When I was in school I watched a Hindi film know as ‘ Mirch Masala’ ( Chilli Powder) The film was directed by Ketan Mehta. It starred Naseruddin Shah and Smita Patil in the lead roles. The film is set in colonial in the early 1940s. The plot begins with an arrogant Indian local tax collector and with his henchmen exploiting villagers. The tax collector and his men were harassing women . The village headman who was not strong to oppose him even supplied him with women from the village for his pleasure. No one had courage to protest against such violence.
However the story takes a different turn when the tax collector boldly asks Sonbai a young woman from the village for sexual favours, and harassed her. Enraged, Sonabai, in an act of defense, slaps the tax collector. She then had to flee immediately with the soldiers and henchmen in hot pursuit.She takes refuge in a spice factory where red chillies are grounded into powder. The women of the village worked here. Sonabai and the women were supported by a watchman and male school teacher who strategize to end such violence.
Sonabai organized women in the factory and when the tax collector and his men raided the factory the women in factory mount a sudden and surprising defense. They attack the tax collector with freshly ground red chilli powder in teams of two. The film ends with the tax collector on his knees, screaming in pain as the chilli burns his face and eyes.
The situation of women and girls being ‘eve teased’, bullied, harassed and sexually abused has not changed in India. In fact such violence has increased. Now when women are no longer confined within homes and are out in the world, they face harassment and abuse schools, colleges and workplaces.
Being Programme Secretary of ‘Student Christian Movement of India’ (SCMI) in West Bengal Region working with students in universities and colleges I have witnessed, as well as heard from female students about, different ways in which women are teased or bullied. I have even heard from female students and friends that they carry chilli powder packets, body spray and safety pins in their bags as instruments of defense if attacked.
I have also witnessed many times male college students intentionally using abusive and also sexist languages. They even harass students by ‘unfriendly touches’ ( touching or caressing private parts without the consent of the girl student). This is a common phenomenon is India. ‘Bad touches’ happen every where, even in public places while travelling in crowded public transport , roads etc .
I have noticed that very rarely do female students raise their voices. There are certain reasons for it. The culture of fear and shaming the victim is prevalent in India. There are chances that if reported there may be counter attack and more violence by the perpetrator and his gang of friends being inflicted on the victim. Girl students also shared that if the college authorities were informed, many times they remained silent. They even said they are helpless as the incident happened outside college campus; so it is not within their jurisdiction to intervene. In most of the colleges there is no proper complaints redressal mechanism or process.
Girl students even feared if they inform family members they might stop them from coming to college – that may be the end of education, and so they remained silent. Moreover very often, many women and girls are unaware of the laws and regulations that give them protection against such acts in our country.In Indian context parents find it very difficult to raise girl children because of violent and hostile atmosphere. Raising girls often become a burden for parents . I have asked many women why they prefer sons to daughters. Many of them opined “I don’t want my daughter to face what I have faced. It is easier for boys to survive in our society; so better to have sons than daughter.”
Once I had an encounter with a group of male students bullying girls and disturbing them by racing noisy bikes. I took the risk to oppose one male student. I snatched his motor bike keys and returned the keys only after he apologized. This incident was a positive gesture to teach the whole group a lesson and also to encourage women not to internalize and accept violence.
What is our solution to this sort of violence and ‘eve teasing’? I realize even though we have many benevolent laws to protect girls and women, laws alone cannot not solve the precarious deep-rooted societal epidemic of gender based and sexual violence. The mindset of humans needs change to transform this culture of violence and abuse. Moreover we need to analyze why such violence occurs in our society. We also need to hear why perpetrators of violence engage in such acts.
I believe that awareness, ‘Rights-Based’ and ‘Justice-Oriented Education’ is the vaccine to tackle and heal gender-based and sexual violence syndrome. We also need to build spirituality and conscience of people to end such violence.Jesus educated people his followers and masses through informal creative methods and using parables, allegories, proverbs, stories . The kind of teaching Jesus practiced was totally different to the didactic styles of most instruction, including most moral instruction. The style of his education was analytic.
Nicholas C. Burbules in his article ‘Jesus as a Teacher’ states that Jesus seemed to begin from a different assumption, namely, that there are actual barriers to being good, and without addressing those barriers, the effect of moral exhortation, didactic instruction, or arguments would be nil. He further refers to the story of the Samaritan woman accused of adultery, and Jesus’ famous challenge “One of you who is without sin shall cast the first stone” (John 7:53-8:11). Such instances awakened the conscience of people, leading them to self examination and analysis.
Patriarchal culture, arrogance and egoism tend to encourage selfishness, or cruelty. Resentment and bitterness tend to justify blaming others for one’s failings, or making excuses for one’s misconduct. Misery and hopelessness tend to produce moral passivity and fatalism. Often perpetrators of violence engage in violence as a reaction to violence they faced in life, as violence is rhythmic.
Once a male student admitted that he was ridiculed during his childhood days by his friends and relatives because his facial features were like those of a woman and his nature was kind and gentle. He admitted that in order to prove to society that he was manly and macho, he started acting rudely and even teasing female students in his college by whistling at them.
Stereotyped gender norms are detrimental and cause moral barriers. I have started conducting awareness programs among students. We use techniques of street theater, dialogue, role play, drama etc. I am seeing changes in the behavior of some male students as well as female students . This is a ray of hope .
I attended the ‘Certificate Course on Gender Justice’ conducted by Women Concerns Ministry of National Council of Churches. It further equipped me to understand the dynamics of gender based violence and how to work towards building just and inclusive communities .
I have pledged ‘Because we are Precious in God’s Eyes , I will break the silence about Gender Based and Sexual Violence .’
#16 Days Activism @ Jessica Borgary
Jessica Borgoary is a theologically trained indigenous woman , serving as Program Secretary of Student Christian Movement – West Bengal Region. She shared her story with Women Concerns Ministry of NCCI.