It’s deeply worrying that ‘molestation of women’ is a handy excuse to justify racist or communal attacks by lynch mobs.
On Sunday evening 3 African nationals were beaten up badly by a crowd at Rajiv Chowk metro. The claim was that this attack was to punish them for having molested a woman on the metro.
Now, my question is, how come no mob ever beats up Indian men who regularly molest women on public transport or streets? Not that I want mobs to do this – precisely because mobs are just as likely to assault women whom they see as being ‘of bad character’. The point is, the response where Africans are involved, is impelled by racism rather than justice for women.
The other question is – if there was a molestation, by Africans or anyone else, why should the response be a mob lynching? Why not support the woman in filing a complaint with the police? In this case, the fact that there was no complaint of molestation filed, makes one ask, what is the proof that there was any molestation at all? Predictably, Somnath Bharti of AAP is at it again in the wake of this incident, fanning up the racism by tweeting about the ‘criminalities and illegalities by foreign nationals’. Why on earth should we allege molestation when the allegedly molested woman herself has not yet done so? And why is (alleged) molestation by a ‘foreign national’ any more criminal than one done by Indian nationals?! Why claim that a particular section (‘foreign nationals’, or ‘Muslims’ or ‘Dalits’ or whatever) are more prone to molest women than others?!
From long experience of speaking up for women who are sexually harassed on public transport and on the street, I can say that public apathy and lack of support is most frustrating. At the very same Rajiv Chowk metro some years ago, I recall a young woman friend who told the security staff to catch a man who had molested her. They told her to do it herself! Well, she did, and she phoned and called me there, and we then called some student activists and managed to get an FIR filed. But that friend told me that while she was grappling with the guy and yelling at him, there were many spectators – no supporters, none at all!
What we women would like is quiet, reasoned support, of people willing to spend time with us getting the tedious task of police complaints done. Or, if we choose not to file police complaints, just speaking up with us against the sexual harasser.
A lynch mob is just as frightening for the woman involved as it is for the men who are lynched. Because a lynch mob will not listen to reason or to the woman’s own views. Because members of the lynch mob themselves often have extremely misogynistic views about the woman involved, her clothes, her conduct – and this misogyny shows.
I learned this lesson years ago, in the 1990s, as a student in JNU, when JNU students formed lynch mobs to burn cars of men who came into campus to molest women. In one of the first meetings I ever attended on campus, women who had actually faced the terrifying experience of being dragged into a car by these molesters, told us that they opposed the lynch mobs because the mob never asked them (the women) how THEY felt. Those women felt a total loss of agency. They said they did NOT want a mob of men avenging them and punishing their molesters. And they told JNU to kindly stop this kind of mob justice in their name. It was one of first political lessons in feminism that I learned in JNU. Parnal Chirmuley will recall that meeting in Godavari mess, that we wandered into together as new students!
In mid-September this year, when I was in Nawada, Bihar, I saw reports and photos in the papers there, of how 3 Muslim boys had been stripped naked and beaten by a mob, because they had been ‘loitering around our women’. Not long ago, we also heard of a lynch mob attack on transgender persons in Delhi – and similar attacks on trans people elsewhere in India. Again and again, we can see how communal, racial and homophobic violence is being done – and justified – in the name of ‘protecting’ women from violence.
Well, we say – Not in our name – and we’ll keep saying it, louder and louder.
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