Updated: Jan 3, 2019
Growing up, I knew there were bad people in this world. I knew there were terrorism, and drugs, and crime, and murders, and a lot of other bad things. I was an innocent kid. I thought that surely there is a lot of crime, but it belonged in a far-off world. A world where I and people close to me didn’t belong. I read in the newspaper that terrorists killed people, gang members shot each other, a drug dealer raped someone — and I felt sad. But I didn’t feel unsafe myself and in a way, I ‘got’ it. These people are professionally bad people. They ARE criminals. It is what they know, it is what they do. I don’t expect the mafia to pay their taxes dutifully, or to not kill anyone. This does not mean that I’m suggesting normalisation of criminals or excusing them of their crimes. But I am saying that there are bad people who do bad things in this world. They are a different kind of problem in our society.
Then I read about Kevin Spacey, an actor I respect; Louis CK, among my favorite standup comedians. Recently Kailash Kher, Vikas Bahl, Chetan Bhagat, all excellent, successful artists, and professionals. People look up to them and their work. We love them. They ARE good people. But now I feel like I was wrong. They weren’t good people. And this confuses me. They are not criminals; they did not commit hate crimes due to a sudden burst of negativity or passion. Did they do all this just because they had the power to? Just because they could shut the victim up and get away with it? Are we so morally corrupt that we’d pounce at the slightest chance of committing a crime and getting away with it?
Okay, let’s also justify their acts and our male egos by saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Or by saying that showbiz is full of all sorts of shit, we don’t do any of this.
I, like most men I know, always felt like, “we are not raping, we are not eve-teasing, why are you blaming us?” We got unnecessarily defensive with the #NotAllMen, and every other attempt at clearing our name from the accusations. But the truth is that we are accountable. Even if we haven’t directly committed a crime, all of us have made some woman uncomfortable, however unintentionally. I read a thread that asked women about what would they do if men suddenly vanished from this world. It was shameful as a man for me, to read what the women answered. A vast majority just wished to walk alone on the streets, at night, without the fear of being kidnapped or being raped. Nothing magnificent. No political rights, equal pay, reservation quotas or permission to go to temples. Just an innocent, human wish.
To feel safe alone in this society.
Are we this disgusting that we cannot even make people feel safe around us? This isn’t the bad world my childhood self didn’t belong to. This is home. This is my neighborhood. These are my friends and family. And no woman I know feels safe. And the worst part is, men still don’t seem to care. Sure we are all in for equal rights and everything in public, but I don’t see any change in our mentality. We still continue to objectify women, check them out in corridors as they knowingly try to avoid eye contact with us. We are not criminals, and this makes our actions even more sickening. We are not rapists, yet we continue to leer at women on the streets. For us, it might seem like one harmless glance. But imagine, hundreds of men giving you these ‘harmless glances’ every single day. Would you still justify yourself as harmless?
It isn’t about me or you committing a crime specifically. It is about the snowball effect we are causing. Every little inappropriate thing we do, makes women around us feel more unsafe. I go to social media and see so many women writing about this. Screaming, shouting for attention to this topic. But I don’t see enough men talking, let alone writing about it. We need to acknowledge first that we are the problem. Only after this simple fact hits us, we can change our mindsets. Every little bit of sexist humor we spill carelessly, makes the women around us feel unsafe and untrusting of us. Will we rape her? No. But have we subconsciously scarred her? Definitely.
As a nation that takes an overdose of pride in our patriotism and the fight against our oppressors, it is dishonorable of us for being defensive/aggressive against women who are trying to fight their oppressors — men. We cannot ask questions like, “well why the victims didn’t speak up then? Why are they speaking after so many years?” No. This is a stupid and irrelevant argument. Besides, I am not even talking about the people who committed crimes. I am talking about a very basic behavioral change. Just respect the people around you. Make them feel safe. And not simply as something you do because the society expects you to, but to actively feel about this. Remind yourself daily that you have made someone feel unsafe. We need a change in our mentality.
Take note of the fact that women are so fed up with us, they’re now stopping to take our shit and beginning to call us out. Start by taking this conversation seriously and acknowledging that what they’re doing is necessary. And then realize that we need to do the same. As long as men don’t start talking and writing about this, as long as we take this as ‘their issue’ and not ‘our issue’, no change can happen.
I request all my fellow bros, to call out their fellow bros if they are doing anything wrong. It is not cool, it is not funny. It is not innocent or harmless.
Yours truly, an ashamed man
Photograph by Mohit Tiwari