalates until it explodes in a vicious attack on a 23-year-old woman who boards a bus at 9.30 pm. The men who raped her didn’t see her as a human being. She was just a receptacle for these bestial desires. A disposable thing who could be abused and then dumped on the side of the road.

 Through my school and college years when I travelled by public transport I don’t remember a single day when I wasn’t sexually harassed in some way. (And this was in Calcutta, which is supposed to be safe for women.) Every time I challenged my harasser, there was one heart-stopping moment when I didn’t quite know how things would go: whether he would back away or escalate his attack. But it wasn’t bravery that propelled me, it was a visceral rage that anyone could dare to assume that he could violate my body and get away with it.

It is the same visceral rage that every woman feels when she is confronted by sexism or sexual violence. And it is that visceral rage that both Sanjay Nirupam and the Delhi rapists inspire within us.

So, let’s shame a man who makes sexist comments. Let’s have summary punishment for all those who harass women, either by word or by deed. Put away a man who gropes a woman and the odds are that he won’t grow up to be a rapist.

If we want to make the world safe for women, zero tolerance is the only way to go.


Himadri ASri said...

A country of sheep begets wolves as their leaders!
Good seema!

Deepti said...

cannot agree more with you..i saw this live on TV...and was surprised!..this is deep deep rooted....at least at one level it can be solved...by just inculcating the right values in our sons, from the time they step into this world. The only worry is, what about that lower strata of society, which contributes to at least half of these crimes against women..the class to which the delhi gang rapists belonged...where lack of education, inclination towards crime is much more prevalent....

ABTC said...

great post
thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

You are perfectly right, and from my experiences in Kolkata Bus - believe me you will find at least one male member around to support once you raise your voice or hit back - always waited for the girls to respond for us to begin the thrashing !

P.B. said...

Excellent piece: I fully, wholeheartedly, completely agree with what you're saying - it isn't all about asking what the govt. can do, but equally about asking how much we do, and how much we can stop, from sexist attitudes to statements to beliefs. I blogged about the exact same thing myself.

Anonymous said...

Very true Seema... I woke up today , unable to sleep. Nirbhaya is still in my thoughts #RIP NIRBHAYA...

Anonymous said...


Very well wtitten.

Why, I have never read any woman's article without male hatred ?

All men are not same. But women generalises it...

The same notion "thumke lagane wali" also applies to male actors too... but if its about woman, you women cries out foul...

Vikram Karve said...

Very rightly said - ZERO TOLERANCE towards those who insult, humiliate or violate women is the only solution to stop crime against women.

Karishma Patel said...

It's interesting the way in which he kept saying 'shut up'. That definitely exemplifies the way women are treated as second class citizens, simply brushed away by 'shut up, you woman'. It's nice to know there is a great woman like her being so vocal. She seems like she can thrash the shit out of and make obvious what a douche Nirupam is