One of the greatest stride we have made in gender equality and feminism (which are synonymous) in the past one year has been the “#metoo” movement. What started as a campaign to write “#metoo” in one’s status to show the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment faced by women, the campaign ended up giving courage to women around the world to speak up and narrate their story or in some cases call out “their Harvey Weinstein”. The kind of empowerment that was generated by this movement was very liberating and thought provoking.
We saw really “woke” people standing on the wrong side of the fence and we saw men coming out to support this movement of liberation for their fellow human beings.
But this article is addressed to all the women (and men) who stopped short of claiming this freedom and using the environment created to liberate themselves from the oppression that they have gotten used to. In the summer of 2017, I asked my colleague out for lunch in order to express my gratitude for guiding me through my external exams. We went to a quite restaurant in Central Delhi to enjoy some scrumptious Portuguese cuisine and ended up talking about our childhood. I saw this hesitation in her eyes when she was talking about the time she spent at her house, while her parents worked in another city. She couldn’t complete the story without a couple of pauses and a dozen sighs. I understood that she was suppressing something.
We went ahead with the rest of our date and walked away from the restaurant for a quaint walk. When we reached a quite spot on that trail with a bench right under the tree, I stopped her and I said to her, “Hey, I realised that you were struggling with something when you were talking about your childhood, especially about the time you spent in your hometown and I want you to know that you can talk to me about it. Let this place be a metaphorical space where you feel safe, and understood; where there will be no judgment but compassion for your suffering. Let this place be a place where you feel free from the shackles of societal convention and flirt with the truth.”
She hesitated like any other person would, when facing such unusual warmth and honesty in a time such as ours. I sat down quietly with her and I told her she did not have to talk about it if she didn’t feel like it, but I wanted her to know that I cared and I could patiently listen. There was silence for another 5 minutes while we both looked at the people walking across the road.
Then it started. A story told with interrupting sobs and choked words. She started pouring her heart out and she let it flow. I was drowned in the horrors of it. She was 8 years old when somebody she knew assaulted her sexually. For people like me, who believed in love, romance, kindness and compassion, such evil existed in a different world quite detached from our world. This was the first time I realised how close this ugliness is and how surrounded we are. After an hour of ranting, she completed the story and broke down.
I was trying to make sense of the situation. I did not want her to cry, especially in a public space (I would look guilty as hell) but I did not want her to stop. I wanted her to embrace this new found courage and not interrupt this catharsis. When she gathered her composure, I asked her who this person was? She had difficulty in naming the person. She was scared of the consequences and the drama that would follow with accepting this truth. Like many other girls, she was chained to the idea of convention rather than the truth. She did not have the courage.
I gave her some room to breathe only to remind her that she had to talk to someone about it before this person had the chance to hurt somebody else. Now keeping in mind the benevolence that woman kind is graced with, she realised that she could handle her pain but not see someone else suffer through it. Women are very generous when it comes to accepting their own pain in order to protect the rest of us. She picked up the phone and had an hour long talk with her mother. I got a call the next day to tell me how liberated she felt and how she felt that she had broken some of her chains to taste freedom for the very first time. She had reported the incident to her mom and the family had a conversation about this man in order to isolate him from potential victims before concrete steps could be taken. She felt free.
There are two lessons to be taken from this incident. For women, who have been oppressed, threatened, or manipulated into believing that it is alright to silently suffer through this pain to maintain status quo, it is your duty to speak out about it; justice needs to be served but more importantly you need to protect other women from the clutches of these predators.
You need to liberate yourself and sometimes it is very difficult to call out their names, but use this movement, use this empowerment and use this conducive environment to liberate yourself from these oppressive norms and assert your human rights. Name and shame these perpetrators so that they cannot hurt anybody else; when they are not shy of committing these atrocities, why should you be shy in naming them.
The second lesson is for all the guys who read this. Create a space where these women feel liberated and help them come out in the open to address these incidents. As much as this is your moral duty, in their liberation lies your redemption.
With this movement, we will create a more beautiful world.