Recently I was trying to plan the evening with a friend who told me she couldn’t because she had to pick up her daughter from the airport. Just tell him to take an Uber or an Ola right out front, I suggested. We have a rule, she said, no taxis at night, adding that if she allowed it once it would lead to endless arguments with her teenage daughter, who considers the rule of no transport together after 11 years is frustrating and disruptive to her nightlife. It’s a very awkward arrangement, being a driver for your child on the weekends, I told my friend, to whom she answered in a neutral tone: it’s life. I see this playing out every day in Delhi and Gurgaon. My 19 year old son and his male friends spend half their lives on Ubers; not only are the girls not allowed to take taxis, but they must keep the Live 360 app on at all times so anxious parents can track their whereabouts.
That even we urban, educated, privileged parents are justified in our paranoia was made painfully clear in the past fortnight, when social activist-writer-poet Civic Chandran, 74, was charged in two sexual harassment cases , was released on bail in one of them on a ridiculous premise. In a court in Kerala, Judge S Krishnakumar ruled that the victim’s complaint “will not be prima facie position when the woman wore a sexually provocative dress”. The other case is not the focus of this article but is worth mentioning: Chandran was accused by a Dalit author of groping and forcibly trying to kiss her in April this year. Also in this case, Judge S Krishnakumar, citing Chandran’s long history of agitation against the caste system, granted him bail: his opinion being that Chandran did not know the woman was Dalit and he could not not rule out the possibility that the alleged victim was trying to “tarnish the status of the accused”. Crucially, in both cases, the orders place the burden of responsibility for sexual harassment squarely on the women.
Being a woman in India today is like being a character in a Franz Kafka novel. In The trial, a man is arrested and pursued by a distant and inaccessible authority without the nature of his crime being revealed to him, or to the reader. In 2022, the process by which a judge so casually came to the conclusion that “sexually provocative” attire could pardon a man’s vigorous intent, is terrifyingly Kafkaesque. Consider that Chandran’s legal team is producing photographs of the victim from his Facebook account, which his lawyer argued have “no connection to Chandran or the event where the incident took place. product”. Like any 20-year-old, she poses with her best friend, to be clear, in a perfectly decent outfit. Bizarrely, these totally unrelated images became evidence to establish his “sexually provocative” dress sense – which apparently made the assailant so frenzied with the sexual need, of course, that could not be expected. he controls his lowest urges.
What do we women do with this terrifying order? Ladies, be wise and delete those images of Goa where you had the audacity to wear shorts on the beach; because even men presiding over courtrooms, ostensibly dedicated to justice, think that women should just dress differently to avoid harassment.
As if the ordeal hadn’t been humiliating enough for the victim and insulting to our collective intellect, the bail order expressed disbelief that a 74-year-old “physically handicapped” man could “put force the de facto plaintiff on her knees and sexually press her breast”. The last charge against disgraced American comedian Bill Cosby, accused by more than 60 women of rape over five decades, was in 2008, when Cosby was around 71. A 2019 report from the National Sex Offenders Database (NDSO) in India reveals that there are around 37,000 cases of sexual assault perpetrated by men over the age of 60. The statistics speak for themselves: there are young perverts and there are old perverts. A timely reminder, too, there’s nothing so special about old people. They are just people who have aged and when they misbehave they certainly don’t deserve clemency anymore.
Do you remember #MeToo? So much for that all-too-brief spark of hope, which promised so brilliantly to change the way we think about violence against women. Right now it feels like the move never happened, we’re back to the same old exhausting conversations questioning a woman’s role in her own assault. Will this ever end? I doubt. Perhaps there is something to be learned from the government’s highly successful Independence Day campaign, #HarGharTiranga. Every woman, granddaughter, grandmother, transgender woman, all of whom have faced derisive sexual commentary at some point in their lives, should stubbornly wear “sexually provocative” clothing in their photos. Hashtag: No, we don’t ask.
Writer is director, Hutkay Films