Comment on the Sexual Harassment Bill

It’s up on the website of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, and comments are to be submitted before the end of the month.

I will be writing about what I think of it; but if you have a comment / suggestion but can’t be bothered to write to the Ministry yourself, leave it in the comments on this post, and I’ll make sure it reaches them.

The Bill’s here. Thanks Blr Bytes (and Firefox)

So, what’s this year going to be like?

Today’s Ugadi, see? So the question. In spite of living alone (or maybe because of it?) I tend to do all the traditionally right things to do on festival days. Wake up early, have a “head bath”, make pachchadi and prasadam, the works.

So, Ugadi pachchadi. For those of you who don’t know, it’s made of tamarind, jaggery, putnala pappu, raw mangoes, neem flowers and little pieces of chillies. There’s no fixed proportion of these things, so it’s always worth betting on how it turns out. You see, the six things are supposed to represent the six flavours of life, and like life, the pachchadi is always unpredictable.

The tamarind is sour, of course, for those things I really wanted but couldn’t have – from movies I wish I’d seen to weddings I wish I could’ve attended. The jaggery is sweet, for things like family and friends and discovering conversation where I didn’t look for it. The putnala pappu is bland – comforting like contentment, I like to think. Like humming a song, like riding the Little Yellow Van to work. The raw mangoes must be really raw – not fully formed, because they must be vagaru; the sour-bitter that leaves a sweet aftertaste, like a quarrel that’s made up with flowers, with kisses. The neem flowers are bitter through and through, tiny things that float all over the pachchadi and that you can’t avoid. A breakup, a rejection, a disappointment. Not easy to forget, but the taste does fade in time. And finally, the little chillies. Spicing up the pachchadi, burning up your tongue if you happen to bite on one – they’re romance and lust, they’re the secret crush.

Last year had all of these, and my pachchadi this year has turned out rather well: a sweet-sour tang that hits first, followed by a bitterness softened by biting into bland putnalu, and by the time you realise you’ve bitten into a chilli piece, the sweet aftertaste of the mango is already settling in. Looks like an interesting year ahead!

Inspired by a limerick-athon*

Has anyone noticed how the weather
Is running about hither and thither
The afternoons bake and while the nights don’t chill
They do tell us summer isn’t here still
And it’s bringing me to the end of my tether!

——–

Long long days of evaluation
Are followed by yet more examination
Setting papers and correcting them
Coming across an occassional gem
The lows and highs of teaching taxation

—–

Working weekends and hatin’ it
Bunking classes and lovin’ it
Takes me back a few years in time
Inspires me to write a rhyme
And makes me wonder where I’m takin’ it!

*It was on a mailing which I don’t belong to and which BikerBoy threatened me with bodily harm if I invaded, so…

Feminism 101

Here.

Pointing people to resources is much better than trying to spout my own version of gyan! Except, it doesn’t talk about Indian feminism. Sigh.

The celebration that almost wasn’t

I promised to write a celebratory post for Blank Noise, talking about the times when I’ve fought back, raised my voice, done something, about street harassment. So I thought and thought and thought, and I realise that my fund of memories of fighting back is scarily scarce.

There was the time I shouted abuse at the man who grabbed my breasts as he cycled past – I was 14, and walking home from somewhere, and it was the first time it had ever happened. I screamed and shouted on an empty street, while he turned back and waved.

There was the time I turned to the man on the bus behind me and asked him to move – and when he claimed he couldn’t, turned to the man beside him and asked if he could move to make room for this man to move – a ripple of amusement up the back of the bus, and no more insistent pressing against my back.

There was the time I wrote this post, asking for help, receiving it, and stopping a spate of ‘prank’ calls: does that count as street harassment, though?

Of course, for each of these, I can think of so many times when I haven’t reacted, haven’t fought back, have decided to ignore, to let it be. And because of that, I almost didn’t write this post.

But you know what? Each of these times, meagre as they are, marks my defiance. They are my acts of bravery, my shake-of-the-fist in the face of the nameless fear I cloak in indifference. They are my acts of honesty – expressions of the outrage and anger that go hand in hand with the fear. Defiance, bravery, honesty.

I do have something to celebrate.

****

There’s another woman, though, whom I don’t celebrate often enough. I tend to think of her as Li’l Sis, as Pooh, as someone to coddle and protect. Not often I think of her as the courageous woman she is. So this is the story that needs to be told:

Nineteen years old. Away from home, in a small college town. Her phone rings, and it’s the caller again (what is it with the women in my family and ‘prank’ callers?). She cuts the call. It rings again. She cuts it again. Ring. Cut. Ring. Cut. Ring…oh, Dad. She answers the phone and talks for a while. She tells Dad about the calls. She’s bloody pissed off. Dad puts on his calm-the-hysterical-Koka-women voice, and talks to her. She mentions the police. Dad suggests changing her phone number. She says she doesn’t want to do that; it’s not as if she’s at fault! Dad calms her down, tells her to think about it. Hangs up. The phone rings again.

Now she’s walking into the police station. It looks a lot like a shabby office, except for the khaki uniforms. Is her hand trembling? Her voice steady? She speaks to an officer, tells him the problem, asks what she can do. He listens to her, tells her registering an FIR means they will investigate the matter. It will take time. In the meanwhile, he says, he will take care of it. Asks for the number. Caller Line Identification, praise be. He calls it from his own telephone. Tells the person who answers it his name and rank, and tells him that if he ever tries a stunt like this again, he’ll be sorry.

The flutter in her stomach had settled as she spoke to the policeman. Not a stutter, not a fumble. She watched as he called the harasser, wondered why she had been scared of the police. Thanked him politely, and left.

And Li’l Sis, Pooh, lived happily ever after with her phone. Minty, the lawyer, learnt a lesson in courage, in trusting the law.

****

And a much shorter celebration of a woman who made both Li’l Sis and Minty what they were: the woman who spoke up against workplace harassment (which wasn’t even a word then) twenty-five years ago, and the man who didn’t stop her. She spoke up, and they stayed to face everything the workplace then threw at them – the labels, the judgement, the separation in the name of ‘postings’. The workplace threw all of this at them, and yet Minty and Pooh still associate ‘working women’ with confidence, energy and enthusiasm, not bitterness, anger or pain.

Yes, I have a lot to celebrate.

Thanks, BNP, for reminding me. To my family, for Women’s Day: a toast to strength – yours and mine; ours.

And…

… to make up for having disappeared for so long, I’m posting for the second time today.

No, I haven’t resumed the feminism series yet, but I will. In the meanwhile, reading this (which I discovered through Feministe) sort of put that series in context. Ilyka says a lot of the stuff that I wanted to say to some people, but didn’t because I couldn’t say it so well. Instead, I started off the feminism series.

“You should have a beginner’s blog.”

“Periodically someone says as much, but that’s a lot of work and boring to slog through if you already have some idea. I used to think a feminism 101 blog would be great, but anymore I’m like, ‘No, you can take your ass to the library. Or take a women’s studies class.’ But you say that last one, it’s like you suggested the dude go castrate himself.”

“That’s what I think I figured out–I shouldn’t expect one of you to walk me through everything.”

“Right. You don’t get a tour guide. That costs extra.”

The fact that this isn’t a feminist blog in the sense that they’re talking about in that conversation makes it easier to play the tour guide, I suppose. Or maybe it is the missionary impulse: I-will-save-their-souls-if-I-can. Or just, as I said before, an excuse to talk about my favourite subject in a semester when I don’t have any other.

Whatever it is, it will be back!

Blanking blankety blank blank

Is the usual reaction to street harassment, isn’t it? Muttered under your breath, sometimes shouted aloud? Well, last year, Blank Noise organised a blogathon on Women’s Day (8th March), asking people to write about their experience of harassment. The posts took me all week to finish reading – partly because there were so many of them, but also because it was overwhelming in a lot of ways.

I blogged then for the blogathon, and it was catharsis, of sorts. The response in the blogosphere made me examine my own reactions, too – when and why did I curl up and ignore harassment, when and why did I react in some cases? What made harassment, harassment? How often did perceptions of who the letcher was influence my reaction to letching? Why?

It’s been a year now, and now Blank Noise has another online event planned for this March 8. A celebration, this time. Here’s the email I got about it:

This year for Women’s Day we’re asking you to share experiences of times when you were an ACTION HERO and fought back against harassment.

Blog about your experience, and let us know so we can link to you on our blog.

When did you flip a situation so you could resist, when did you give back as hard as you got? How did you choose to confront the situation? When did you become an Action Hero?

We hope that this response helps us understand the different strategies women (across age groups, cultures, and countries) have instinctively created to deal with street sexual harassment. (If you’re a male blogger, ask your female friends and relatives about their experiences.)

Here’s how to participate:

1. blog your story (as soon as possible, and definitely before March 8!)

2. email the link to your blog post to blurtblanknoise@gmail.com with
a subject titled “Action Heroes Online”

3. we will link to you right away!And don’t forget your non-blogging friends and family members — we’d love to hear stories from your mothers, aunties and grandmothers!

If you’re not a blogger, please feel free to email the action testimonials instead. We will upload them on a new blogsite. ( WWW.BLANKNOISEACTIONHEROES.BLOGSPOT.COM)