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"Why Are You, A Man, Here?" She Asked

By N. Jayaram

31 July, 2012

“Silence is Violence” was the theme of a demo in front of Bangalore’s Town Hall to protest innumerable incidents of attacks on women in India.

A good number of women, and men too, turned out on a weekday forenoon for the event featuring posters, slogans, street theatre, media interviews and a meeting among some of those present on future action. There was banter, laughter … and, undoubtedly, inner rage.

A journalist wanted an interview. I too am one, and hacks don’t quote each other, I told her. (They do too, in certain contexts.) Then again, I wasn’t reporting but participating.

So to answer her, why was I, a male, there?

Because to borrow from the words of Martin Niemoller (http://allpoetry.com/poem/8601069-First_They_Came_For_The_Communists-by-Martin_Niemoller), if I don’t speak up when Muslims are attacked, when Christians are attacked, when Dalits, Kashmiris, people from northeastern India, when ordinary people in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa (mineral-rich states with indigenous populations) are attacked, and when women are attacked, who will speak up for me when I am attacked?

Because violence against women is violence against nearly half the population of India. Why ‘nearly’ half? Because the male-female ratio is skewed out of all proportion in most of India (http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/fsex.aspx).

Because we practise female foeticide, we go in for what in Greek is known as amniocentesis and which happens like mad in India, despite it being illegal: finding out the sex of the unborn child so as to abort if female.

Because we neglect and ill-treat the girl child, we fail to give her as much attention, education and nourishment as we do to the male. Because we want to be rid of her as early as possible through marriage or, if it came to that, concubinage or trafficking.

Because we are inured to domestic violence, to dowry deaths (“bride burning” being an Indian innovation), to daily torture of a major section of India’s population.

Because during the total of 16 years I lived in Hong Kong, many women, of all races, would cover their chests at the sight of me. Because we Indian men have acquired a reputation for staring, stalking, groping and worse? (I hadn’t noticed this initially although a woman from the Philippines on a domestic helper visa had told me Indians and Pakistanis harassed Filipinas.)

Because, as a young man I saw visual rape being committed on women in New Delhi buses, men astride scooters stopping in front of a woman waiting at a bus stand and gesturing to her, obviously a stranger, to hop on, and because I tried to put myself in her shoes and felt violated. And because far more horrendous indignities are forced on women every day all over India.

Because I too am deemed capable of attacking, assaulting, groping, harassing, misbehaving (euphemism watch!), raping, stalking, staring, violating and, to use that paragon of all the silliest euphemisms Indian journalists use blithely, ‘eve-teasing’.

Because I’m ashamed, outraged, saddened.

N. Jayaram is a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi. He was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions. He writes a blog: http://walkerjay.wordpress.com/

Photo courtesy of Rashmi Vallabhajosyula



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