Dear Priyanka Reddy (and countless others like you),
When I was a little girl, I saw the world in black and white. Good vs. Bad, Rich vs. poor. Hungry vs. Sated. I loved dotting my ‘i’s and crossing my ‘t’s and I got much comfort from knowing that evil never lingers once it’s been purged out by the shiny hero in his best suit.
What an idiot I was. What an absolute idiot.
I was a naïve 9 when I was first groped at a cousin’s wedding by unseen hands. 11 and fresh faced, when I felt an erect penis pushing against my back in the General compartment of the Borivali local train. 14, when a young man on the bus thought it was ok to burrow his hands into my lap and feel me up. You’ve heard these stories, right? I mean, show me a girl in India who hasn’t been molested and I’ll show you someone who’s in denial.
Infants are raped. School girls (and boys) are assaulted. Women as young as 20/as old as 90 are sexually abused. Rape has become so commonplace, that Social Media is running out of hashtags. #Metoo, #Imwithher and a hundred others trend across computer screens, every day.
And while we were shaking our fists, you, Priyanka, were tortured and burned in a dingy alley somewhere. That was the day when I realized that evil doesn’t exist solely in black and white; behind the doors of some crooked castle. Evil lurks in shades of grey, simmering under the surface of helpful dudes and doting uncles, just waiting for a chance to get you alone.
We know about the dhobi who always touches our hand while passing over the pressed shirts, the tailor who takes an extra few measurements of our bust. The auto driver who leers at us in the mirror and the Samosa Vendor who stares openly at our ass. We know to be wary of these men. But what of those “decent” uncles and cousins and family friends, who take advantage of our silence and shove their ugliness on our bodies? What of those tuition teachers and macho boyfriends who think they own our womanhood? Us girls, raised with a hundred warnings of “Wear a dupatta/Akele mat jana, take your brother/Is it safe to go this late, beta.”
It doesn’t really matter does it? For every woman, raped and left to die in the middle of nowhere, there a thousand girls who face sexual harassment every day. In the safety of their own homes, schools, offices and communities. And somehow the world takes their silence as an excuse to victim shame and blame.
“She was molested by her teacher? Oh she must have given him some encouragement with her tight jeans and crop tops,”
“This is her fault for wearing such short skirts. Taali ek haath se nahi bajti?”
“If you are molested, don’t fight back. At least you won’t be killed.”
“What else do you expect when you use Tinder? In our times, we just had arranged marriages and nothing like this happened.”
It’s exhausting, having to check thrice before walking down a road. Depressing to carry pepper spray just so we can watch a late night show at the theater. Maddening, to check in with our girl tribe constantly, because what if, in the middle of a big city, some asshole thinks it’s a fine and dandy night to molest us? And lastly, soul crushing when after getting raped we have to defend ourselves against judge-y fingers sitting behind their keyboards.
Priyanka, I’m so deeply and horrifically sorry that this happened to you. I cannot begin to imagine your trepidation when those men approached you. Your terror when you realized what was about to happen. The disgust and horror when you were raped and that pain when they burned you alive and left you to die. You deserved to live a long life, peppered with laughter and sunlight and instead you died at the hands of those depraved lowlifes. How dare they?!! How fucking dare they?!!
Sadly Priyanka, everyone of us is guilty here. The families that raised those fucking animals. Our society that looked the other way, as they spent year after year growing up to be disrespectful, controlling bastards. The Road Transport Authority that didn’t bother to impound the truck carrying you, even though the driver didn’t have a license. The police force who didn’t act fast enough to save your life. Passive aggressive men who’re using your tragedy as an opportunity to troll on Twitter about how it is always the woman’s fault.
AND the rest of us, who let girls like you die at the tender age of 26. Shame on all of us for allowing our country to be so unsafe, that your life was snuffed out to satisfy the vile desires of four nobodies.
Gosh, Priyanka I am so terribly sorry. And in my lifetime, I hope to make this right.
Hey parents of the world? If you’re raising a boy, it’s never too early to teach him about consent and feminism. Teach him to fight for his sisters and girlfriends and their basic right to exist in peace. Be a role model, so he knows to revere and respect women. If you have a girl, raise her to be a warrior. Be a role model, so she knows she is to be revered and respected.
And no matter what, we demand a better system:
- Every accused rapist, is guilty until proven otherwise. Let the burden of proof fall on those creeps to prove their innocence.
- Separate units in every police station to deal with sexual assault crimes. Women police officers lead these teams and all complaints should be addressed ASAP.
- Body cameras with audio and time stamps for all police in the middle of an active investigation.
- Untangle the sentencing process. The wait period between arrest and jail time should be 3 months or fewer.
- Create a tiered system of penalties. A relatively “minor” offence like verbal harassment gets jail time, but anytime a woman is touched – DEATH PENALTY. No ifs, and no butts – just hang/burn/shoot the accused.
- Police visibility in rural areas and regular checks on highways and main arteries feeding towns. Toll plazas, Petrol stations, spot checks in bars and seedier establishments.
- Self defense attacks and murders of potential rapists should be pardoned away.
Every woman matters. Irrespective of age, race, skin color, religion, sexual orientation and occupation. No man should get away with touching us and thinking of us as yet another notch on his bedpost. Let’s not encourage the ha-ha-not-funny sexist jokes and WhatsApp forwards. Let’s be rude to men who steal our thunder and downplay our contributions. Let’s ask to be heard and respected, no matter how noisy the room is. We have value, you and I, so it’s time we said that aloud and with conviction.
But most importantly, let’s really strike back at those men,who harass us with their eyes and their bodies.
And maybe, then and I’m really hoping here: Dr.Priyanka Reddy, 26 years old forever, will forgive us for failing her.