MeToo in India: Repressed childhood, wrong understanding of sexual assault and need to say no

In the Indian context, there is a marked glee factor in the #MeToo campaign. One wonders who the next person to be named and shamed will be.

To a large extent, we have arrived at this state of affairs because of a deep and abiding repression in matters of sexual understanding and an ostrich-like resistance to arm young girls with knowledge — whether as parents, teachers or elder brothers.

As I read about women having faced boorish conduct from men, it seems in order to share a personal viewpoint.

Much of this sexual harassment begins in childhood and at home. My daughters were around six years old when my wife and I began to teach them that there were no uncles. Nor did anyone have the right to touch them, hug them or display any kind of physical affection. Nor were they to be afraid to tell us if anything occurred that made them uncomfortable. This was not paranoia, it was plain common sense. We told them that no one was exempt, and that they should never fear sharing everything with us, because we would not scold them. On the contrary, we would be happy that they related such incidents to us.

 MeToo in India: Repressed childhood, wrong understanding of sexual assault and need to say no

A protester raises a placard reading "#MeToo" during a rally against sexual harassment . Reuters

If your kid tells you this has happened before, then whether it is an uncle or a household help, a stranger or a neighbour, you do what you have to do.

You just do not touch, caress or fondle other people’s kids in any way, even if you mean well.

During my pre-marriage days, I met several women who carried scars from childhood. The seventies and eighties in Mumbai were incredibly honest years, and men and women had a certain tangible level of mutual courtesy. No subject was taboo, and because we didn’t have these social platforms and their plastic conversations, we had verbal dexterity and depth of thought. Sexual harassment was often a topic of discussion.

Sexual predators included male relatives, occasionally the father or brother, neighbours and old men posturing as avuncular entities patting the cheek and rubbing the head for starters. When abuse happened, the survivors were told it didn’t happen. The response would be something like, "You imagined it. Uncle so-and-so would never do that." A blanket denial that leaves the child vulnerable for life.

Schools which are co-ed are equally responsible. At times, they turn away girls who come forward with complaints

This is the kernel that grown into the poisoned tree. The ugly touch, the obscene hand on the knee, the brush against the breast, the pretence of adult affection — these are still seen as trivial transgressions. "Let it go" becomes the mantra.

Someone very close to me related an incident that echoes in a million homes even as we speak. A middle-aged relative or father’s friend would visit the house regularly. The young nubile girl in the house was used to seeing him around the place. One day, they were alone with each other. He placed his fingers on his lips and then pressed them on hers. Then, he tried to hold her in a happy little bear hug. The girl, confused and bewildered but having the sixth sense to know this is not okay, wriggled away and ran out of the room. It took her a few minutes to wrestle with what just happened, after which she told her mother. The sensible woman that the mother was, she went ballistic. She told her husband, who was also aghast. By that time, the guy had left the premises. He was informed never to even think of coming to the house again.

That child will have grown up ready to fight the good fight because of one incident in her childhood.

This is what all the women’s groups and feminists and intellectuals should espouse, a nationwide campaign which empowers young girls to say, no, I do not want a hug.

For sure, those who are taught this lesson in childhood will not grow up thinking, "Let me tolerate it, this is part of the game." It is not a game.

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Updated Date: Oct 09, 2018 10:14:44 IST