These are the first words of the poem that made Satshya Tharien an internet phenomenon. It is a poem in which the young Indian blogger raises her vioce against the culture of victim blaming in the aftermath of a mass-molestation in Bangalore. A Poem for the self-determination of women.
TEXT: Satshya Tharien
On New Year’s Eve in India’s IT Hub Bengaluru, the celebrations to ring in 2017 turned ugly. Revellers in the popular Brigade Road were confronted by large mobs of drunk men who, according to reports, started molesting women around them. The incident is reminiscent of the 2015/2016 mass molestation in Cologne where women were molested by a large crowd near the central train station. Shortly after the visuals hits TV news screens in India, Abu Azmi, a politician, was asked to give his reaction to the incident. Azmi, who has a history of making misogynist statements stayed true to character. He said the incident was inevitable because „men are like ants and women are like sugar; men are like fire and women are like petrol – how can you not expect something to happen?“
I was working the night shift at my office and had the misfortune of listening to another speech of Mr. Abu Azmi made at a rally. This was after he had made ridiculous remarks comparing women to sugar and petrol. At the rally he began by saying that there has been a huge controversy splashed across all TV screens because of him. And boy, did he seem mighty pleased by it, saying “There’s a famous saying – Condemn me, praise me but don’t forget me. And that is what happened with me”.
Abu Azmi may really believe in what he’s been spouting, or maybe he’s just an opportunist. Either way, the narrative got shifted from the deplorable mass molestation in Bengaluru to a Maharashtrian MLA whose claim to fame is sounding like a frustrated misogynist. And that was what made me angry – the fact that people like him were capitalising on someone’s trauma to gain political mileage. It was the anger I felt at being pushed into a box and labelled a commodity that made me write the poem.
I grew up with several positive female role-models around me. Male figures in my life have always treated me with respect. I am a person to them first and foremost, my gender is secondary. But I realise that I am one of the lucky ones. Feminism seems to have become a dirty word today. But we need more conversations about it. There is a misconception that regressive views are held only by the older generation. But anyone with a Facebook profile today will know that that is false. Regular 22-year- olds who have studied with me, who I have shared meals and conversations with, post extremely sexist statuses and jokes. A friend I had a conversation with today, strongly said she agrees with Abu Azmi’s view that women wearing skimpy clothes are more likely to be molested because “that’s what the reality is today”. Normalising sexual assault and asking a woman to view her body as a cause for assault is a marathon in the reverse direction. She also said, “Men will lech if you wear a short skirt”. Fact: Some men will lech at you even if you are bundled up in several layers of clothing – ask any woman in Delhi or ask the burqa-clad woman whose tongue was bitten when she resisted a molester in Bengaluru’s KG Halli.
Let’s also address #NotAllMen. Yes, not all men are creeps. But taking the space to beat your chest about how you’re not a molester is incredibly selfish. Instead, solidarity with the victims and a strong stand that women are equals and deserve safe public spaces would be so much more helpful. How much longer are women going to be subjugated to living their lives according to the whims and fancies of people who are clearly living in the wrong century? What is the point of my education, my job, my independence if at the end of the day I still have to restrict myself from wearing something or going somewhere just because someone thinks that my very existence somehow entitles him to
A piece by an independent female author, published on the Indian newsblog The Quint raises some “pertinent” questions – just like Azmi does. One question asks “Why were they on the streets?” Well, most of the victims were “on the streets” because they were on their way home after their New Year celebrations. Last time I checked, the streets were wide enough for both sexes. Another paragraph was helpfully titled, “Being safe is an option”. Well, not being a molester is also an option. After all, isn’t that what #NotAllMen is all about?
So this is directed not only at men but also at women who are apologists for this kind of behaviour. This is a time we need solidarity and support from everyone. How many more women are we going to put through trauma before we realise that the problem is not them, but us, the society?