I have resisted writing a blog for years. I don't know why. Perhaps a spirit of contradiction kicks in when so many have told me that every writer must have one. But I used to write regular columns, and I keep a journal. I suppose a blog is something in between. I can do this. Here we go.
Yesterday, my house helper, the lovely Padmini, brought me a pretty green pastel envelope addressed by hand to Ms Magreet Mascarenas (sic). Apparently someone had slipped it under my driveway gate. I opened it, thinking it was probably an invitation to something or the other. Inside was a neatly folded, and neatly typed (all caps) A-4 sheet that said:
HERE ARE MY SUGGESTION FOR THE RAPISTS
THE RAPISTS MUST GET DEATH PENALTY. BEFORE DEATH PENALTY RAPIST MUST BE CASTRATE. TESTICLES MUST BE PLACED IN MOUTH FOR TASTE. ALSO PENIS OF RAPIST MUST BE BEAT WITH IRON ROD TO TEACH LESSON. I HAVE MY TWO DAUTHERS. WE PARENTS ALL WANTS OUR DAUTHERS TO BE SAVE FROM ANIMAL RAPIST. WE DON'T WANTS THEM TO BECOME BRAVEHEART.
PRAISE BE THE LORD
Here is what I did after reading this: I laughed. In a slightly hysterical, inappropriate way. Like I had after my grandmother's funeral when I was nine and freaked out. Padmini, who thought I was having some kind of micro break down, brought me some tea. But frankly, I would have preferred a single malt.
A couple of weeks earlier, following the now world infamous case of the vicious and fatal gang-rape, beating and evisceration of a 23-year-old woman by six men on a Delhi bus, I spoke at a public demonstation in the Azad Maidan of Panjim about India's rape and sexual harassment culture, which cuts across caste and class. The crowd included quite a number of individuals who were baying for blood--mostly men, seemingly oblivious to the fact that were also a number of students, some of them quite young. And there was a news channel. I spoke for ten minutes, during which I tried to convey essentially four things: that rape is not about sex or what women wear but about rage and domination, that gender discrimination is at the root of gender violence, that there are things that we as responsible members of society can do as individuals to address rampant and entrenched misogyny in this culture, that I am against the death penalty for anyone, ever, period. I said that change might begin with enforcement of laws, but it mainly begins at home and in schools. I said that change begins with each one of us. Afterwards, taking a literal page from Blank Noise and the Safe City Pledge movement, I passed out paper and markers and asked people to make their pledges about what they personally could do to effect change and empower themselves. One young male student wrote "If I see my female colleague being sexually harassed in the college, I will intervene." One mother wrote "I will never treat my son better than my daughter and will teach my son to respect women." While the pledges were going on, I had some conversations with teachers about working with students on this issue in class in a productive way. A woman asked me how writing something down on a piece of paper could change anything. I said that when you make a contract with yourself, a seed is planted, even if nothing changes overnight. Suddenly a man grabbed the mike and started talking about how the "perverts" deserved to die, and how in Arab cultures, they would be castrated, and we should do that too. "We should cut off their testicles, that is the only way they will learn," he yelled, voice strangled with bloodlust. My eye caught that of a terrified adolescent girl and a wave of nausea nearly overwhelmed me. Someone finally got the mike away from the man who was by then well into his hate speech. He was not some loonie. He was an educated middle class man from Panjim. And he was very, murderously, angry. "I have daughters," he shouted. I tried to engage him in conversation, explaining that it is not only deviants who sexually harass and rape women, that cutting off body parts, and killing six perpetrators was not really a solution to a wide-spread culture of violence towards women in the country. He was not convinced. He is clearly not alone. Even my friend, fashion designer, Wendell Rodricks, who I consider an honorary girl, was calling for "legal public castration" and the death penalty on my FB wall. I can understand and even empathize with this atavistic response; I just don't think we should act on it.
Whomever in the media came up with the utterly loathesome apellation "Delhi braveheart" for the 23-year-old victim, is a moron. But that the deceptive and cloying coinage, "Braveheart", was then blindly picked up and applied by every news channel and numerous newspapers as an acceptable euphemism for any and every rape victim and rape survivor in the country, made me positively ill. As if they are going to metamorphose into Mel Gilbson. As if it is somehow desirable to be raped, because then the media idealizes you, and the whole country will give you a metaphorical medal for "bravery". I couldn't even watch the news after a point, without wanting to hurl a rock at the television screen. You can't assuage national outrage or be an agent for change with that kind of stupid sentimentality. What is wrong with Indian TV? Where are the damn journalists on these channels? Get serious.
Dear Indian TV journalists and those of you in the print media suffering from a near terminal case of herd mentality: if you want to give someone a medal for bravery, cast your gaze on the 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head for writing a blog for the BBC and demanding education for women. Better yet, learn how to be a journalist from her. Let her be your role model.
That's my first blog. Over and out.
Causes Margaret Mascarenhas Supports
Goa Bachao Abhiyan