Conversations around women empowerment and safety in public

Girls Dahi Handi

This post is based on a long series of tweets and conversation on Twitter based on yesterday’s article about how there is disproportionate paranoia about safety of women at the hands of Govindas participating in the dahi handi.

India has lost touch with what celebrating Indians sound like till it is all a rowdy threat. Sad that men being loud is seen as a threat.

There are no news reports with dahi handi and molestation/harassment. Over years too. While not reporting routine harassment is common in India, there appear to be no incidents serious enough to be reported at least. Which is more than what can be said about routine days. So if women give dahi handi some special exemption that they don’t give world cups and ganesh visarjans (which have abundant reports of molestation) they have to stop and complain. Your safety cannot be considered under threat if no threat to it is reported. Or you have to face that there is relative safety for women that we refuse to recognize in favor of a paralyzing paranoia of claiming public space (while also lampooning anyone who tells them to be careful).

Ganesh visarjan, yes. Drunk and disorderlys in processions are commmon. Holi too. In contrast, dahi handi is a fairly safe crowd by virtue of highly disciplined activity, standing audience (as opposed to anonymous passings). Highly recommend that all the women who get harassed please file complaints with name of group (conveniently printed on clothes and truck). Staying home because Govindas harass is no answer, even if there were countless reports (which is NOT the case).

One person on Twitter reported an attempt by some drunk Govindas to harass a woman in an auto with him, and he and the crowd at large intervened. Hardly the picture of rowdy crowds groping at women unchecked. Does not appear to have succeeded or a police case filed.

BTW, what about women in audience cheering and whistling at Govindas? I know several who do it. Done it myself. Also danced to band baja. For that matter, I also enjoy Ganesh visarjans, though girls do get targeted by drunks then. Still, the dancing is good fun. Wait. worse. I have unashamedly looked at virile male bodies demonstrating their physical ability. Shouted comments. Dang. Imma hooligan ๐Ÿ˜€ Wondering how I can curb these immoral tendencies. Wait. I’m a woman. Flaunting my boldness is hep. Thank God. I would hate to be a man and guilty by default if my acting freely offended someone.

I just want to state that men being hooligans is their freedom of speech as long as they don’t assault / vandalize. Loud is free speech too. There is absolutely zero evidence that the Govindas behave any differently among themselves or with male only crowds. Are we saying that they cannot be themselves among women? Then why do we fight for the right of women to be themselves?

At this rate, “public opinion” will have all lower class men evicted from public space unless they can keep their head down and not offend, because what we consider civilized are traits of another identity, not moral character. Going by my mentions on Twitter, the world should be a sterile place with no high passion seen in public for fear of offending. Bah. Noise is life.

It is based on the assumption that the non-lower-class men are angels. ๐Ÿ˜› ~ @wabbster

No evil happens in AC places. It seems to be a modern belief. Our subtle class prejudices and paranoias.

When 1 is loud it encourages the performer and it also helps the cheerer to De-stress. 1 should not keep their emotions bottled up ~ Satish Nair

Women get harassed? Sure. Fight it (Thrash the harasser, ideally, but that’s just my opinion). How does it help women to keep pointing out shadows to jump at? How does it help to create such an overwhelming perception of persecution that women avoid exerting their rights for fear of being harmed?

Is it even possible to regiment an entire population into standard behavior so that women can live without fear? You can’t coddle someone into power. Support. Women have to exert rights and expect support with problems not stand back because threatened. Go, exert your rights. If there is a problem, fight it, fix it using your rights. Your right. Not your right that people design a world to your needs. That is just a sense of entitlement. Complain of hooligans on street. Complain if anyone tells says stay home. Moral of story? Regiment all men so you can walk comfortably? What was our response to criticism of women wearing certain clothes that some found offensive?

Nor is it empowering for women to see something that is normal for men as a threat if they hope to function well among them.

@my2bit: @Vidyut so you are saying โ€˜men will be menโ€™ what can v do?

No. I’m saying women must be people first. Not waiting for a perfect world to then enter safely that ignores the freedoms of others in it. Attack and fight and fix anything that gets in the way. But you can’t de-legitimize normal behavior of people because you fear a threat.

@sirensongs: @vidyut the sheer testosterone level is anti-woman.

I don’t understand why this has to be so. I find the male shows of physical skill very attractive. Heck even frogs croak to attract potential mates. It is an instinct! No one is forcing the woman to like it! I think people accept this better when discovery channel explains it. We are not used to experiencing and knowing for ourselves anymore.

Women seek permanence, men get itchy. Men act rowdy, women get offended. We must accommodate and accept the other as long as no harm. We can’t really expect both genders to be identical. Much of our thinking may use modern styles, but is rooted in really primitive instincts and has worked for a long time, if you look at the world population. It makes sense to seek greater freedoms for all, but it does not make sense to restrict freedoms of some just because others don’t have many freedoms. And who knows if women wouldn’t “naturally” be “rowdy” on the streets? When have we given them the freedom to act without care in public? How do we know whether it is really women hating loud men or women so deeply conditioned against loudness as wrong that they fear it in another?

“I really want to watch dahi handi but the crowd…”

Well it is your right to watch if you want and challenge anyone who prevents it. If you don’t avoid a situation where you have to exert it, you can hardly blame the world for “not allowing” you a freedom you didn’t even need.

No one can ever promise perfect safety. At best, you will find protectors and supporters and the law of the land punishing those who harm you. If you risk, they could help, or you may have to pull through on your own resources. If you don’t risk, you can hardly blame them for your lack of initiative.

Be it caste, class, gender whatever. It is really sad that we patronize and isolate to protect instead of endorsing claim on common space.

Girls Dahi Handi

Why do I need a man to give me my rights? I do what I want as my right. I ask for help if I run into problems, sometimes I get defeated, but I am resilient and I am determined to chase my potential. I exert my rights as far as I can push them. That makes me powerful. Many men don’t manage that for themselves. What will they grant me?

Your right to be safe does not exist if you abdicate and hide it rather than demand it when your safety is at risk. Though you may be safe. Right to not be harassed comes into question only if you get harassed, not if you curb your freedoms before the question arises. A right does not exist if you don’t use it. If you telling me to shut up makes me shut up, my right to free speech is dead from disuse.

Face it, public space is dominated by men and they have no “responsibility” to play hosts to women. The world ain’t a massive hospitality industry. Men have their own struggles and problems to fix too. And even if they did, if they “played fair” and shared nicely and all, women would still end up guests/outsiders, being granted rights by someone else who controls them. Claim. Expecting someone else to do it will never give you ownership of them. Like this, women are already a vote bank waiting for sops. Fastest way to compassionate enslavement. Astonishing no party has picked this up. You can’t really expect women’s rights to be controlled by someone else hand handed over safely.

Nor can women claim space by looking at things to be offended at and blaming men for them. Won’t work beyond speeches and Twitter. At some point, women have to grab and run. At some point, women must be able to wade right in risks and all and claim the world as theirs. Living their rights instead wishing for them.

Fighting for rights is one thing, but for practical living, you need empowered women who will exert those rights. You can’t coddle them. Women have to be providers (and inventors :p) of own rights, not consumers of rights provided by someone else & bad service means no rights.

That’s right. We won’t survive if we play the damsel-in-distress. Best to go out there and take care of yourselves. Gender equality. ~ Esha Shah

And for all the bad rep India has, I can personally attest that it is possible for a young woman to live bold, solo, safe (even if worried).

The World Cup win had reports of molestation, harassment, rape within hours. Dahi Handi has none in years. So dahi handi is more dangerous. You go to the World Cup safely, I’ll be really brave and risk the sweaty masses on the street.

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About the Author

Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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