It isn’t unknown that victim blaming is a major issue in rape-related cases in India. That society believes women are responsible for being the victims of these crimes is also common knowledge. And a woman’s choice of clothing is the target of all of this is why we haven’t been able to curb the rape culture in India. But you know what makes all of this so much worse and makes me dumbfounded in disbelief every time something as heinous as rape happens? It’s the fact that women are each other’s biggest enemies in our society. Which is another thing that we already know. I would often think to myself, what has India learnt from the MeToo era? Was it only a futile exercise for us? But a recent incident at a Gurgaon Mall has given me hope. It has restored my belief in the Millenial generation and its ability to tell right from wrong.
Very rarely in India do we come across incidents where women stand up for themselves. And for each other. Even rarer is for these moments to get captured on video. But a video, that has now gone viral, shows a group of young women, taking on an older woman for some obscene remarks she made about one of their friend’s choice of clothing. In the days subsequent to the upload of that video a lot has unfolded. All of which needs to be processed properly to understand how something like this is necessary and at the same time has to be done with more caution. In this blog, I will try to do just that for our readers.
WHAT’S THE GURGAON MALL VIRAL VIDEO ABOUT?
A group of friends were at Sohna Road’s Nukkadwala restaurant when a middle-aged woman made the most heinous remarks regarding what 30-year-old Shivani Gupta was wearing. The older woman asked Shivani if she wasn’t ashamed of showing off her legs to men. The latter tried to diffuse the situation by jesting that she was actually quite fond of doing that. Not happy with the response she got, the woman loudly started lecturing Shivani that it was because of women like her that rape cases had gone up. She then asked the men at the restaurant to rape women who wore short dresses because they were asking for it. But the older woman didn’t stop there. She went one step ahead and allegedly told Shivani that she deserved to get raped.
Shivani and her friends followed the woman to another store, demanding an apology for the pathetic comments she had made. They recorded the whole incident in that store in a video that has now gone viral. The woman can be seen shrugging the young women off as they repeatedly ask her for an apology. Shivani can be heard telling the woman that if she doesn’t apologise, the video will be posted on the internet. After a 10-15 minutes-long exchange where the woman neither apologised nor denied making those comments, she ends with a disparaging monologue. “Hello guys, these ladies want to wear short to short dress to encourage all to see them. Theek hai? Wow, very good. All the ladies wear the shorter dress or naked to (be) raped. Hi all, if you are the parents, please control the girls (sic),” these were the middle-aged woman’s exact words.
Since the video went viral, the woman apologised on her Instagram profile
WHY WAS WHAT THE GIRLS DID NECESSARY?
Was this the first time that women have been humiliated like that in public for their choice of clothing? No! I still remember my first encounter with something like that. Back then, I was in the 6th grade when I was out with my family at a tourist destination. I was wearing a short skirt. A 6th grader is an 11-years-old kid. And as soon as I was separated from my parents for a bit, I heard these grown men say something so horrible that I cannot repeat those words in my blog. I remember being so scared by what they had implied that I didn’t even tell my parents what had happened.
What emboldens Indian men to make statements like that? It’s mothers like that woman from the Gurgaon Mall video that support the notion that women are responsible for getting raped. By supporting such bizarre notions they instil in their sons the belief that they can do nothing wrong. And if they end up raping a woman, she was asking for it. A Thomson Reuters report of 2018 ranked India as the most unsafe country for women. The latest data on reported rape cases available is from 2016 which states that on an average there are 106 rape cases in India in a day. And the number of cases that go unreported cannot even be fathomed. Could this get any worse? Sure. 4 out of every 10 victims are minors.
If Shivani and her friends had not spoken up, this belief would’ve strengthened in the minds of the men at that restaurant and that store. But those young women knew better than to take shit like that from a sick woman. By speaking up they have set a precedent for all women who are subjected to embarrassing remarks like that in public, and in private. It showed to a whole bunch of people, men and women, that if you think you can get away with your oppressive and disgraceful ‘(a)moral-policing’ you’ve got another thing coming.
WHY DOES THE LAND OF GODDESS WORSHIP SO DANGEROUS FOR WOMEN?
It will be wrong to say that the mothers alone are responsible for men behaving like that. The entire society shares the blame for this one. Since time immemorial, we have been a society that oppresses women. The law might give us first-class citizen rights. But we have always been treated as third-rate citizens. It all starts with birth. Where the birth of a son is followed by congratulatory messages. That of a girl is met with condolences. But that is only when the female foetus is allowed to be born. How did female foeticide become a part of this conversation? Only a sexist or someone living under a rock will ask that question. All women issues are inter-related. If you can’t understand that, you can never resolve these issues either.
Since their birth women are treated as the inferior gender. The lesser than. The unwanted. The burden. While at the same time hymns of Maa Durga are sung each morning. In these very households are raised men who for all their lives have seen their sisters and mothers being subjected to slave-like treatment. What allows for the belief of the superiority of the masculine gender to cultivate in men is the acceptance of the female inferiority by women. The son, no matter how useless and vile, is trusted more than the daughter. The daughter is always taught ways to behave properly. The underlying message being, ‘this is how you don’t get raped’. While the son’s misconduct and disrespect of women, is laughed off with ‘boys will be boys’.
When sons and daughters watch their parents make snide remarks about a woman’s choice of clothing, they grow up believing this to be true. Parents are our first teachers. We learn a lot about what we know about society from them. Which is why you will rarely come across someone who goes completely opposite to what their family believes in. The world out there is doing men no favours either. Every day their confidence in their superiority keeps increasing. And so does their faith in their inability to do any wrong. Men and women who have grown up in such toxic cultures are bound to give us the society we live in now. Thanks to globalisation, some of us know better now.
DID DOING WHAT THOSE YOUNG WOMEN DID AFFECT CHANGE? WHAT DID IT ACHIEVE?
It will be tough to say that this incident will have a large scale impact. Because given what I know of the level of awareness in this country, a lot of the people still don’t know about the Nirbhaya case either. But that is not to say that this video and the subsequent actions will have no results. I for one have found the courage to speak up from the actions of those young women. I know now that keeping your mouth shut and ignoring these actions is not the way this rape culture in India will end. And since I watched this video I have shared it among all my friends, male and female. All of whom have learnt something from this incident. And I’m sure that if something like this were to happen to me tomorrow, my friends will do just what Shivani’s friends did.
This video going viral has sent a message to the world that your actions can have grave consequences. We live in a world where everyone thinks they have a free pass to do as they please. But when what you do violates someone else’s rights, you will pay. The society has gotten away with all sorts of crimes against women for a really long time. But the modern woman will not take even the smallest of slights to her being. She will track you down and have you meet the consequences.
What is important to see in the Gurgaon (also called Gurugram) mall video is that the young women repeatedly asked the middle-aged lady to apologise. They even told her that if she doesn’t apologise they will post the video online. The older woman threatened to call the police on them. To which they pointed out that they had the CCTV footage to prove what she had done and calling the police will actually aid them in getting her behind bars. Yet, the woman (also referred to as Aunty in many internet posts) didn’t budge. The point I’m trying to make is that these young women weren’t motivated by ruining the Aunty’s life. Although, they do allude to that if she doesn’t apologise. But all they wanted was for her to admit the error in her bigoted ideas and demeaning behaviour.
We live in a digital age where everyone has a smartphone. You would be one lucky person if your actions go unrecorded. Especially if you are in a public place. The accountability has increased and so should our awareness about acting responsibly. Most importantly, no one has the right to tell a woman what she can do with or to her own body. Rather than giving women a tutorial on ‘How not to get raped?’, maybe we should start by teaching the men around us to ‘not rape’ or disrespect a woman. And yes, that starts with you, parents. Lastly, SHORT DRESSES DON’T INVITE RAPE!
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE DIFFERENTLY?
While I hail what the group of women did, I am also painfully aware of the life-ruining power of social media. It was important to get this video out there. To teach the internet world the lessons I spoke of earlier. However, we need to be responsible about how we wield this power bestowed upon us by the Age of Technology. The older woman and her family will feel the impact of this video. People have already identified who she is and memes of her have been flowing constantly.
Public shaming is a serious act. The targets of this kind of shaming have to live with this identity all their lives. Because nothing that once gets on the internet is ever truly lost. This diminishes the scope of rehabilitation. The lives that get affected without having done anything wrong are more important. I can understand the emotions of Shivani Gupta and her friends. I probably would’ve done exactly what they did. But having seen the many lives that were ruined by public shaming I believe there was an alternative course.
The video could still have been uploaded by blurring out the woman’s face. I cannot predict exactly how effective that would’ve been but it would’ve helped get the point across without any collateral damage. This woman’s name is out there now. Maybe she has a feminist daughter who understands her mother’s fault. But will now be seen through the lens of this viral video.
What’s done is done. But with this blog, I would like to appeal to everyone who has been following this story to leave the family of this woman alone. She has done a horrible thing, but others don’t have to pay for it. And maybe through all of this, she has learnt a lesson too. Hopefully, her son (if she has one) will know better than to misbehave with women. So will her husband and anyone else she knows who shared her old-fashioned, outdated and bigoted outlook.
No one ever changed the world by staying silent. We have to speak up and support other women. This is a sisterhood and it is so much bigger than the individuals who form it. So, share this incident as much as you can to raise awareness. But do so responsibly. Because we cannot expect others to behave maturely when it comes to us and not extend the same courtesy to them.