Little Rohini, all of 10, dreads waking up again. She knows that if she wakes up she needs to go to school, and then she needs to attend physical education class, and then she needs to meet Kumar Sir, and then…What shall the excuse be today? She has a test in grammar as well. “Will Mum take me seriously if I fake a headache again?” she thinks…Not sure. She walks to Mum and tells her she has a severe headache. It’s not entirely a lie; Rohini knows that when she thinks about Kumar Sir she eventually has an ache everywhere — her head, her legs, her stomach… She shuts her eyes to get the thoughts away. He hasn’t touched her yet, but she knows his eyes screen her inside out! She tries hard, but Mum won’t listen. Mum has been concerned about Rohini’s fall in grades these past six months. She insists that Rohini attend school and drops her off personally. “Rohini, school is the window to the world, dear. You must study well and get high scores.” High scores? For Rohini, getting into school with Kumar Sir is no high — it’s getting into shoonya!
Surely, for Bengaluru, this is not a new case. When we talk of women’s safety in our country, we often refer to the high-level crimes of rape, molestation, kidnapping, and even murder. We often ignore addressing or even discussing the lesser-known problems that women face every day, like sexual harassment, bullying, stares, glares, comments, whistles, and unsolicited touching and groping. Unlike in western countries, in India, girls like Rohini don’t even know how to address the subtle harassment that they face. Schools are too obsessed with reputation, parents with grades, and society with statistics to take things like Rohini’s emotions, feelings, and dignity seriously. What is Rohini left with? A few passing conversations with friends, sometimes ignoring Kumar Sir, avoiding him perhaps, feeling consumed most times, growing to live with it, and if things really go out of hand, do the unmentionable — end her life! And then that brings huge debates, demands, candlelight protests, slogans, and sadly, a short-lived campaign by people with remote connections to Rohini on action to be taken!
Post December 2012, the topic of women’s safety, as we all recognise, has been given centre-stage time and again — with everyone other than the real everyday woman being impacted. Organisations have been formed to address advocacy; tech companies have started thinking of business models to roll out apps, sensors, and wearable devices; governments have risen and fallen for voicing their opinions on women’s clothes, our ethics, our getting back home on time, the number of ‘Rakhi’ brothers we should have and a woman’s ‘place’, which is still considered to be within the home where she cannot provoke men!
Read More – How Bengaluru-based Durga is empowering women to fight rape and sexual harassment
Safety and dignity are very basic to me as a woman. I want to decide what makes me feel safe and what I will do to maintain my dignity. I want to be empowered enough to choose what I want to wear and be where I want to, at whatever time I may choose, and I want to make a responsible choice. This is really the woman of today’s India. For us, empowerment is not a loose term about just stepping out of home and doing what we want, but about in control and being responsible for our actions. We want to understand behaviour around us, know how this impacts us, and take informed decisions. We want to respond upfront to inappropriate behaviour and address situations of harassment when it starts right at the beginning, rather than wait for it to brew and become a heinous crime.
At Durga, we believe that crime or any unpleasantness can be addressed in the most effective way at the first instance. It is called ‘Active Response,’ and is something that takes a little effort but can be done in the most non-combative way. It is about being in the moment all the time, not with fear and uncertainty, but with the sense of being in control and preparedness. It’s about being responsible for our actions and taking charge of the environment we are in at the moment. It’s about having the life skills to deter crime. It’s about not being a victim. At Durga, we believe that each of us belongs to the society, and any issue can be addressed best when we do it collectively — the power of plenty! We deeply embed the philosophy of the active role of the bystander, giving every woman as a Durga the power of the hands of many women behind her — like the real Durga with the many hands! Active in India for over three years, we are a not-for-profit social enterprise waiting to work with more and more women through skill development using theatre, creating support groups, developing Durga Champions, and working collectively on creating safer environments for our women and girls.
We have a place for everybody and every idea. Men have been an integral part of our work and are really one of the strongest pillars for us, from conception to execution in our various programmes.
Come be a part of our movement and create the change you wish to see!
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)