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This Durga Puja, Let ‘Her’ Voice Be Heard!

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Dr Somdutta
I am the former Vice- chairperson of NASSCOM Product Council and a member of the core management committee of Women Entrepreneurial Platform - NITI Aayog. Simultaneously, I am also on the Advisory Board for BloombergQuint. Apart from this, I am also the Founder & Director of Unspun Group, Digital Leadership Institute (DLI) and IRA – House of Designers.

On a quiet Monday morning, Maa Durga, the woman who embodies Shakti along with her four children quietly began her descent from heaven into the mortal sphere, thus marking the advent of Devi Paksha. At the same time, a battle that’s manifesting women’s heroism and fight for her survival is silently ensuing, at home, at places of work, in glamourous film industries, on the streets, adding vigor to the already concocting MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

Feminism is ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’. The simple logic behind this – women are equal to men, in all aspects, even physical strength. But, whilst we’re revering Goddess Durga, worshipping a female form, the only woman who could defeat an evil as monstrous as Mahisasura when men failed to, why does the same patriarchal brain-washed society start questioning the sanctity of a woman when she talks of being harassed at the hands of a man? Durga is an amalgamation of the powers that all the male Gods possess. So, when Gods were willing to accept this incredible strength that a woman could dominate, why can’t we? Why does patriarchy live on this dichotomy?

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ll know that the last week has been agonizing even though not surprising that scores of women in India have come forward to expose men for sexual harassment at workplace and elsewhere, subjecting them to a vicious circle of victim-blaming and trauma. A small leak in a dam is looking to burst any moment. India’s Tinseltown, the film industry and women at large are finally taking baby steps to break its complacency with women narrating horrific stories. But, is this is a new phenomenon?

No, it’s a not. Sexual harassment against women is an age-old violation and people have time and again snickered about the “casting couch.” But, until now, seldom women and men have come forth with their horrors and have reported a case. They have avoided their harassers, ignored them, downplayed or simply endured abuse. This has survived for eons in several forms. One of the most powerful mediums of communications, our movies, ironically has been notorious for its mistreatment of woman characters. Over the years, women portraying central characters in Hindi cinema have been few and far between. Those portrayed, including the protagonists, are rarely holistic and mostly subject to ingrained biases.

The “ideal women” was one who was submissive, self-sacrificing, chaste and controlled by the man. Then again, while this stereotyping is a reflection of how people have been thinking, it’s also a testament to the fact that people’s reasoning is changing. With mainstream actresses like Anushka Sharma of NH10 fame and Kangana Ranaut and Vidya Balan, who opted for female-centric scripts like Queen and Kahaani respectively, things are definitely changing on-screen.

We have to understand one fact which is that the mindset of a person has nothing to do with the way he has been brought up. Upbringing and the environment that they are born in are not parameters against which their outlook, their mentality is measured. This testifies the fact that sexual harassment is not gender specific and men are equally vulnerable as women. Male victims of sexual assault and rape exist too.

Men, especially in India, expected to take everything in their stride, seldom come forth to report being harassed simply because they are supposed to be ‘mards’, they are to take all of this in the spirit intended — fun — and not feel uncomfortable or complain. Sections 354, 509 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deal with sexual assault — outraging modesty, eve-teasing and rape — but they are all for women. While this is a great thing, it is rather unfortunate for men. When men are violated, they are laughed off and told that a thousand men would kill to be in his shoes at the time. Most children abused by pedophiles are boys and cases remain hidden in the Indian society as a relative is often to blame.

Sexual harassment is not a new debate, but whilst women keep contemplating, “Am I allowed to share my trauma? Am I allowed to share my story?”  India’s Supreme court has been nudging India in a progressive direction with its liberal rulings and decision making. In a complex, chaotic and generally conservative country, the Supreme Court has long battled charges of being too beholden to politicians in power and willing to trample on civil liberties when the government demands it. Not anymore. Only last month, judges decriminalized gay sex, told a Hindu temple it could not bar entry to women of menstruating age and overturned a 158-year-old adultery law that treated wives as their husbands’ property. With its recent rulings, it has undeniably reasserted itself as a protector of individual rights promised by India’s 70-year-old constitution. When the apex court of a nation becomes so progressive, why are we being regressive?

Whilst big names and offices have been toppled in the West, in India, #MeToo and #TimesUp are finally becoming rallying cries. Movements such as these need momentum to be more inclusive, systematized and politically effective. Women are finally attempting to solidify their fraternity and use it as a weapon to thwart the everlasting subjugation at the hands of the man. It’s about time women shed the hostilities brewing within themselves and turn to become the incarnation of inspiration, of power and prowess and invoke their own inherent ‘shakti’ as weapons of non-cooperation.

Let women, the Durgas of our society take the bull by its horns and fight the menace of misogyny on its face and reclaim the rights and voices that have been deprived to them for long. I only hope that this moment will act as a deterrent not only to existing sexual predators, but potential ones as well. They need to wake up and realise that times have changed and that their time is up.

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Dr Somdutta
I am the former Vice- chairperson of NASSCOM Product Council and a member of the core management committee of Women Entrepreneurial Platform - NITI Aayog. Simultaneously, I am also on the Advisory Board for BloombergQuint. Apart from this, I am also the Founder & Director of Unspun Group, Digital Leadership Institute (DLI) and IRA – House of Designers.

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