Why didn't Mallika Dua defend herself against Akshay Kumar? Because we haven't told her how to
There have been two times in my life that I’ve stood up to sexual harassment. One was when I was 13. By that time I’d already put up with two years of eve teasing and harassment. Whether it was a stranger’s hand coming in through a taxi window to grope my pre-pubescent breasts, or a gang of boys who put their hands all over my body on the pretext of Holi, I felt like I’d seen it all. That particular day, two louts had been eve teasing and following a friend and me from Mumbai’s Priyadarshini Park to our government colony across the road. I couldn’t take it anymore. I turned around and confronted the louts. We got into a shouting match. My friend tried to pull me away but I wouldn’t move. The louts stood towering above me. I wasn’t scared. I was a Karate brown belt back then. It was when one of them pushed me that my friend decided that she’d had enough and pulled me away.
She was horrified by ‘my conduct’ and made me promise to never confront eve-teasers ever again. “They would’ve picked you up, taken you to some corner and raped you,” she said. I knew she was speaking the truth.
After that, for over five years, I didn’t confront the scores of men in buses who touched me when I went to college. I didn’t say anything to the man opposite the ice-cream parlour who masturbated in full public view while staring at me. I listened quietly to story over story of my girlfriends going through similar experiences, like a tape on loop. After every disturbing incident, we would discuss what we were wearing, the way we were behaving, and always find a reason to blame ourselves. Yes, the men were ‘despos’ and ‘cheapos’ and ‘roadside romeos’, but we could only feel ashamed for ourselves, not for them. Because that’s what society told us.
Eventually, I grew sick of this. So, when a man smacked my best friend on her ass outside St Xavier’s College, I decided I’d had enough. I ran after that man and began to sing some particularly lewd song about fornicating pigeons. Then I smacked his ass. The man ran for his life.
But my friend — my brave Parsi friend who would not quake in a thunderstorm — was livid. “You could’ve got us killed!” she yelled. “There’s no need for such foolishness.”
And that’s what it was. Foolishness. To stand up to ‘despos’, ‘cheapos’ and ‘roadside romeos’ who thought that women’s bodies were for sale. If you retaliated to their aggression you’d further aggravate them. There was always a price to pay.
This narrative kept generations of women silent. When men groped us, when they hit us, when they burnt us alive, we made it our shame instead of theirs.
So, after my MBA, when I took my first corporate job in Switzerland, I thought I was safe. Men abroad were refined. They were more evolved. Then my boss, who was my father’s age, began to stare at my breasts. For months I tolerated this; then found another reason to quit and come back home. When I went to work in New York City, a man on the subway rubbed his hand against my thighs. I got up and left the train. When I worked in Dubai, my boss’s boss told me that he’d been following me around office wondering whose ass that was. He knew my family well. I never spoke of this. I quit that job as well.
Each time I ran. I stayed silent. So, when a man I loved hit me, I followed the same survival narrative. I kept quiet. I didn’t stand up for myself. I made it my own shame. Because that’s what my country had taught me.
You can imagine then why I find it presumptuous that comedian Mallika Dua is being trolled for not defending herself against the casual sexism inflicted on her by superstar Akshay Kumar.
Why are we surprised? This is what our country has taught her, and me, and our million other women: to normalise sexual harassment.
We can take to social media and shout #MeToo all we want, but when it comes to saving ourselves, we simply don’t know how. We, as women, will only be empowered when we change the narrative and talk about #HowTo instead.
Meghna Pant is an award-winning author and journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @MeghnaPant.
Updated Date: Oct 27, 2017 16:59:43 IST