‘I’ve only punched a guy once in my life – in one of the most expensive restaurants in Bombay because I saw this guy trying to grab a girl’
Television anchor and sports presenter
What shocked you the most about this particular case?
The audacity of six people thinking they could get away with something like this. Of course, it’s tragic, she was just 23, she was at the wrong place at the wrong time – but it could have been anyone. When one person thinks like that, you think they must be mentally ill. But if six people do – you have to worry about the collective disregard for law machinery in our country. Today, it’s women, tomorrow it could be the elderly, children – anyone who is weaker, physically – that’s a strange and scary place for society to be in. Everyone is getting distracted by curve balls and not addressing what I think is the core issue – that criminal elements just are not scared of the law anymore, they think they cannot be touched. People who can buy their way out are confident criminals anyway, and now this brazenness cuts across class. This lack of fear of the law is the most worrisome thing for me.
Do you think sexual violence is Delhi, or city-centric? Why is India such a hotbed for sexual violence?
Apart from the disregard for the law, the uneducated Indian man hasn’t come to terms with the new Indian woman. We’re a shockingly regressive society. It’s the ideas we propagate through our TV shows, through old films, are just not correct. In the guise of making fantasy cinema, the fantasy we’ve been selling is also that the woman is in some way subservient. If you look at all our art and culture in the past eighty years, where do you find instances of a woman who is in control? Somehow, after Independence it seems to have just become – “alright, go back home now and stay there! The crisis is over, men will work, women will cook and make babies!” And maybe pre-liberalisation, it was an idea that worked. We didn’t have a lot, we didn’t need a lot. But in the last 20 years, women are working not out of need alone, but also ambition – and somehow the Indian male has not been able to come to terms with that. Chauvinistic, regressive and physically stronger – this is his way of lashing out, of showing them who “the man” is. They’re cowards.
Do you think pop-culture as represented through ads, music or mainstream cinema reflects attitudes of misogyny already present in society or perpetuates them? Why for instance, do we need a scantily clad woman to sell deodorant?
If you put a beautiful woman on screen, everyone will notice and admire her. I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is how you try to own or possess that woman. Look at her, admire her – but don’t vocalise it in a way that makes her uncomfortable, and certainly don’t put your hands on her. Are you going to punish her for being beautiful? Will you refuse to acknowledge that she is a person? That is the kind of culture that I have a problem with. I don’t understand how we can say ‘Oh Hindi films are so stupid and you have to leave your brain at home to watch them’ and then say they shape the way we think. That’s giving them too much importance. These are stories that have been showing people being shot, people falling in love, people stealing – and if it were really affecting us so subliminally, don’t forget the fact that in every Hindi film story ever told, good always triumphs over evil, love wins in the end! It might give the guy a cheap song to sing at the girl on a bus, but if it didn’t he’d probably make something up anyway!
What were you taught to think about women in your own family?
There was no distinction between boys and girls as such when my brother and I were growing up. Of course I feel protective about women who are with me, but it’s no different from how protective I feel towards anyone I’m physically stronger than, that I care about. It’s not like “I’m a man, you’re a woman, it’s my job to protect you” because women are just as protective about men. I did learn that one has to provide for one’s family, but not that this is necessarily the man’s job. My mother was working, then she wasn’t working – but it didn’t make much difference either way in her attitude towards us or vice versa. I can’t even differentiate between which of my parents taught me which values. I have been in a lot of relationships, I know people socially that have hit their girlfriends, and it’s something that I cannot respect at all. I’ve had terrible fights in relationships, god knows I’ve been as angry as can be – but that doesn’t mean you hit someone just because you can!
Sex education and sensitisation. Is it necessary? How should we go about doing this?
I got the talk when I was about fourteen or fifteen, it was a very birds and bees kind of talk. We were told the basics, and to respect a girl’s choice, we had a bit of a laugh and dad just said – I’m there if you need to ask me anything. Recently though, one of my closest friends sat his 7-year-old sons with a doll and said, these are the places where it’s okay for people to touch you, these are the parts of you that are personal, and that you should tell me if someone touches them. We need to be open with our children. But we just keep looking away. As kids, as young people, we’re just told to look away – and the most natural thing in the world becomes forbidden candy. That’s not how we need to talk about it – it’s not candy, in a kid’s terms – it’s a vegetable you eat everyday, it’s common and boring and it’s still important. We didn’t get to a population of billions by looking away; clearly we are having a lot of sex – but we’re not educated or aware about it. We have to take it out of this zone of shame and bring it out in the open so people know. It may sound like an outlandish solution – but if we can teach our children to be open about sex, if there is a crime even despite that, the ‘victim’ will no longer be ashamed of it, because they have had open channels of communication all their lives. They need to be told that regardless of who earns the bread and who goes to office and who looks after children – men and women are equal partners when they make love. Only when they know that sex is an act of love, can they get rid of the sense of shame when it’s not, to recognise it when it’s done the wrong way, without consent.
This openness is the only way for the blame to lie with the perpetrator alone. I want to say on record – if anyone ever blames a woman for any kind of sexual violence against her, whether it’s physical or verbal – don’t ask any questions. Just slap them. I’m serious.
How aware were you of instances of sexual harassment growing up? At home, at college, and now at the work place?
Growing up in Delhi, it was all around me and it always made me really angry. I’ve only punched a guy once in my life – in one of the most expensive restaurants in Bombay because I saw this guy trying to grab a girl. One of the things about being from Delhi is that it means your radar for this sort of behaviour is always on. I’m not a violent person but I just lost it. That’s the strange thing – it can happen anywhere, in the poshest of places, with the most educated of men. If someone is making my date uncomfortable, I never ask her to look away or move inside, I always address the situation or embarrass the guy or just ask him to leave. It isn’t always about being stronger than the guy acting shady, it’s just about knowing that this is not cool, that you cannot make a girl uncomfortable like this. If you know you’re right, you will figure out the best way to deal with it head on. I know that the women I know now still need to think about what they should wear, which places are safe for them, etc, but that’s what upsets me – why should they have to?
Should they maybe just dress conservatively to avoid trouble?
I don’t have an extremist view either way on this. I don’t think they need to be covered from head to toe at all times, nor do I think it’s cool to walk around outside with no clothes on. We do live in a society, and civil society has its grey areas and some norms you have to live by. For example, if you were going to meet your grandparents, or going to a conservative part of the country, you would dress differently from the way you dress when you’re with your friends. Of course it’s your right, but you can’t ignore the fact that there is some danger outside – just be cautious about it. Just like it’s the police and government’s responsibility to keep you safe, it’s also yours. But that being said, rape has nothing to do with what a woman wears, not even one percent, the problem is with the perpetrator.
Victim blame: Why is this unique to rape?
It’s completely about the shame associated with sex. At the expense of sounding like I’m trying to get into the victim’s head – the shame is not that you’ve been hurt and violated, but that now everyone knows you have had sex, and you’ve always been told that whether forced or not is secondary – if you have sex, you are tainted. There is shame in non-consensual sex, but not of the one whose consent was ignored! But if you’re a young person whose grown up believing that it’s a shameful act, if your parents have never even acknowledged sex to you – you just think it’s a better alternative to shut up, or once it’s acknowledged, to end your life, you think everything is just going to get worse for me from this point on.
Have you known anyone in your intimate circle that was molested / violated by someone in their families? Why do you think crimes like these are barely ever reported?
I think people like these, who violate children, deserve the most painful death possible. I have known someone, a very close friend who was molested by a family member when she was eleven. She was 20 when she told me, and I don’t know how far it went because I couldn’t bear to hear the entire story. I kept visualising beating the shit out of him, it was the only way I could stay sane. Sometimes I don’t understand how this country works – how did our concepts of shame, honour and pride get so warped? What the hell is honour killing? How do those two words even come together?
What can we do to change this?
It’s far too vast and complex a problem to have a simplistic solution. But 1) start with your kids, even in rural areas – as shocking as it seems – start talking to them about sex. 2) the police needs to be sensitised. They should be doing the two-finger test on the criminal. 3) Criminal elements only understand the language of fear. Even the bad kids do their homework because they’re scared. There’s nothing wrong with the law keeping people in line. When I was in Delhi, why did I fear driving back from a party at night with a girl? If anyone else tried to stop me – I wouldn’t pull over. But I was scared of the cops.
How do you sensitize a cop who comes from a completely different background and sets of values, someone for instance, who’s never seen a girl mingle freely with boys?
I don’t care what they say or do in their personal time, what they think of women in their homes. I just want that when they are in uniform and on duty, they protect the person who is suffering injustice, regardless of their personal opinion about that person. That is how the law works – you do your job, live up to your oath, enforce the law.
What is the modern successful woman like?
Someone who’s honest to themselves, can express themselves, can add value to the world, wants to use their privilege for the people around them. I don’t think it’s too different from a modern successful man.
Should women enjoy their bodies, have sexual partners, and intermingle freely with the opposite sex? Or should they try to curtail this freedom since it subjects them to violence?
That’s absurd. I think women should be discreet because I think men should be discreet about what they do in their personal lives as well. Boys who claim they’re such studs – except for the small percentage of homosexuals – they’re having sex with women only right? So it’s happening, whether or not we talk about it. For some reason the ‘studs’ don’t like to think of it that way either.
How has this incident changed you?
The human imagination is uncontrollable. We’ve all imagined doing bad things, I’ve also lusted after people I can’t get, and wanted to have sex with them – but there’s a difference between what you actualise through action. This is where the values you grow up with and the fear of the law need to both come in. Sit at home and jerk off to whatever you want, no one cares. For me the scary thing is that the largest democracy in the world has the most indifferent, inane and out-of-touch government ever. We’re sitting on a rudderless ship. Like everyone else, I’ve grown up selfish, looking after my own needs, living in my own bubble. I know the precise moment I changed. It was that first water cannon.