Little Rohini, all of 10, dreaded waking up again. She knew that if she wakes up she needs to go to school and then she needs to attend the physical education class and then she needs to meet Kumar Sir and then…What shall the excuse be today? She has a test in grammar as well. “Will mum take me seriously if I fake the headache again”, she thinks…Not sure. She walks to mum and tells her she has a severe headache. Its not entirely a lie, Rohini knows that when she thinks about Kumar Sir she eventually has an ache everywhere – her head, her legs, her stomach – she shuts her eyes to get the thoughts away. He hasnt touched her yet, but she knows his eyes screen her inside out! She tries hard but Mum wouldn’t listen. Mum is concerned about Rohini’s fall in grades this last six months. She insists that Rohini attends school and drops her off personally. “Rohini, school is the window to the world dear. You must study well and get high scores”. High scores? For Rohini getting into school with Kumar Sir is no high – its getting into Shoonya!
Surely for Bengaluru this is not a new case. When we talk of women’s safety in our country, we often refer to the high-level crime of rapes, serious molestation, kidnaps and even murder. We often ignore addressing or even discussing the lesser known problems that women face like everyday sexual harassment, bullying, stares, glares, comments, whistles, unsolicited touching and groping. Unlike in western countries, in India girls like Rohini don’t even know what or how to address subtle harassment that they face. Schools are obsessed with a reputation, parents with grades and society with statistics to take anything else like Rohini’s emotion, feeling and dignity seriously. What is Rohini left with? A few conversations in the passing with friends, sometimes ignoring Kumar Sir, avoiding him perhaps, feeling consumed most times, growing to live with it and if things really go out of hand do the unmentionable – end her life! And then that brings huge debates, demands, candlelight protests, slogans and sadly a short-lived campaign on action to be taken by all kinds of people remotely concerned with Rohini on women safety!
Post December 2012, the topic of women safety, as we all recognise, has been given centre-stage time and again – with everyone other than the real everyday woman being impacted. Organisations have been formed to address advocacy; tech companies have started thinking of business models to roll out apps, sensors, wearable devices; governments have risen and fallen for voicing their opinions on women’s clothes, our ethics, our getting back home on time the number of ‘Rakhi’ brothers we should have – to even ‘women are meant to stay at home and not provoke men’!!
Safety and Dignity are very basic to me as a woman. I want to decide what makes me feel safe and what I will do to maintain my dignity. I want to be truly empowered to make a choice of wearing what I want to and staying where I want to at a time I choose to – and I want to make a responsible choice. This is really the woman of today’s India. For us, empowerment is not a lose term around just stepping out of home and doing what we want, but more of being in control and being responsible for our actions. We want to understand behaviour around us, know how this impacts us and take informed decisions. We want to respond upfront to inappropriate behaviour and address situations of harassment when it starts right at the beginning rather than wait for it to brew and become a heinous crime.
At Durga (www.durgaindia.org), we believe that crime or any unpleasantness can be addressed in the most effective way at the first instance. It is called ‘Active Response’ which takes a little effort but can be done in a most non-combative way. It is about being in the moment all the time, not with fear and uncertainty, but with the sense of being in control and preparedness. It’s about being responsible for our actions and taking charge of the environment where we are at the moment. At Durga, we believe that each of us belongs to the society and any issue can be addressed best when we do it collectively – the power of plenty! We deeply embed the philosophy of the ‘Active Role of the Bystander’ giving every woman as a Durga the power of many hands behind her – all hands of other women who are around to support her – like the real Durga with many hands with her! We are a not for profit social enterprise working in India for the last 3 plus years, waiting to work with more and more women through skill development using theatre, creating support groups, developing Durga Champions and working collectively on creating safer environments for our women and girls.
We have a place for everybody and every idea. Men have been an integral part of our work and are really one of the strongest pillars for us from conception to execution in our various programmes.
Come be a part of our movement and create the change you wish to see!
By Priya Varadarajan