This list will help us be much more mindful of what we’re saying and doing, and hold our personal politics accountable.
We’re seething, and with good reason. It’s been a week worth seething at, with the realisation of how truly rotten we have become as a society. Sexual violence has always existed, yes. We’ve always known about it, yes. However, a country where members of the ruling party defend rapists, where the official stance is that of whataboutery and people are looking up rape porn in the wake of an eight-year-old child’s brutal rape and murder is one very, very hard to defend.
The week started off slow, but now I wake up and wonder: What can I do?
It would be foolish to say a single person can change the world, especially one that benefits those in power. But if you, like me, are trying to not feel as powerless and impotent, here is a short list of things we can do. Will this list have an immediate impact? Possibly not. But it will help you and me be much more mindful of what we’re saying and doing, and hold our personal politics accountable.
1. Donate. Prayers and thoughts are great, but tangible resources help secure medical aid for survivors, and help with legal aid and rehabilitation. If crowdfunding makes you uncomfortable, don’t donate to specific cases, but to organisations like Majlis and Kranti that work with women impacted by sexual violence in many ways.
2. Educate yourself. Sexual violence is not isolated from its social contexts. For everyone screaming about how the Unnao and Kathua cases have been ‘politicised’, it is incredibly important to remember that sexual violence is a tool for establishment of political power. Women and their bodies have been used for political dominance for years. Read up on the Kunan Pishpora mass rape. Memorise the name of Thangjam Manorama. Remember to make every rape political because unless we recognise the politics of it, we will never be able to combat it.
3. Talk out loud. It’s exhausting to do so. It’s exhausting to have to engage with sexual violence academically when our bodies have such a visceral reaction to it. It’s exhausting to have to call out fake news every time you see it. Every time we try to cut its head off, it comes back stronger, and more vicious. However, the intellectual and emotional labour you perform in doing so can have an impact far beyond just you. You’re the first line of defence against a deluge of misinformation. If you get through to just one person, your work is done.
4. Confront rape culture. We seem to forget that normalisation of sexual violence is the culmination of our tacit, quiet allowance, if not approval, of sexual violence as an extended metaphor of humour and anger. How many of us let that horribly sexist WhatsApp forward go without questioning it? How many of us pretend to laugh when our friends crack a rape joke even when it twists our guts? Call out your friends, call out your families. As Dumbledore once said, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
5. These cases, above everything else, are a stark reminder of how young women are only remembered when they’re killed and raped as warnings. Young women, especially from vulnerable minorities, are the most disenfranchised citizens. Help young girls around you. Push them up, amplify them, have their voices heard, help them assume the stakeholdership they’ve been denied. Offer your own platforms to them and shutting up as they speak.
6. Vote. This should be obvious, but the sense of powerlessness that permeates society with a “what’s the point of it, dude” is a powerful force of apathy. The middle class is particularly apathetic because we’re cushioned by our privilege. This won’t save us anymore, however. These are scary times, and we’d be doing ourselves a great disservice by allowing the ruling party to come back to power. Every vote matters, every political engagement matters. It’s time to register and read up on your constituency and candidates. It’s time to hold them accountable to their personal politics. Any party that puts our fellow citizens in line of mortal danger doesn’t deserve our votes.
7. Demand better media reportage.The fact that the Kathua victim’s name and face have been splashed around the media as clickbait, and the details of the heinous crime have been shared with such lack of empathy or decency, points to a media culture that won’t stop from stooping very, very low for clicks. Call these articles out.
8. Destigmatise sex. The fact that sexual interaction is such a taboo in this country means that people don’t know what is ‘good’ or otherwise. We must move past our personal discomforts and have frank, honest conversations with our kids, siblings, students, and each other. Teach them that it’s not enough for a ‘no’ to mean ‘no’. Teach them about enthusiastic consent, teach yourself about how to listen to your body and your gut instinct. Learn how to recognise signs of discomfort and fear. Little things like these can foster a healthy sense of ownership over one’s bodies — something we need now more than ever.
9. Try to create a sense of hope and comfort. Consciously try to be a safe space for people to come to if they feel scared or confused about the world.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz once said, “Bol ki lab āzād haiñ tere. Bol zabāñ ab tak terī hai. (Speak, for your lips are free. Speak, your tongue is still yours.)” If we don’t actively try to speak now, at this moment, it might just be too late.