How does an average Indian respond to incidents of sexual harassment? Depending on the extent of damage done, the initial flurry of questions are usually the ones confirming that the woman in question was not callously ‘inviting’ trouble.
If it is ascertained that she has not flouted any rule laid down by Indian conventional wisdom – that she had not consumed alcohol, was not alone or dozing off in a cab, not dressed in a way that send the vulnerable, uncontrollable Indian male hormone raging – the popular reaction sways between sympathy and dismissal.
The ‘wronged’ woman in India is now a bit of a social reality that has to be lived with – like potholed roads, pollution, red tapism and traffic snarls. The abused woman probably makes you fleetingly sad, but has lost the power to make India anxious. Also, it is a fact, a greater section of society chooses not to be anxious about it.
However, the country never tires of imagining and losing sleep over the grave many ways in which a woman might wrong a man. The undercurrent of anxiety about gender scales tipping to the unfamiliar side is so strong that it leads a sizable section of even the educated middle class to raise a loud alarm over the attack of the manipulative Indian woman, even when there is no sign that the woman is actually wrong.
The latest incident to highlight this hypocrisy is the video that went viral showing a woman chastising a man who tried to touch her on a flight to Bhubaneshwar. The woman is seen in the video loudly berating the man, abusing him, calling him an ‘old pervert’. The man is seen trying to cover his face with his hands and also apologising on two instances. A second video that has surfaced following the incident, the man is seen talking to the woman saying, “Everyone makes mistakes in life. This was a mistake.” He goes on to admit that he had touched her.
However, the moment the video surfaced and started doing the rounds on social media, alongside tweets and comments praising the girl’s actions, there were a flurry of comments expressing doubt over the authenticity of the incident, accusing the girl of fabricating allegations.
This, despite the fact that the video clearly shows the man apologizing and never once denying that he had tried to touch her inappropriately. While there were some tweets expressing deep doubt, most of the comments that expressed doubt over the girl’s version of the story were posted on Twitter, on news websites which carried the story, under the convenient cover of anonymity.
Be it the Rohtak girls, like everyone has latched on to, be it this incident, the idea of claiming justice being within the power of the woman in India seems to be extremely disturbing to a great section of Indians. There are two ways of looking at the mobile phone and the mobile video revolution. One, as a heartening one that slightly aids the battle against rampant sexual repression of women in India. And two, as a tool to frame innocent men for nothing, a comparatively rare occurrence in India. However, instead of welcoming the the new tool of bringing harassers to book – something that was sorely missing in India – the concerns about the medium being used to falsely attack men seem to be louder.
There’s an obvious reason behind the panic. In India, a woman is painstakingly tutored how her go-to source of wisdom, safety and financial sustenance is a man. The legal, judicial, police establishments are driven mostly by men with women being a peripheral presence in them. From registering an FIR to fighting your case, the process of seeking justice in India passes through many institutions manned by men. Ideally, that wouldn’t have been a problem if all these systems weren’t patriarchal. But they are, making the process gruelling and even humiliating.
However, a video is a weapon that scares patriarchy. The proof, like in the Indigo case, is mostly undeniable. It leaves the woman with more power than usual to fight for her own cause with little need of either empathy or logistical help from a man. It pins a man down for his crimes with little scope of escape.
The letter written by actor Shenaz Treasurywala was defended by many men, and women, pointing out that men are indeed the ones in the position of power in India and it is up to them to take responsibility for the women of the country. This Indigo video proves otherwise. No wonder, then, it has caused some heartburn for ones who like playing protecters.