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As a boy, having seen how boys deliberately brushed girls’ breasts and commented on their bodies, Anurag Chaudhary can’t remain a mute spectator of #MeToo, but wants us to support women.
In Mira Nair’s movie ‘Monsoon Wedding’, Naseeruddin Shah’s character Lalit undergoes a conflict. After knowing the trauma that his niece Ria went through, he was unable to confront the man responsible for it who was a respected individual and the husband of Lalit’s sister. By confronting or creating a scene, he knew things will not be the same between him and his brother-in-law. It was a matter of reputation and much more. Besides, Ria is not his own daughter. There are several factors that add to his conflict as the patriarch of the household.
But then, at the end he finds his courage and despite his wife calling it a ‘small matter’, asked his sister and her husband to leave, hence showing solidarity for Ria. It was an important scene. For me, it was this scene that made the movie one of my all-time favourites.
In the wake of India’s #MeToo movement, I was reminded of this sequence from the movie multiple times over the course of past one week. Every time any gentleman around me or when my TV screen spoke about ‘the course of law’ or ‘lack of evidence’ against a certain accused, I wanted to tell them – “But Lalit stood up for Ria.”
Again, it is important to understand that he didn’t have to. Also, like most of the #MeToo cases, the incident was from a long time back, when she was only a small child of ten. Things could have been brushed under the wedding carpets of his own daughter. But he did stand for Ria, believed in her story and confronted Tej, played by Rajat Kapoor, who was facing accusations from multiple fronts.
It is not easy to confront reality in times like these. It is easy though to simply ignore your surroundings and pretend that nothing happened because you don’t want to think about it.
I was seven when my mother became a disciple of Asaram Bapu back in 1999. He was at his peak back then and we went to his Sabarmati ashram, stayed there for three days. It all felt powerful as thousands of grown-up men and women were crying out of joy just at the mere sight of him. For many years this followed, I saw his photograph alongside Durga, Shiva, and Krishna in my house. Calendars and stickers with his quotes were a common thing during my growing up years. My grandfather would make me read Asaram’s magazine ‘Rishi Prashad’ to him when I was in primary school.
There were many households like ours and I am only talking about a small town in Bihar, far away from his empire in Gujarat. When his name first came up with allegations of harassment, my first reaction was – “This is impossible.”
I tried to ignore it until it snowballed into reality. I was ashamed every time my friends mocked him or discussed his ‘colorful life’ in the canteen. Throughout the verdict procedure, I hoped for things to turn around and for him to be found not guilty. I don’t know why I felt that way. I couldn’t understand my own biasedness towards him. As his crime settled into my consciousness over time, this denial turned into grave sorrow. Because my mother worshipped him, somewhere she was feeling guilty of trusting this man with her faith for over a decade. And that made me sad. This is perhaps the first time I am talking about Asaram case to anybody and it has been around five years.
When you invest your time, money and most importantly trust into someone, it takes a lot of time and introspection to accept that they can be monsters.
What do I know? Maybe M J Akbar is telling the truth and he never touched a single woman without consent. Maybe Alok Nath is as good a man as we have known him on-screen while growing up. Maybe Nana Patekar is still a champion for Maharashtra farmers, soldiers and that is all to him except his acting prowess. I also want to believe that Vikas Bahl, who made one of the most responsible women central movies, is as sensible as his movies are.
I can believe all that and I want to. But I can’t ignore my own experiences at the same time. When I was ten, for boys of my age and less, it was a common thing to give names to women’s breasts. That in school buses, if a boy could ‘accidentally’ touch a certain girl’s chest in the crowd, he was welcomed with whistles, applause, and a guaranteed window seat.
I can’t ignore that during my days in the engineering college, every evening, a group of boys would sit with their cup of tea and biscuits by the public road, with only one purpose: to comment on the body parts of women who passed by.
None of the above-mentioned people come from uneducated or ‘backward’ families. They were just boys. ‘Boys being boys’ like always.
I know what kind of society we are living in. We can play saints, but there is a good chance that knowingly or unknowingly, we have all been part of the problem. Sometimes through active participation, while sometimes by standing silently on the sidelines. That is how we have been brought up.
I have been living in Europe for a few months now and most of the women I have met here or talked to, have this consensus about Indian men – “Indian guys are the worst. They look at you like they have never seen a girl before. It is very unsettling and uncomfortable.”
Again, I want to believe otherwise but I know it is a fact. I also know that most of the men in our country, if given a chance or the power, with the assurance that their actions wouldn’t be known to anyone, would act no different from Mr. Akbar or how any other accused behaved regarding their allegations. To get a sample of this mindset, just go through any twitter or facebook post of a woman who is upfront about her thoughts. At the grassroots level, the problem is the same, and at least I can’t deny it to defend anybody.
A lot of work needs to be done to change this. We need to evolve as a society and it will take a long time. Maybe it will never happen. It is a terrible thought. But maybe it will.
But until then, all of us, especially the men, must stand by the victims and women in general. They deserve the benefit of doubt. We need to look past our own pride, a lot of other conflicts, and let the women breathe for once. Men can argue about facts, figures, laws, evidence or whether it happened at all, but I will again say the same thing –
“But Lalit stood up for Ria.”
Image source: a still from the movie Monsoon Wedding
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