Last evening, I had this dialogue with a teenage girl on the street, walking from the opposite direction with another girl…
Time: About 7.30 pm
Girl: Where are you going?
Me: Why? [Why should I tell you? with my hands firmly on my wallet, just in case]
Girl: Where are you going?
Me: Where are _you_ going? [May be she needs help with direction.]
Girl: I want to come with you!
Me: No, thanks. [What?! Was that a pick-up line? And they now solicit in this posh residential area?]
Girl: Why? Will you rape me? [What?!!! WTF?]
I’d have been outraged at this question at another time and place, but the sun was shining and I was going to buy pizza for our daughter, so I just chuckled at the guts/deviousness/naughtiness of this girl who was no older than our own and walked away…
After I shared this with Maitreyee and Sohini, it struck me lying in the bed: one has the right to be outraged. How dare she abuse me like that in broad daylight (the sun doesn’t set here until 10:30 pm these days)? How dare she attack me just because of my skin colour? How dare she generalize about all coloured people (I could be a Pakistani or Filipino for all purposes)?
I realized I was wrong. The right to be outraged belongs to that girl, not me. Why shouldn’t she be outraged given the number of rape cases recently reported from India, not only of Indian women of all ages but tourists too?
Why shouldn’t she be outraged when we don’t seem to be able to control or prevent rapes within our crowded, intimate environs? Why shouldn’t she be outraged when Indian men think they can lay hands on any human being just because she is of a different sex, no matter her age (from toddler to senior citizens) and relationship (from own daughters to strangers)? Why shouldn’t she be outraged that we are not outraged about it unless it happens to our own kin? Why shouldn’t she be outraged that we are offended only when someone attacks our own dignity, like she did to me?
My fellow proud Indians will rise to point out that statistically the rape cases are just a small percentage of crimes, given millions of women in India. That it’s all a media game to gain TRPs. That it’s a western media ploy to defame us. That there’s a “foreign hand” behind all this. So it may be. But you miss the point. It is not the number of women raped that matters (and it should matter, no doubt). It’s not the number of rapists caught or punished that matters (yes, that should matter too). Every single incident of rape is a vicious attack on human dignity, which in a civil society is a fundamental right of every human being. And that girl was demanding that right to dignity by confronting me with the question: “Will you rape me?” [Unsaid: because you are a man, because you are an Indian, because you can?]
Every Indian man needs to face this question – “Will you rape me?” – to feel the outrage that women feel, the pain and indignity they suffer when their identity is violated, not only but more than in the body. I’m glad this teenager Danish girl gave me the opportunity to feel that outrage.