“But what was she wearing?” said the taxi driver who was driving me from Police Bazaar to Mawlai responding to the news item on Mawphor that I was reading as we reach Wards Lake in the late Monday afternoon crossing our taxi were three girls scanty dressed.
All of us at one point in our existence are sure we have asked and mused on the same question: What was she wearing? Consequently, we have wrongfully branded and labeled thousands of innocent girls raped and molested in our society. That seemingly insignificant question ushers in a number of issues waiting to take flight and be discussed. But, the truth is, for far too long have women been attacked for becoming victims of our perverted rationalization. The criminal mind has been too rationalized and a backstory inserted that disprove victims’ word. Is rape culture fosters just that? NO!! But as much as we would like to disclaim responsibility, we have contributed to the growth of that same disgusting culture that has dangerously seeped into our minds and our citizen’s mind and our families’ mind.
Dictionaries explain that rape culture is broad in its sense and is thus difficult to define. But it has been with us all our lives. Let me confess it’s been with mine. Ladies are often told not just once but too many times that their shorts are too short, their neckline too low, and their shoulders too bare, blah… blah.. blah. In a rape culture, the initial reaction of ladies is to cover up and change their clothes to achieve a “decent” look. Has this dress code imposed on women improved the situation? NO! The real change ought to come from those who objectify a woman’s body and think of it as a commodity in a perverted society’s gaze. The real segregation ought not to be male and female, but victims and criminals. And though I know many are enlightened, I can also see the blindness in the prejudiced notion that female are the weak gender and that they are to be blame for their misfortunes.
Whether in television or in print media, we have heard of influential people talking about this same problem. Actress Priyanka Chopra has expressed her disdain for the inequality among men and women, both in the workplace and in the streets. Michelle Obama while being the First Lady of the US has gone around the world speaking of the importance of providing equal opportunities for education and work and societal significance regardless of gender. Has these brought about changes? Were women and girls safer in our society?
Therefore, I am not really sure how far the echoes of my words will reach the mass, but what matter is that I believe in the strength of a woman and I will exhaust all my means to share this. Hence, this is a call on authority and likeminded people for action against men and other women who are getting away with crimes against womanhood just because we have grown acclimated to blaming victims for dress, behavior, or things they never wanted for themselves. I am an average man endowed with reasons and emotions trying to speak out for other people who have grown tired of living in fear of harm because of what they look like and what they wear.
I still have a news report of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in complete school uniform who lived on a stereotypical street in Shillong, while coming back from school waiting for a local taxi home she was asked to get into a taxi standing in a line. She was young, but she knew that when he asked her to enter that closed, empty taxi with him, something was wrong. While reaching somewhere in Madanrting, he slammed her tiny arm on the car’s seat and, just as he was touching her, she thrust her trembling hand one his hands and slapped him across his face. He was caught off-guard and she took the opportunity to run.
She ran and yelled. She ran and not one on her street heard the violent cries she stifled and the quivering voice she hid inside her young soul. She ran and then returned home, but she never truly came back. She kept quiet throughout the years and she lived with the harrowing thoughts of what could have been and what would have been. ‘It was her fault for getting into that taxi with him,’ everyone will say. And so she was silent and he was still driving his taxi, and they lived under the same city for years until she could finally completed her studies. It took years until she could feel safe in her own city. He is safe, unpunished but she was left running. She is running yet she walks among us. And we will never really know that she may be the mother who sat beside us on the taxi, or the old lady who sold cigarettes and kwai on the sidewalk, or the quiet little girl at the back of the ration line.
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But what was she wearing?
Do you still feel the need to ask?
We have chased her into a lonely corner where her own fears of being accused and blamed will slowly kill the life in her eyes.
This may not be the most devastating story you have read today, for ours is a dark world with streets teeming with the terrible acts of man—corruption, murder, war, rape, molestation – am sure you read the news paper daily and these are headlines. But should she have waited for something worse? Would you? Would you have preferred a more terrifying and crushing experience before you say something? Before what happened to her becomes “significant”? More importantly, was it her fault? Because society tells her it is. Directly or not, we have told her so. And so she kept her mouth shut. She was silenced by the kind of “harmless” remarks we have made.
Hey! Grow up! We have to stop telling girls that wearing a mini skirt puts them in a precarious position in our society, or that putting on a jean pant suggests that they are asking to be whistled at. It is time we stopped hiding behind a girl’s discounted place in our world. It is time criminals were compelled to own up to their actions. It is time victims were protected from the unjust and cruel community we have all contributed to building and nurturing. The chasm between genders was created by those who did not know any better. Then, why are we such slaves to our own unforgiving past? Tyranny is not it?
Lets go to the roots!! Parents do not teach your daughter(s) to cover up- hiding in silence emotionally. Instead, teach your son(s) that everyone is to be respected regardless of gender and sexuality. And every woman has the right to wear any clothes or walk any time in a society without being castigated. It is absolutely acceptable.
And to you, dear lady, if you can see soul in the imperfections on your cheeks, smell fragrance in the contour of your waist, hear sweet melody in your thighs then by all means, be proud. Do not be ashamed of the beauty in you. You and your body bring color to the bleak misery of humankind. Your womanhood is not a crime, BUT YOUR SILENCE IS.
By Michael Makri
(This is an opinion piece expressed by the writer and not necessarily that of TNT-The Northeast Today)