Vol. XL No. 44 October 30, 2016
Open Letter to My Son on Sexual Harassment

G Mamatha


I know you are only twelve years old and wondering why I am writing to you on such a subject as sexual harassment. But son, as you might have read in Hindustan Times, a newspaper you distribute to all the subscribers in your class, nine eminent Indians have written open letters on rape to their children, friends and colleagues. Moreover, I noticed that in your Civics textbook, you are learning about discrimination between men and women. Also, you told us about a workshop in your school for girls and boys. All these made me also think that it is time for me to write this letter.

Women and men have different bodies. That is because, as your science textbook teaches you, is to serve two different functions and purposes. Women's body is to develop the embryo, carry the foetus for nine months in their stomachs, deliver the babies and nurse them with milk, which in fact has the most important nutrients that help the infants develop resistance to many diseases. Instead of understanding the importance of each and every part of our bodies and respecting them, men are ogling at them. This is very bad. I know how uncomfortable you feel if somebody stares at you. But these men do not realise that women also feel similarly uncomfortable if somebody stares at them. They not only stare at us, ogle us, but think it is their divine right to touch us wherever they want and whenever they want. They think they have the 'power' to do as they please.

Son, you are always taught that 'all are equal' in this society – both in our home and in the school. But through all these years of growing up, you might have noticed that reality is something different. You have learnt about the various castes and religions in our country. There are differences between them. There are differences between people on the basis of the work they do – people who do hard manual labour are least respected, while people who do 'office' work are most respected.

Similarly, you might have noticed that men are having more 'influence' and 'power' in families, than women. It is not that men do more work than women in houses. But still they enjoy more 'power'. You have read about that in your civics lesson too. Are men really powerful? What is meant by power? Where does one get power from? Is power all about harassing somebody, mistreating somebody, beating somebody, violating somebody? These are some questions, for which you need to think about the answers. You have to think about the reasons for this, not just for a few marks for which you will be tested now, but for the life test that awaits you in the future.

According to Google chacha, power means, “the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way” or “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events”.

Let me explain. A father killed her daughter because she did not make him 'round rotis'. Yes, just because she could not make him round rotis, he killed her – as simple as that. Why? He thought he had the power to kill, he did.

Yesterday (25 October), in Bihar, a 15-year-old girl, who is on her way to write her 10th class school exam was killed when three motorcycle-borne men chased her, pulled her dupatta, dragged her a distance and ran her over as she lay injured. The three men believed they had 'power' to do or act in whatever way that pleased them. They were exercising 'power' over the girl. They are not bothered even if the poor girl lost her life? Think about it son. If that is what power really is, should one really need it?

You are a sports buff. You might have noticed that recently a kabaddi played was arrested for allegedly torturing his wife, which led to her suicide. It seems, he was demanding his wife more and more dowry, which was banned according to Indian law. Unfortunately, his mother and father, who were supposed to teach him what is right and wrong, are also with him in torturing the poor girl. Here is a national level kabaddi player, who was playing in one of the kabaddi leagues, commenting on the recently held kabaddi world cup and works for Indian navy. Why all this? To only show that he is not short of money. May be, he has more of it and with it he feels, he has – 'power', that dreadful word again!

Son, women are depicted as fairer sex and weaker sex, but never as equals. Women are always depicted as the inferiors, and men, the superiors. To suffer is a women's virtue. To punish is men's valour. After all, what is macho? Beating others is macho. Inflicting wounds on others is macho. How to prove, one is a man? By raping a woman. This is the norm in our society.

Now let me tell you about rape. 'Nirbhaya' happened in Delhi four years ago. You might remember about the protests that were held then. But son, in our country, a woman is raped every twenty minutes. Many of the times, in fact nearly 90 percent of the time, she knows the person who rapes her. It means that most of the times, it is people whom a woman trusts, who take advantage of her trust and exploit her. Why? They feel, her trust is her weakness. And they have 'power' over her.

Where do men get this 'power'? Does it come from money? Yes. Does it come from caste? Yes. Does it come being men? Of course, yes. One who has more money, shows his power on one who does not have money. One who is from so-called upper-caste, shows his power on those who are from so-called lower-caste. And a man? He shows his power on woman. So son, remember, a woman, suffers from poverty, caste and also just because she is a woman.

Why am I telling all these things to you, my dear son? Because I want you to challenge all the existing norms in this society. I want you to be part of the march for a new society in which men and women enjoy equal rights. How do I want you to be, then?

I want you to understand that power does not come from your caste. Of course we did not tell you what caste you belong to and for us it not at all important. You should not learn about your caste, but it is important for you to learn about caste system to fight it.

Power does not come from possessing money. But you should understand that money relations define power relations. So you should learn about them to change these relations. Power does not come from your gender.

Being a man does not give you power. Being alive gives you power. Enjoy your every moment of life and remember that every human being on this earth has got the same right to be alive as much as you have got and enjoy their life as much as you have. So real power lies in sharing happiness and remember this well my son, one cannot be happy at the cost of another, but one can be only happy together with another.

I want you to respect women, not as women, but as humans. You should learn to respect them for what they are and treat them as equals.

Son, I know, you are growing up in Delhi and it has its very own unique culture. But that does not mean you should take everything it has got to offer. Take all the good from Delhi culture and shed all the bad from it. For example, people in Delhi have a very bad habit of foul mouthing women in every other word they utter. This is utterly unpardonable as it denigrates women. As a progressive looking boy, you should desist from learning such things. Similarly passing comments, touching women without her consent is a strict no.

I know you watch lot of TV and also few films. Teasing girls is projected as heroism. Repeated teasing is professed as love. Son, nothing can be farther than truth. In fact, in real life, these are called stalking and harassment. Every girl, woman is an individual with her own likes and dislikes. Just as we respected your likes and dislikes, you should learn to respect her likes and dislikes. If she expresses her disinterest, dislike, it should be respected. Period. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sharing work in the home is a must. You should stand first in breaking the stigma that domestic work is for women. You should share household work. What you are learning in your Civics lesson should be put to practice in real life.

One important last thing. I want you to stand up for girls rights. Whenever you see a girl/woman is molested/harassed you should raise your voice in defence of her rights. You should fight for her. You should bring your friends together in this fight and thus attain the 'power' i.e., 'the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events', to better this society.

With a fond hope that you will live up to my dreams...