Neha Dixit | June 11, 2014, 
Picture for representational purpose (Photo: DC archives)

Picture for representational purpose (Photo: DC archives)

The first time I ever had to get back to my car within five minutes of stepping out to cover an event was on April 7 this year. Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav was visiting the riot affected areas of Shamli and was scheduled to address a rally as a part of his political campaign.

Teenage boys on tractors, young men on the roof of buses, men in the public ground — a total of at least 40,000 men — had gathered to attend the rally. I was the only woman amongst them.

Dressed in a salwar- kameez and dupatta that covered every inch of my body except foot, fingers and face, I was invited, “Aye Ladeej, Come, I will f*** you on the bus roof!” I turned around to answer, “How dare you?”, thinking confrontation will bring shame and pause.

But boys on the rooftops of all the buses within my view broke into a roar, “Yay! Yay!” They clicked pictures of me with their cellphone from all possible angles. Their roar followed me as I took the longest walk back to my car, embarrassed, angry.

Finally, an old man walked up to me and said, “Beti, please cover your face with the dupatta, these boys are like this only.” Without getting into a feminist debate about how I have the right to walk around the way I want, I followed his advice and, not surprisingly, though full of inner contradictions, I felt safer for the rest of the walk.

For the next half an hour, as I sat waiting in the car, I got increasingly angry at my male colleagues for being able to be attend the rally while I couldn’t because I was a woman.

My mother had once told me a similar story. She and her sister, both teenagers, insisted on attending their male cousin’s wedding in a village in Uttar Pradesh in the 1970s. They were the only women in the baraat, traditionally spaces for male celebrations to which very few patriarchs would allow their women to be a part of.

News spread in the village that two “paturiyas” were accompanying the baraat and the entire village gathered to take a look at them and started demanding that they dance. Paturiya is a UP word for sex workers who entertain the baraat with their singing and dancing.

In those days paturiyas were a must in most north Indian baraats. To the horror of both the sisters, they had to be smuggled out to the would-be-bride’s house and were scolded for their irresponsible behaviour.

After the Badaun twin rapes where two low-caste teenagers were gangraped and hung on a mango tree for everyone to see, and the Bhagana gangrapes, where again low-caste rape survivors have been sitting on a protest in the national capital for close to two months, demanding justice, there was global outrage about how rural Indian women get raped because there are no toilets in villages.

Yes, toilets are important and open defecating does lead to a lot of inconvenience and diseases. But the attribution that only when women step out of their homes to defecate they are vulnerable to sexual violence is naïve, laughable. I know for a fact that collective crapping is the only time in rural areas when women get to chat with other women.

According to the Unicef-WHO Joint Monitoring Programme Report 2010, 720 million people, both men and women, practice open defecation in India.

Vidya Balan, the ambassador for the government’s campaign on sanitation, says in a TV commercial, when told by a mother-in-law that she does not have a toilet at home, “You don’t even allow your daughter-in-law to remove her ghunghat and you send her out to crap in the open?”

While the message of is well-intentioned, the reinforcement of patriarchal stereotypes to push sanitation issues is regressive.

The trivialisation of rape by linking it to the lack of toilets is disturbing and it begs the question, why does the middle-class curse the police for lack of safety, demand justice for rape, mostly by hanging the culprits?

We want simple, quick, feel-good solutions to rape like building toilets. At candle vigils at India Gate, uncomfortable, nuanced questions about rapes during communal riots, like in Muzaffarnagar, or the Bhagana rapes — incidents where women’s bodies are used as battlegrounds to establish the supremacy of one community over the other — are not taken up because they do not gel with the soon-to-be-a-superpower image of India.

No matter how many rape cases we protest against, or the fact that incest rape cases have risen by 30 per cent since 2009, sociological aspects are ignored because the happy patriarchal family structures, integral to corporate development model, must not be challenged.

Till the conversation about rape gets real, all women — my mother, I, the Bhagana girls, Badaun girls — who enter public spaces, or stick to their private space, will be vulnerable.
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