I Was Part Of A Report By France 2, French National Channel

Hello everyone, I was part of this super report by the national French channel, France 2, on gender and activism in India. I talk about my experience of molestation in the Delhi metro, the status of women’s safety in India and the feminist platform Feminism in India that I have initiated also features right at the end with me signing off. Do check it out, although it’s in French. I appear at 0:56

Deux portraits de femmes, deux visages de l’Inde d’aujourd’hui au féminin : Ishrat Praveen est mère au foyer et ne se voit pas sortir de son rôle traditionnel, Japleen Pasricha est une jeune féministe engagée dans le combat pour l’égalité. (Two portraits of women, two faces of India today for women: Ishrat Praveen is a housewife and is not seen out of its traditional role. Japleen Pasricha is a young feminist engaged in the fight for equality.)

I Was Molested In The Delhi Metro And I Was Scared To Speak Up!

This story is part of the 16 Days Of Activism campaign against sexual harassment and was originally published on Feminism In India here. People are invited to share their experiences and shift the onus from the survivor to the perpetrator. To know more and take part in the campaign click here.

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I still vividly remember that day. It was summer 2010. I was 20. I had just graduated and gone to North Campus to collect my mark-sheet. I was wearing a black and white sleeveless shirt and a knee-length black shorts and had tied my hair in a pony tail. (Yes, it is necessary to describe my clothes).

My metro ride back and forth to North Campus was divided into two parts: metro journey from Vishwavidyalaya Station to Rajiv Chowk and the second one from Rajiv Chowk to Shadipur. The second part was the easier one as the journey consisted of mere five stations. This incident happened shortly before Sheila Dikshit announced the first compartment of the Delhi metro reserved for women. I boarded the metro from Rajiv Chowk metro station and like every other college kid plugged in my earphones. The metro was full to the brim. I pushed my way inside and found a spot near the back doors with a few other men standing around me. Being a small built woman, I have always felt like a kid standing among taller men. The metro was unusually crowded for afternoon and there was no space to move. Every person’s body, bag and belongings were in contact with every other person.

A couple of stations into the journey, I felt something on my butt, something that was constantly touching and pinching me. It was sharp and rigorous. Given how crowded the metro was I assumed it was somebody’s bag’s buckle or zip as I felt it was sharp. I ignored it because there wasn’t any space to even turn around leave alone asking people to move their bag. I kept ignoring the pinch and was lost to the music in my ears. For a second I contemplated if somebody was groping me but ignored the thought because I feared it. As it is my station was close-by and I was just counting back how many more minutes I have to stand squeezed in the crowd.

Shadipur was next and I started to move towards the door. Whilst I was moving, I noticed that the touch was still present on my butt. I was almost at the door, far away from the group of men I was standing with. This was weird. I decided to turn around and see for myself what’s cooking. I saw a middle-aged man, somebody whom I would call ‘Uncle’ if I have to address him, standing very close to me, actually right behind me with his hand near his pants.

What I saw next horrified me so much that I never talked about it with anyone and this is actually the first time I’m publicly talking and writing about it. The man had his penis out and was rubbing it against my butt. He had been doing this since past 10-15 mins and didn’t even stop when I moved from my original place to reach the door. He kept sticking it against me and moved along. He didn’t fear that others might see it. His lust was so strong that it overcame all other inhibitions that he might have had before committing the act. All of this happened in a matter of 5-10 seconds. I was so shocked and disturbed that I froze and quickly exited the metro when my station arrived.

For days, months and years I was angry, very angry. I was not angry at that man, call me a pessimist or a feminazi but I expect this from most of the men around. I was not a feminist activist (something that I associate with and call myself today) back then, but I had always been a rebellious kid and a strong-headed girl. The fact that I endured this quietly and didn’t do anything haunted me for years. I kept thinking of various ways how I could have acted at that time, how I could have raised my voice, how I could have broken the silence. But I didn’t. I was harsh on myself, I programmed myself not to talk to strangers ever, be on a constant alert, make a pissed off expression whilst walking past a group of men on the street, not to trust men, always expect the worst and many other similar defensive and protective measures. I didn’t forgive myself.

Today, four years later, I look at it differently. I have risen above the incident and alienated myself from it. I am not ashamed anymore to tell people, that I was molested in the Delhi metro and I didn’t do anything because I was scared to speak up. I run a feminist website whose tagline is चुप्पी तोड़ आवाज़ उठा. I do advocacy on every occasion possible be it among my family, relatives, friends, colleagues or even strangers. I have embraced feminism. I broke my silence, not just for myself but for all of those who suffer because of patriarchy. I raised my voice to get heard, because your rights will never be served on a golden platter. I am, because#itwasnevermyfault.

Post Dec 16: Has Anything Changed For Women In India?

After the fatal gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey on December 16 last year sent shock waves around the world, India has done some self-analysis on how it treats its women. Stricter laws on sexual violence have been implemented, but even a year later, a lot needs to be done to make women feel safer.

Legal changes

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, recommended by Justice Verma Committee was passed by Lok Sabha on March 19, 2013 and by Rajya Sabha on March 21, 2013 and replaced an Ordinance promulgated on February 3. The Centre also amended various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The new law stated that an offender can be sentenced to a minimum of 20year prison sentence for rape and, in the event the victim dies, death penalty. Perpetrators of acid attack will get a 10-year jail term. But the law refused to criminalize marital rape, which disappointed many activists. Ranjana Kumari, a women’s activist and director of the Center for Social Research think-tank, said, “If bodily integrity is the issue, and consent is the issue, than certainly rape in marriage should be included.”

The definition of rape was expanded to include penetration by objects or any body part. “Sexual abuse in all its forms including sexual harassment was made illegal,” said India’s additional solicitor general, Indira Jaising. New laws aimed at safeguarding women were passed; the Parliament overhauled its criminal code and criminalized offences such as stalking, sexual harassment and voyeurism.

Fast-track courts were established to speed up trials in sexual assault cases which earlier took years to conclude. Some ten months after the crime, such a court found four of the adult suspects guilty on all counts and sentenced the men to death by hanging.

“We have a collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women”, said Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, while announcing women’s-focused initiatives as part of the 2013 federal budget.

Delhi Police set up women help desks at police stations and a Crime Against Women Cell was established for redressal of complaints and grievances of women in distress.

In the spotlight

The gang rape triggered a wave of nation-wide protests demanding stricter laws and better safeguards to combat violence against women. The widespread media coverage of the case has also led to an increased awareness of the issue. The assault sparked public dialogue on patriarchy, which many blamed to be the crux for lack of respect of women in India. It helped alter the way many perceive victims of sexual violence as well as women who are victims of sexual violence see themselves.

“Rape victims are no longer considered outcasts. Stories of rape survivors are now being used as a medium to instil courage to fight sex crimes in India,” said Ranjana Kumari.

Greater reporting of sex crimes                                                                

“Women have been forthcoming in reporting crimes against them. They have been empowered by law and the response of civil society,” said Jaising. This view is shared by K. T. S. Tulsi, a senior lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India. According to the lawyer, the social stigma associated with rape is getting reduced. “Girls are becoming more assertive and they are open to complaining. They don’t feel that the society is going to stigmatize them.”

This development is supported by the latest government figures. According to local media reports, 1,330 cases of rape were reported to police in New Delhi this year until October, against 706 cases for the whole of 2012 (via The Hindu).

Safeguarding women at work

“The sense of security at the workplace will improve women’s participation in work, resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth,” said the Indian government in a statement after the law was passed. The Supreme Court is one of the most high-profile bodies to have set up an internal committee to combat sexual harassment. Many other private and state-run companies have now setup a mechanism to address violence in the workplace, although many more are yet to.

Challenges ahead

Experts say that a lot still needs to be done to make women feel safe in the country, as there has been little progress made in addressing the attitudes that legitimize violence and discrimination against women. “Rape cultures are nourished by norms, attitudes, and practices that trivialize, tolerate, or even condone violence against women,” Ranjana Kumari explains.

“The subject of gender sensitization must be introduced from the grass root level in schools, colleges and the workplace. We need to educate men and women on women’s rights under the law and work with communities to develop a gender sensitive society that is underpinned by respect and equality,” the rights activist said.

This view is supported by Kamini Jaiswal, a legal expert and lawyer at India’s Supreme Court, who believes that in order to bring about real change, it is imperative to empower all women, most of whom are still financially and emotionally dependent on their male relatives. “What we see in the bigger cities and metros is not the true picture. Women can barely raise their head and voice in most households. This needs to be dealt with literacy because most women don’t even know their rights.”

Despite the increased attention on women’s issues, crimes against women are on the rise. In the latest high profile case, police arrested the editor-in-chief of India’s leading investigative magazine, Tehelka, after a female colleague accused him of sexually assaulting her. Following this was a similar case where an intern filed accusations of sexual assault against a retired Supreme Court judge.

“The concern for personal security and perceived increase danger to women as a result of the rape cases was perhaps a factor in US students’ decision regarding study in India,” said Nancy Powell, U.S. ambassador to India. Fear of violence has even deterred some students and tourists from travelling to India.

But, this is not enough. India still needs to go a long way if it wants its women to feel safe, respected and socially accepted.

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web

What is it like to taste a “foreign” freedom..

“Foreign” Freedom. What is that? Why do I call it “foreign”?

I have been living in Germany since the past two months now. This is not my first stay abroad. Before this I have lived in Germany twice in 2009 for almost an year and then for a month in Bangkok in 2011. I tasted this “foreign” freedom for the first time in 2009 when I was in Berlin. That feeling that you can actually take a walk at any time of the day and no body isn’t even going to look at you, let alone eve-tease you or sexually harass you elated me. I could do whatever I want and wear what I felt like. I didn’t have to worry about my security or ask any one to drop me home safely as it got late. I was independent in the true sense of the word.

But, this post is not about how much I enjoyed my foreign stays and how I would rather stay in Germany than India. It is actually the opposite. Many have asked me why I don’t want to stay in Germany. Some say I’m a fool not to use this opportunity to flee from that pathetic land. True I love my life here, but it somehow just doesn’t feel right, it is bitter-sweet. It is like you’re in Disneyland with your most favourite toy, but deep down inside you know it, that you don’t own that toy, that it doesn’t belong to you. That you don’t feel at home here. And that is why I call this freedom “foreign”. Not because I experienced it in foreign countries, but because I don’t identify myself with this freedom. I don’t want to travel 9000 kilometres to freely take a walk at night. I want to do it right here in my own land, my own home town, the place where I grew up and the place I identify myself with.

I know many people (which includes women as well as men) migrate to other countries to flee from oppression they experience in their own. But I don’t see it as a solution. Yes, it is a individual-based solution, but not a mass-based. It is the same logic as behind Brain- Drain. You get a job, you fly abroad, you become a NRI and then whine about how shitty your country is and how well you are doing here. I don’t want to be the kind of woman who writes about women’s issues from her Mac sitting in a cosy Café and enjoying the weather. I would rather do that in my own land and see to it that every woman can do that irrespective of where they are, be it the West or the East.

I don’t want to run away or avoid this situation, I want to change it. Many of you might view this as being patriotic or revolutionary. I’m none of that. I just want to live my life and do what I want to do. Some people call that rebellion, especially if you are a woman.

I won’t hide. I will seek. I will seek the change, the freedom, the fight.

I am not giving up, I have just started fighting and I will fight till the very end.

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