Sunday, December 23, 2012

Just another voice joining in

The past week has been one of anger, hopelessness, disgust, anxiety, and more anger. Those of us (and that's many of us) who have been following the events (and non-events) in the aftermath of the rape in Delhi probably have gone through all these emotions and many more along the same continuum. There are commentaries, questions and observations across media, from the strident campaigns on Times Now and CNN-IBN to the columns in The Hindu and on Kafila. Women and young men in Delhi and elsewhere talk about this over coffee and express their outrage on twitter and facebook. A lethargic and slow acting government stoked the anger by not responding soon enough or with enough conviction and determination. Shutting down metro stations and issuing media advisories about "restrained" coverage. Is restraint possible in such situations? Restraint in action perhaps but certainly not in expression of outrage.

And then we all carry our fears and hopes into the night and wonder when and whether things will ever change.

So often I am asked, as a mother of two young women, what I tell my daughters as they venture out into the big bad world and begin to deal with the realities of entrenched attitudes and the vulnerabilities that come with being a woman. All through their growing up, they have not heard anyone from within the family tell them to think or act a certain way because of their gender. They have attended schools where gender sensitivity is a big part of the agenda, and in a way, this could leave them a little unprepared to deal with gender based discrimination on a personal level. On the other hand, this could also give them a certain inner strength, an assumption of equality and equal rights as they make their own decisions.

So what then do I tell them? Do I tell them to "be careful" and avoid situations that place them at risk? Do I tell them to dress "sensibly" and not go out too late alone? While I myself might not think twice about claiming my right to go where I want and wear what I please, I find myself biting back words of caution when it comes to my children. I find that I do want them to be careful, while also resenting the fact that we live in a world where the onus of staying safe is placed on women (also see Why Loiter? for more on this). I hate that there are eyes and hands and predatory bodies that see women (and vulnerable boys) as objects to be looked at and taken at will.

So yes, I don't tell them to do anything different, but I hope they can stay safe. I want them to be able to attend late night movie shows and enjoy the freedom of being young in a big city. And get into a bus if they want to, or walk down the street at midnight, with their friends, or alone, without fear, and without fear of my anxiety.

I know that it's going to take a long time before the streets are safe by habit, before we as a society respect every individual in body and mind.

So in truth, my mind is never completely without fear.