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(This story will be updated once Prime Minister Narendra Modi actually speaks about theKathua and Unnao rape cases.)

Originally reported by the quint.

The Hadiya case has quickly turned into a war of political interests between Hindutva and Islamists. Prima facie, the issue is simple. A woman choses to convert to another religion and marry a man of her choice from that religion. Enter evil parents. The marriage is anulled. Hadiya is becomes a prisoner. Clamour grows with the Hindutva pride seeing exploitation, while the anti-Hindutva prejudice seeing nothing but a matter of choice. I don't see the issue as that simple, and for once, I agree with all parties. I definitely applaud the courage of Hadiya in sticking to her choice and taking it all the way. While I restricted myself to stating this, all was well. The problem arose when I also understand the perspective of the father as well as the courts. In my view, this is a complex issue with several factors that need considering. The high voltage drama around the issue has ensured it is largely reduced to accusations of love jihad and scoffing at the accusations with complete inability of both extreme stands to actually understand the issue beyond the lens they are habituated to.

For me, this is not a religious issue in the sense of Islam or Hinduism or whatever, but it is similar to countless instances of women (and men too) being infatuated with a belief system to the point of cutting off their previous life. It isn't a matter of choice of religion or choice of husband, but a matter of a series of choices that literally amount to abdicating her entire family, name, identity, residence, marital status and more. It is a series of extreme and life changing decisions in rapid succession. This is where the case is a cause for concern. She is literally abdicating the person she used to be in order to embrace a completely new way of life. It is clear that she is convinced about this. It is equally clear that those cheering for her are convinced that it is the right thing. But if you take off the lens of specific religions, where have we seen similar behavior?

Well, we have seen women leave their families and join the Sanatan Sanstha (a Hindu extremist organization). When their concerned parents tried legal means to get them back, the girls informed them that they had joined the Sanatan Sanstha by choice. They accused their parents of abuse. A more recent example would be when the parents of two sisters in Bombay filed a complaint against Sunil Kulkarni who ran an "organization" called Shifu Sankriti for entraping their daughters who.... found his cult and left their parental home. They accused Sunil Kulkarni of entraping their daughters, giving them drugs, sexual exploitation and what not. The daughters rubbished their claims in court and accused the parents of domestic violence. Other parents too have made similar complaints, but those who followed him have not spoken against him. Sunil Kulkarni is not Muslim, none of those accusations were proved. He was arrested anywayand is still being denied bail. The girls of the college in Dera Sacha Sauda had released videos endorsing Ram Rahim and angry with the state over his arrest. I'd post a link, but that is one sad video I wish I could unsee.

While it is tempting to see this as an issue of religious choice or prejudice against minorities or love jihad, the fact is that there are patterns to people suddenly immersing themselves in a new faith they find. And sometimes the patterns are suspicious enough to raise serious questions on whether the person is acting of their own will. This is not limited to any specific religion or cult. However, it usually happens when there is some kind of fundamentalism or cult going on. Merely being interested in and following religion does not lead to an abdication of family and loved ones, home and routine life and a complete immersion in the new lifestyle. Hadiya didn't just embrace Islam, she changed her name, her dress, her educational goals, she got involved in an Islamist organization, and she quit her family, stayed with several new acquaintances in quick succession. When legally challenged, with the assistance of her new associates, she came up with another Islamist to marry! A parent who wouldn't be alarmed by something like this is hard to find. This is not merely a change of faith or interreligious marriage. For something like this to happen, the mind is completely captivated by the promise of the new faith and completely disinterested in existing life and loved ones to the point of losing all realistic view. In that sense, the NIA is not altogether wrong when it speaks of indoctrination subverting consent. The bigger problem is that the NIA seeing it as happening only as the pet bogey of love jihad, when, in fact it happens across religions, cults, politics and even love marriages with gullible minds absorbing visions of utopia and giving up anythign that would deter from chasing that infatuation. Anything that drastically changes life while looking at limited aspects of a situation based on information promoted is suspect.

For that matter, even if an atheist were to suddenly turn hostile with family over suddenly discoverign that there is no God, it would still be a suspect state of mind during which they probably should not take life altering decisions. One of the wisest pieces of relationship advice comes from the polyamory community, to enjoy a new relationship, but to not make any life altering decisions while under the influence of NRE (New Relationship Energy). Something like this applied to matters of changes in beliefs - whether political or religious would mean to learn more, engage, enjoy more, but not burn bridges with existing life in rapid succession to rely solely on new choice for all matters - even those unrelated to it.

That said, what should be done about such subversion of free choice is anyone's guess. Many people indoctrinated continue to live what is to them a normal life. Many times indoctrination can be inadvertent rather than deliberate (happens in most homes where kids learn to think in black and white prejudice). While being indoctrinated may be unfortunate, there is no objective way to assess it and thus acting on such an evaluation always runs the risk of violating rights. Even if it is a mistake, it is that person's mistake to make, after a point. Also given how highly charged these kind of situations can be, there is great potential to both frame people as well as get away with indoctrination if it is the "right" kind of indoctrination.

But I am glad this case hit the courts. Hadiya must indeed have the right to choose her way - even if it is wrong (which in my belief it is - drowning in religion/religious politics, in my view is always suspect). But I am glad that the process kept the space open for her to pause for breath and think things through very seriously. At the end of the day, it is her life, her choice.

It would, however be useful if people who claim to endorse human rights contributed to creating a larger picture instead of abdicating all responsibility to prevent exploitation (that is what brainwashing is, fundamentally) in their eagerness to present an unambiguous and ringing endorsement of whatever the cause they are showing off. Whether minorities or women's right to choose or opposing Hindutva propaganda, or whatever. Because at the center of such situations are very vulnerable people living in a virtual reality. It may be their right to live in that reality, but well wishers watching their six wouldn't hurt.

Finally, Hadiya's father is not a Hindutva activist but an atheist. The court gave her into his custody with guard and restrictions. Nor was his case against Hadiya's husband - he really doesn't have the power to order NIA investigations. It may be worth looking at what actions are being attributed to him just because he dared question the holy cow of free choice. He can approach the courts, but the judges do have minds of their own and are not obliged to obey.

A man who imposes sexual activity on a woman without any indication that she is attracted to him, in the face of blunt refusals or knowing that she definitely does not like him, is a rapist. But without this explicit clarity, there are a lot of grey areas where men and women can communicate very differently and a lack of consent is not very clear. It isn't as simple as saying a no is a no.

While we are willing to accept a victim coming in with an accusation of rape much after an incident she reluctantly consented to in has happened, we are less tolerant about the ability of the man who must judge in the heat of the moment to determine whether the refusal is something that will resolve with persuasion or violate. And the sensitivity of men differs wildly, much of it determined by individual life experiences - we do little to help men learn.

It is an age old debate - how much no is no when it comes to sex. There is a side that thinks all "No" is a dead end. There is another that pretty much refuses to recognize any form of "No" as being an actual refusal. Neither are practical. As always, the more adamant force is applied to a process, the less there is sensitivity to nuance. It isn't enough to simply dump responsibility for changing a status quo on one side of a difference. Particularly when that side is less vulnerable to the problem to begin with.

There are many shades of "No". To me, for someone to be called a "rapist" an important condition is that the alleged rapist must know that the other person does not want them - particularly in cases where consent has been implied till that point.

Consent is a grey area traditionally

Asking for anything is culturally stigmatized. Someone asks you if you want tea, you are conditioned to refuse. This is a relatively minor thing. But you are taught that politeness means you don't outright accept something you desire. The more intimate and high stakes your desire, the closer you play your cards to your chest.

For many "traditional" people, by the time a relationship is ready for sex, the moment for consent has long passed, because any physical touch already is consent in a society not given to casual physical touch between genders.

When a woman says No, she doesn't always mean it

Now consider the conditioning women go through all their lives, where a woman who is eager for sex is seen as someone less respectable. There are few women or even men who would outright agree to sex, even while they are giving all kinds of green signals otherwise. Remaining available, participating in increasing contact, "accidental" contact, remaining accessible for sexual contact - and even pretending to be surprised if it happens, till the elephant of increasingly intimate contact cannot be looked around - are all normal happenings in courtship.

People pretend accidental contact that they can back off from if the other person doesn't seem receptive rather than outright ask for sex. Rather than come across as forward or risk a refusal, they simply initiate and see where it goes. Because here is the thing, we also see asking for sex as inappropriate if it gets refused. Men become creeps, women become sluts.

And this is culturally accepted and immortalized. "Jaane do na. Paas aao na" is a sexy song that gave many men sleepless nights when the film Sagar released.

The whole duet is spent with Rishi Kapoor asking Dimple Kapadia to come closer and her refusing all the way. She refuses. Says don't touch me. I can't do these things, etc. It is actually a romantic song where both of them are attracted and in fact gave men an education on what an aroused woman looks like before the age of the internet! The film Sagar would be vastly different if Dimple Kapadia later realized Rishi Kapoor was a lousy lover and remembered that she'd been second thoughts all through and in fact, refusing. It would take an exceptionally sex-illiterate person to conclude a lack of consent from that song. And if Rishi Kapoor took those refusals at face value and didn't proceed, that would be one hot, frustrated woman there and Kamal Haasan would be one happy man. Never really understood what she saw in Rishi Kapoor with super sexy Kamal Haasan there for her.

This song is actually quite realistic among the masses, where there is a lot of intimacy that goes on under the cover of normalcy or even expressed disinterest without actual prevention till the relationship reaches a point of inevitability. It is vulnerability in a judgmental world. It is hard to talk about budding feelings in the bright light of day. Not many can do it. I doubt if even among the feminists there would be very many who can claim to have explicitly spoken of attraction and a desire to initiate a sexual relationship before intimacy.

Is it wrong? Only if you think communication is strictly verbal. But there are fifty kinds of non-verbal signals that are freely given. Spending more time exclusively with someone, standing closer to them than others, casual affectionate physical touch not shared with others... it all communicates consent in a language beyond words and paves the way for more.

But there are far more mundane reasons for blurred consent. Refusals that have nothing to do with sexual willingness, but are related to other factors - for example, tired - which often change with seduction. Or a risk of discovery - which can change a refusal into flat out excitement for some, depending on how aroused they are. They can also be deeply distressing, even with a regular and beloved partner if a woman does not find the risk of discovery exciting.

Whether to persuade and get a phenomenally hot sexual experience or to respect an area of discomfort? This needs education on sensitivity and communication that cannot be plastered over with "no is no".

Traditional and biological sexual factors add confusion

Then there is a further complication. Sexually, men often enjoy the "chase" and women often enjoy being overruled on consent - when they feel safe. That men enjoy the chase shouldn't be that hard to infer from the very troublesome manifestation of sexual harassment. It is predatory behavior. The harassment is where women are clearly not on the same page - because women do require to establish trust and a catcall or grope isn't exactly it. There are a few women who feel flattered by catcalls even if they would not admit it openly. The feeling of being publicly desirable. They often are also those who place high value on male approval overall. While they may not openly enjoy it, you can get that insight in indirect ways - for example when they speak of disparage women as someone who wouldn't turn heads or wouldn't be harassed or molested or raped because they aren't attractive, etc. Where they clearly see unsolicited approaches as a mark of desirability, even though respectability demands that they cannot be known to enjoy it.

I once knew a girl nicknamed Sexy in our friends circle and while she acted all protesting about a nickname that sounded like a sleazy catcall, she would be the one to tell people who didn't know what her nickname was!

There is also a fundamental difference in how men and women interpret intimate conversations that create misunderstandings. Men generally do not speak of intimate physical experiences with the ease women do. Just look at the number of open discussions about menstruation or female sexuality on social media and compare them with how many times you have seen men talk about their penises at all. Men reserve personal talk to extremely confidential relationships - if they talk about intimate issues at all. An intimate subject being discussed conveys extreme trust to men, while women happily talk about intimate subjects even on public forums.

Very often a woman's candid talk can imply an intimacy she does not mean to men, particularly men who are not very familiar with casual interaction with women and don't know that this is normal for women. Something I always advise inexperienced young women is to not share one on one conversations involving features of your/his body with men you aren't interested in. It doesn't mean the same thing to them as it does to you. Of course, there will be individual exceptions, but the norm is broad enough to be useful insight.

A verbal refusal or protest can come from anywhere from an actual refusal to hesitation to commit to stating desire. And there can often be contradictory messages in behavior, with the non-verbal message often being the more accurate of the two.

Some women fantasize about being overpowered

One of the strongest endorsements of consent comes from BDSM, which allows for a safe word to call a halt to the sexual activity - ironically, often criticized for "cruelty". And the safe word actually can allow for erotic sexual play that involves refusing sex and the refusal being overruled if the safe word is not used. How could enslavement, pain being inflicted be desired? Obviously, the consent being explicitly moved to the safe word ensures that this isn't rape, but it definitely is rape fantasy if the play explores areas of consent being overruled.

Increase of women viewers of porn and a lot of outspokenness about porn and terms like feminist porn coming up have not led to any discernable change in standard porn content. So the increased number of women appear to be fine watching erotic content that is criticized from a feminist perspective for being disrespectful about women? For objectifying them, for not holding consent in higher esteem? Women too watch that and get off on it?

Actual research done in this area (led by a woman) shows startling results: 52% of the women had fantasies about forced sex by a man: 32% had fantasies about being raped by a man: 28% - forced oral sex by a man: 16% - forced anal sex: 24% - incapacitated: 17% - forced sex by a woman: 9% - raped by a woman: 9% - forced oral sex by a woman. Overall, 62% reported having had at least one of these fantasies.

Does a woman's response to a dominating man convey mixed messages? Is it possible that men either instinctively or from experience experiment with overruling consent as a part of sexual play? It certainly seems possible if one were to look at such data. There is plenty more research on rape fantasies, for the interested. No point derailing into all that. Particularly since fantasies are not consent for reality.

The man must be made aware of an unambiguous refusal

In my view, because of all these reasons, it is not enough to say "no" and pretend sexual interest did not happen, there is a need to ensure that the "No" is communicated. A man must be made aware of an unambiguous "no" and women must be educated about conveying it. Being willing to a point and then refusing, only to capitulate with some persuasion makes it very difficult to differentiate between a refusal that is momentary and overcome with persuasion and an actual refusal with further sex happening against the consent of the woman.

A common reason to capitulate is because the woman values the presence of the man in her life even though she doesn't want sex. She doesn't want him to turn to someone else. Sad though it may be, it is a hard choice, but a choice must be made with responsibility. Agreeing to sex but holding it against him is not ethical. It is also important to understand that once the genie of sex is out of the bottle, your relationship is not going to return to the comfort zone easily - if at all ever.

Not so hard to understand if men and women are BOTH people

Let us reverse the roles for a bit to make it easier to understand. If men seem more eager than women to seek sex, women can want sex for far longer than men, because biology. Women do pressurize no-longer-interested men into sex. Is a man who grumbles about it after being seduced into participating again a rape victim? Technically, yes. If we are talking of consent as a moment by moment thing where changing your mind on sexual interest is a right, a man who rolls over and falls asleep should be protected from the still horny woman.

In reality? It will be quite a few nights like this before a responsible lover learns to get his partner off first before racing for the finish line or the woman learns to insist on it. Without that pressure, he will never learn. In any case, a man can't be raped as per Indian law. He is this mythical creature who always wants sex, so there is no question of lack of consent - and countless relatively inexperienced partners of sexually active women will attest to the fact that they do get pushed beyond their comfort zone. If a woman is under social pressure of the male gender, the man's entire masculinity and existence as a man can be at stake in such moments. A man who can't "perform" on demand is a most embarrassing thing in terms of social conditioning.

A rather headstrong teenager slapped her lover awake when he fell asleep after climaxing while she was still horny and frustrated. Embarrassed at having fallen asleep and intimidated by her fury, he fumbled his way through that night and broke off with her the next morning, by which time she was horrified and embarrassed by her own behavior. "You can't force me" were his exact words, repeated over and over through the conversation.

She kept apologizing and begging him to forgive her. She had thought he had lost interest in her - as in he dumped her after sex. It was rape all the same - technically. A more humane term would be a learning experience for both of them. Neither of them were aware of crucial factors beyond their own experience. The girl didn't have an idea that men can need temporary time out after a climax. The man was not aware that women climax at all.

If a horny and clueless teenager can do this, an adult experienced woman can definitely pressure a man into "performing" beyond his endurance with a lot more expertise and knowing exactly how to do it. Not all men have the sexual resilience or skill to ensure that a woman also finds each sexual encounter satisfying. Till they learn, it can be extremely high pressure to deliver sex long after they have maxed out or more often than they are sexually able. One day it will make them better lovers. Or it may simply lead to a horrible sexual relationship they hopefully escape some day.

If we insist on reluctant agreements under pressure being up for evaluation as rape in hindsight, then we have to begin with the ethical stand that men too can be raped in this manner - are we willing to do that? Is it ethical to consider consent under pressure as rape only for women? Also, is it correct to blame a man for rape if there is consent under pressure even, unless there is an explicit threat or unfair pressure knowingly applied by the man? Can a man know all the factors that will run through a woman's mind before she agrees in order to know that the consent is not freely given?

There has to be some point where we have to take consent/participation at face value and it is the responsibility of each person in an adult interaction to make their peace with their choices. And to give consent with awareness of its implication and refuse it if not okay with it.

Saying NO and making it stick

Both men and women would be served better by widespread awareness of tools like safe words and emphatic "NOs" without mixed messages - where a refusal is a flat out refusal and no persuasion is welcome that leave absolutely no room for misinterpretation. This is important for both responsible adult communication as well as practical safety for women.

To say no, but continue other intimate touching, or remain accessible for further touch or escalate "I really like you, but..." type emotionally laden conversations, sends a mixed message that is very commonly interpreted as yes. If that is your intention, fantastic. I encourage you to attempt an eager "yes", because any responsible lover will wait for you to get there. If you are undecided, it is better to voice that and explicitly state a temporarily refusal or "find out as we go along" type consent so that the man knows to check for your comfort, than give mixed messages that can take the situation outside your comfort zone rapidly or to blindside with a refusal. This is the honest communication - stating your status clearly. Of course, if you've been yes till something turns you off, blindsiding cannot be helped.

The most important thing to educate people on is that they are not responsible for disappointing those interested in them gently at the cost of their own well being. If they are not interested in being intimate with someone, it is best to do a flat out NO. Alternative intimacy will neither satisfy an interested wo/man, nor will it convey a refusal. It will convey that you are interested in them, not yet enough for sex, but you're open to possibilities. Such possibilities will almost inevitably be explored, because such is the nature of horniness - it seeks a climax. Ironically, the chances of getting consensually laid in the future improve vastly in borderline situations if you can disengage and take care of your horny solo without imposing it on anyone before they are ready.

A person coerced into sex against his/her will has been wronged. But it does not follow that the wrong was deliberate unless that is also established. Sometimes bad judgment is just that. Sucks and wrong, but not a crime.

Nothing short of a climax satisfies a horny person. If that is not what you want, the best and kindest thing you can do for all concerned is to flat out refuse and stop all interaction. If you are not able to do this, you need to ask yourself what you are achieving by prolonging the risk.... and address it appropriately rather than slide into compliance. It is appropriate to be hostile instead of placatory when you want to push someone away. The fewer grey areas in such refusals, the fewer the mixed messages.

If there is structural or social power being exploited to take coerce someone, then the process of "NO" must also involve informing the structure of the exploitation of the power granted by it. Whether it is informing an organization about the inappropriate advance or a friend's circle about the camaraderie of a trusted group being misused to prey on someone. This vastly reduces the pressure on the target. It also allows for protective actions by others, like ensuring that the two are not left alone.

This needs to be a part of sex education.

apologies for the long read - it is a rough chapter from a book I'm writing. Was not able to shorten it gracefully.

3

Rape apologist is a term I have become very familiar with it. Every time there is an outrage on social media with accusations of rape or harassment made against a man, my refusal to join in or my questioning of the e-lynchings is interpreted as supporting crimes against women. Thankfully, I'm not particularly dependent on public approval for my well being, so no harm done. Yet. But this bothers me on another level. There seems something fundamentally wrong in how we see gender conflicts.

What is more important? A gender functional society or proving men wrong?

This is important to identify because the goal will determine the means we use. To prove men wrong (which appears to be the popular preference), not much is needed. You simply condemn them. Over and over. Attack them if they defend themselves, attack anyone who interferes in the process. Rinse, repeat. We have been doing this for a while. So where is the change? Where is the progress toward the goal? It is already established that men are the greater perpetrators of crimes against women than vice versa. What new thing do we prove?

My preference is a gender functional society. I am content to leave the process of fixing blame on the courts and focus my attention on how the problems can be prevented. I see no reason to judge an accused with the information available to me unless there is evidence that the legal process is being subverted. Then social effort is the inferior fallback. That too should eventually lead to the courts. I prefer to see women as individuals of varying capacity - as the feminists insist we should - see them as people. So I have no idea why we infantalize them and lower the bar of their autonomy so low that they basically trip into justice?

Not all women are powerless, truthful or fair

This particularly goes for upper middle class women in situations that are short of physical violence. Women of this class are increasingly actualized and assertive. They are most certainly capable of being the powerful person in the relationship (and thus having the power to abuse). They are certainly capable of lying, just as men are. They are capable of emotional manipulation (actually women who do this tend to be better than men at it, because men have considerably less emotional maturity and thus the skills to manipulate successfully). They can gaslight a partner just as surely as a partner can gaslight them. They are people. In all the dimensions that involves. It is very patronizing to consider them capable of being nothing more than victims, always (though the smarter the woman is, the more she will use this to her advantage).

No, I am not saying women are evil, or inherently manipulative and men are innocent. I am simply pointing out that BOTH are people. With all their flaws and vulnerabilities. If you want one of them to win and you take sides, fair enough, but let us not pretend it is a process of justice then, it is a gangwar between two sides. My preference is to hear both of them and ensure both of them are allowed to speak. To support the woman in following processes to get justice as well as support the man if he is being denied a voice in the name of protecting the woman. Hopefully at some point it resolves or goes to court where better people than me will judge.

Not all abusive men are malicious

Society raises men with some godawful defaults. Men, being on top of this foodchain have little reason to evaluate their privilege unless there is a compelling reason. This is not right. It is not wrong. It is what it is till something changes it. If we mean to change it, how are we planning to? By discarding the inferior specimen or upgrading them? Are they totally useless or do they have insights for us? What happens when a specimen did all the right things and then fucked up? Have you never fucked up witht he opposite gender? I have. I have completely missed all signs of reluctance in an inexperienced man when I was horny. He didn't refuse. I assumed consent. He didn't initiate, I assumed playing safe with a woman. He seemed horny. In reality he was attracted, but not expecting sex at all and he was not even close to feeling ready for it, let alone being ambushed by a much more experienced woman. He'd never had sex. When I realized, I felt like a lecherous pot-bellied uncle pawing at a kid. Thankfully I'm a woman. Also thankfully, I realized it before it went too far and before he was forced to speak up. I apologized. I hear it is a proof of guilt these days. It was still wrong. I did it. I learned what not to do from it. I didn't do it again. But it was completely unintended and I apologized and stopped when I learned. That is the magic word.

If we are to prevent gender violence, we need to engage with men. That needs to be a higher priority than cornering them for a lynching. Does this mean you become a "rape apologist"? No. Does it mean I forgive men if they say sorry? No. It means being aware that while you may enjoy being Jhansi ki Raani, the forgivenesss is neither mine nor yours to give. We are not the people wronged (except when we are, then of course it is our call). We best serve by keeping a dialogue open instead of shutting people up by speaking for them or not letting them speak. By supporting both, but also recognizing that women can be disproportionately more vulnerable to intimidation or violence and being protective observers. In other words, offering the conflict a safe space to play out. This can be as simple as calling an action unacceptable, but not taking sides and imposing our own preferred judgments.

But I don't believe that mass condemnations fulfill any useful purpose. An actual creep just adds to his bogus victim narrative and a genuinely regretful person cannot afford to hold the right stand because it will make him a target. At the same time, if the victim needs assistance and asks for it, we must extend it. If we believe she needs assistance and she hasn't asked for it, we may offer it. Beyond that, this business of targeting people is little more than a Khap Panchayat conducted on social media. Where random tinpot dictators carry out punishments on whim.

Not all wrongs are crimes

Divorce rates are rising rapidly. Relationships are breaking all the time. Almost each one of them will come to a bitter end before splitting. That is a lot of bitterness. And each one will have their own version of the story. People lie to their partners, they cheat on them, they say ugly, hurtful things, they fight, they are unfair to each other, they rewrite memories of time together through various interpretations in hindsight.... it is all human behavior. Men make passes at women, women can be so paranoid of misbehavior that they may see it in an ignorant action.

To me, a big part of what is right and wrong is intent. Whether the person intends hate or harm or whether it is an entitled idiot. Idiots can be educated. Malice is deliberate. It is in the interest of both men and women that there be education for the idiots and the punishments be reserved for malice. And I am saying this as a person who has been on the receiving end of serious wrongs at the hands of men. Some I will never forgive, others hurt more, but I knew it was an idiot, not a villain.

There is a legitimate space for counselling, for social dialogue, mediation, that is rapidly being lost in the lust to come down hard on "what we cannot accept" - it has become an exhibition of our own ethics more than a quest for functional solutions. When you see an idiot, there is no point saying his mother should have raised him better, it is better if you engage with him and help him evolve his thinking. I do that. Which is how I know a lot of people learn.

A lot of men learn the opposite too from the lynch mob culture

In recent years, I have seen men who would normally identify as "feminists" and lecture me about my sneering at feminists come to very very serious trouble over their actions with intimate partners. Actions they most certainly regret and don't defend at all. Actions they did not realize till too late were wrong. They have lost jobs, they have lost friends, they have been completely uprooted from life as they knew it. All three have sworn off intimate relationships for life. They are decent people. I have also heard a real creep say that if he's been branded as a rapist, he might as well rape. In none of the cases was the impact what one would hope for, for a functional society.

One could argue that the world is better off with them being single. Forever. It is a matter of perspective. I think people who tend to do wrong need intimacy even more than most, and they would be better off learning how to be functional with it. Who is to decide what is better? My view is that it should be the person wronged. But a truly authentic judgment by them too cannot be possible if we have a mob baying for blood and making any forgiveness look like a crime against women immemorial. Letting the side down and all, letting a man walk free, etc.

There is absolutely nothing preventing legal justice for the woman and indeed our presence should ensure that. But is it our place to push her toward one or the other? I believe not. I don't see a "virtue" in punishing men. I see a virtue in adequate amends being made, to the satisfaction of the injured party (no, I'm not talking about negotiating marriages by bullying her).

When confronted, it is invariably the decent ones who would admit and apologize if they even believe they were in the least at fault, because their ethics don't stand for harming women - and they do not like that they did it. But if any admission or apology is proof of guilt, then it is very fast education for men that even if you fuck up, don't admit. It is what the powerful do and get away with. This is counterproductive to gender relations.

Patronizing women does not empower them

Women are assumed to be the weaker gender for historical and actual reasons. Men, traditionally being the custodians of power, are assumed to be deliberately malicious in their actions against the woman. If they apologize, it is proof, if they deny, they are victim blaming. There is no right answer once the accusation is public. But there is no option that says they did not realize the gravity of their actions till too late. This would not bother me in the least if the guilt of the man were indisputable - for example crowds thrashing molesters brings me unholy glee. I definitely believe that social rejection of crimes against women is a superior answer to solving them than judicial punishments that happen out of sight. Because social rejection is deterrence as well. Gang rapes happen because some find it entertaining and others mind their business. Growing gang rapes is the opposite of this social rejection/

Even better if the man publicly admits his mistake. Still better if the woman forces him to do it and wins and gets him acknowledged publicly as the one in the wrong with his actions. Unless there is injury or other complications in the case, I actually believe this to be the superior solution to cases dragging on for years punishing the victim further - best case, years of inconvenience, worse case, reliving trauma over and over, lack of closure. At the end of it, the perpetrator gets punished - maybe. I definitely think an immediate and public demand for accountability, getting it and punishment or apology as the case may be is better.

But this too must be a woman led process. You cannot simply corner a man and bombard him with condemnation. There is a need for victims too to learn to find their voice and us LISTENING to them, instead of barging in with our recommendations is a good start. What does she want? Does she simply want to shame him? Does she WANT him to be cornered and forced to flee or apologize? Does she want to confront him and demand answers? Does she want a public acknowledgment of the harm he did to her? You will never know, if you already know what must be done with "men like him". Nor is the woman empowered in being thought of as too stupid to lie or too dumb to strategize how to confront someone who wronged her.

The more robustly and fairly you can hold the space for the process to play out, the more dignity you afford her. Or... if she was trying to frame someone, that comes out too. Help enough women - actually help through a situation, not just comment and forget and you'll run into it. And you don't get used and end up having to bear guilt. Have you ever thought what happened in the conscience of those "well meaning" souls who went on national TV condemning Khurshid Anwar for his rape that he was denying shortly before he committed suicide? I have thought of it often. He may well have been guilty or innocent. But what happened still wasn't justice. I don't believe having an ideological obligation to support women quite covers my willingness to risk irreparable harm to men for my conscience. I don't have a side in this war. I want evolution to coexistence. There is much to learn. For men, for (gasp) women, and for us, in relatively better off situations, trying to help others.

Nor does it do women any respect to blindly go with everything they say as though it is too much to expect a woman to have her words scrutinized like an actual person. Protect them from harm, definitely. Act on everything they say? Let's skip the Pavlov for a bit. Try this. Your mom is a woman too. It is very unlikely you wish her ill. Would you believe everything she said and act on her behalf immediately if she accused someonein your family or your father ? But then you know her. You see her as a real person. Worthy of you applying your mind to her situation and offering her your highest analysis instead of blind nods. You know what she can be counted on to narrate factually and where she is likely to be overwhelmed by her perspective. Unlike your trophies of messiah showcasing. You'd give her the respect of not being blind and responding on autopilot but being the eyes examining her blind spots. You would question, ask for details, want a fuller picture before jumping in with a high stakes decision. And you would back her interest all the way, and would be her fiercest champion if she were wronged but not necessarily based on the first emotional, incoherent and one sided narration! This isn't shaming her. It is support. It is support that cares to invest deeper thinking and want genuinely beneficial solutions. Women and men on the internet are real people too. Not just props for your exhibition of rapid ethics.

Unlike the people who call me names for raining on their exhibition, I actually make an effort to engage with the victim, offer support beyond social media and even my home in cases that need an exit. I have got in the face of raging men and stood in their way with flat out refusals for access to women. I don't need to talk pretty, because I solidly act in their interest and have done it enough to know that the tongue waggers are irrelevant to what needs to be done and short of physical violence, it almost never is immediate action. Takes longer than the life cycle of a trend.

Anyway, this is another partial ramble on the subject of gender relations (I'm planning to write a book, because too many things and nuances to consider).

Moral of the story is, you believe women are historically wronged and therefore every single man to harm a woman must pay for the sins of his fathers, so to say instead of having the luxury of being someone who didn't know better in the here and now. And this is assuming the accusation is truthful, I believe that if a man or woman can be educated to be more effective with the opposite gender, it is a value addition to a society. If they cannot, there still is a need for a space for calm dialogue, developing a larger picture and a person led process toward resolving - whether with understanding or legal process. Therefore, your responses and mine, to cases brought into social media courts differ because we differ in what role we believe society should play. It is ok. You have your view, I have mine. I have no idea which is better. I am choosing based on what I know at the moment. But I have the right to hold my view, as you do yours. Disagreement with you does not amount to malintent.

Some days I fear I'm going to end up as an ideological sanctuary for dysfunctional men in transit into gender sensitivity. Not because I won't put them six feet under and dance on their metaphorical graves (I have one hell of a ruthless streak) if called for. I totally would and I don't think anyone has any illusions about that. I think it will be because I won't, till called for, no matter what a mob thinks.

Because I'd rather society works, than finding someone to blame for it not working and having zero tolerance for any learning curve. I would rather have a presence that brings awareness and insist that the right thing be done, than simply discard people one after the other as they are found imperfect. Will be a pretty empty world then.

4

On an internet where a woman with opinions attracts a flock of men advising her on the opinions she should have, women who refuse to listen often become targets of those who decry them as feminists. And sometimes end up applying the label wrongly. As in my case. I am not a feminist. I think feminism is too focused on men, too focused on the face off with power than results, and has tepid goals.

I believe that every person on the planet should have the freedom to pursue his or her goals without interference as long as they don't harm anyone. Women face far more interference in the pursuit of their goals than men do. Often in the form of artificially imposed limits on what they should or shouldn't do, or preemptive demoralization about what they won't be able to do. Also I am a woman. So I take particular interest that women find ways over, under around or through unfair blocks to their pursuit of their choices.

Unlike feminism, I'm not bothered about men with regard to women's rights. In a country like India, where rights of everyone are trampled to some or other degree, wanting equal rights as men would practically amount to committing to limit yourself. If I'm fighting unjust limitations, why in the world would I commit to fighting them only to the degree men are able to? Besides, who died and made men the gold standard anyway? Society today is structured to suit men. Getting an equal stake in it will still not make it suit women unless women go ahead and create what fits their needs. And they are capable and they are doing it. And when blocked, they deserve the support to get past those blocks. Asking a male dominated society or government to grant women rights is totally not my game. I don't acknowledge the ownership of the male gender over rights of the female gender to grant or otherwise.

I don't care for the constant face offs with patriarchy that feminism gets into. Sure, they are necessary sometimes. But most times, it is just giving too much importance to what should be undermined, not persuaded. I prefer to get women past blocks by hook or crook and leaving misogyny to deal with it. In a magnanimous mood, I may even offer sympathy for their loss of power over women and provide some tips on surviving in a changing world. I prefer sneaky ways that avoid confrontations and spend the energy on results for women than teaching reluctant men lessons they don't want to learn.

I also find that feminism focuses on very few and specific problems women face - which usually aren't the biggest in normal pursuit of self actualization. While fighting injustice is important, the excessive focus often borders on surreal and can be very counter productive for women. And a lot of guerilla tactics women use to succeed in day to day life in real life, which I heartily endorse because they get results, would go against the ethics of feminism. Particularly under conditions of extreme repression. For example, compromising with patriarchy and wearing a 4 foot ghunghat, but using the "virtue" goodwill and negotiating the right to hold an indepeendent bank account - an area far more important that "tradition" doesn't have much "guidelines" for.

To give the bottom line, I'm interested in knowing what is the priority for the woman in question and using every trick, clean or dirty to help her achieve it, before moving to next priority. Picking battles. Sneaking in goals instead of face offs against a far more powerful and dangerous entity.

Feminism today works on TV. The ground reality in India is vastly different. A girl who falls for the propaganda to believe she has the right to wear what she wants WILL end up catering to the male gaze in the name of her "right", often sacrificing hard authority for acceptance and approval. Because what is "fashionable" caters to the male gaze. In the process, if her boobs get taken more seriously than her marksheet or if a rapist who is fully wrong ends up wrecking her life, it doesn't really matter who is wrong, because she will foot the bill regardless. Where are the voices explaining what women who wield power know from hard experience? That like you can dress to convey authority and professionalism, you can also dress to convey sexual permissiveness - which is what a lot of fashion does? Where are all the feminists who insist "I never ask for it" explaining how they dress strategically to present themselves advantageously in situations? Even to the point of conveying aloofness to imply authority? Merely stating the extremes of what is allowed is not empowerment. Knowledge is power.Having a competent strategy for situations that may put women at a disadvantage is power. Yep, you can totally flaunt your body if you want. Here is how and when to do it, so you get the results you want, instead of having to dodge gropers or having your brother arrested for your murder. THAT is empowerment.

We have a lot of theory - which is good. But there is little tying it to hard practical life experiences. Most of the conversations are in the stratosphere in a country where a woman can tell her friend "last night was fantastic. He totally raped me" - implying vigorous sex and not a rape at all. Where are the initial conversations that set definitions and ground rules on consent before the esoteric stuff on what the slightest rape is?

So no, I'm not a feminist. I'm a whatever worksist. Including falling in with patriarchy to mitigate risks for the more important stuff that must not fail. My idea of winning strategies is those that succeed before people wanting to block them even realize the move was made. And if they do realize, I'll choose my attacks, not meet them on their turf. The goal is success, the blocks are a waste of time and to fully be avoided as far as possible.

If you think women should know their place, I'm not a feminist, playing by the rules of a male dominated society. I'm much, much worse.