Thursday, January 17, 2013

Speaking out

At a wedding a few years ago, a doting grandfather carrying a one-year-old boy in his arms was doing the rounds, showing off his grandson.  "Look at this," he announced to one group, and turned to the little boy, who could barely speak, and said, "Joru maaDu!" (Loosely translated, this means, "Show authority/aggression!"  And the little boy said, "Ey!" in a threatening tone, and the grandfather looked around proudly as the group oohed and aahed and pinched the boy's cheeks.  It was absolutely sickening.

This child will grow up thinking that this aggressive behaviour is something to be proud of, and before anybody realizes it, he's being threatening and rude to his parents, and then years later, when he is somebody's husband, he's going to throw his weight around just the same way.  And if the wife turns out to be the little girl who had been watching the little boy when he was being fussed over for his display of aggressive behaviour, she will accept it, thinking it is but natural.

This aggressive behaviour is nurtured by society as a symbol of manhood and masculinity.  The sensitive side of little boys is beaten out of existence with repeated chidings, and phrases like "boys don't cry," "crying like a girl."  Decades of repressing emotions result in an explosion of rage and violence and aggression in later life. (Worded well in this blog post.)  This rage, this violence can take the form of short temper and intolerance, to road rage, to child abuse, and right up to, yes, rape.

With a multitude of voices rising against rape and all that goes to constitute a rape, people are becoming aware that it is not just the rapist who rapes a person, it is the entire society.  Every person who indulges in misogynistic comments, every person who laughs at sexist jokes, every person who propagates patriarchal society - everybody is responsible for every rape.  And  yes, you and me, we are included.  Rape is rarely about sex alone.  It is about control, rage, domination, punishment.  And what gives a person the right to think that he is superior to another being, and is therefore vested with a right to control and punish?  This society.  You and me.  Directly, indirectly.  Every time we said something that made divides deeper.  Every time we looked the other way when stereotypes were being repeated ad nauseum.

Not being a rapist is not enough.  Don't let yourself off so easily.  There is more we all need to do.

But what?  We hear utterly stupid and atrocious quotes about women and rape, by the so-called people-in-charge, and spiritual leaders - these people who wield so much influence on so many people...... and amidst all the anger and outrage these comments evoke, there is also the unmistakable stench of frustration, and desperation - that, you know what?  These are not the utterings of some random, misguided, handful of people.  These people are speaking from years of societal conditioning, and for every leader who thinks this way, there are lakhs of people who think the exact way.

The scale is too large, too immense to fathom.  It feels like a losing battle at times.  How will you try and make them understand?  How will you unravel the tight binds of those years of patriarchal and misogynist attitudes that pervade our society?  It is very frightening, depressing.

And behind it all, one burning question keeps asking itself - how are we going to protect our children in such a world?

What can we do, as an individual?  We can do many things at many different levels.  If you are so inclined and accordingly qualified, you can and must get involved in the changes, in the reforms.  Maybe you can join in the protests to show what a voice we have.  Maybe you can work with rape survivors and help them cope, get back to normal life.

But we all know that the changes  have to start from within.  From around us.  The change has to be wrought in the mindsets of people who cannot think in any other way.  But how will you do it?

One simple way - is to speak up.  Speak out against any act of misogyny, patriarchy.  Any act that objectifies women.  Any argument that trivializes women.  Any joke that portrays women in generalized, jaded terms, terms which are unflattering to women, and which only serve to deepen the bias that people have against women.

It is difficult.  It is exhausting.  I know.  There have been many times when I have been too tired to speak out, or have avoided getting drawn into an argument because of lack of time.  Sometimes I have backed out just because I have felt that it is not going to be of any use.

I know, it seems too small a step to change this large a phenomenon.  But who was it that said, paraphrasing "He is making the greatest mistake who does nothing because he fears it is too little?"  Who knows?  Your voice might just have an effect.  Your voice might be the straw that breaks the camel's back.  We need to speak out.

Oh yes, you might be termed a killjoy.  But we have remained in our comfort zone too long.  It is time we spoke out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Origami - Young World

My article on Origami appeared in yesterday's Young World (The Hindu)

Yes, I've been silent for far too long - everything's okay, thanks for asking.  More soon.
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