This appeared in Mumbai Mirror today...
There are over a dozen of us waiting for elevators. Men and women. Friends and acquaintances. Mostly married. Some single. The elevator doors open…. And there is an awkward moment as one woman and one man get ready to enter. The man roars, “ Are you sure you want to get in with me?” Everybody bursts out laughing. He adds, “You stay in your corner. And please don’t touch me! I will keep my hands above my head till we reach your floor.” Irony meets pathos. We have converted the disgusting Tejpal case into a national joke now. It suits everybody.
This is just one recent example of how we are responding to what is in fact, a national crisis. Not the Tejpal case alone. But what it represents on a larger scale.Men and women are treading gingerly around sensitive terrain, afraid to miss a single step and hit a land mine. Everybody is wary….mutually suspicious. Unable to handle the tension in the air, the easiest (and stupidest) thing to do is convert the whole thing into a joke. Once you start laughing at something, it is no longer a threat. And therein lies the real danger. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to get the point. To address the real issue, which isn’t complicated at all! It has to do with respect. That’s it. Once we understand the basics, and start respecting one another, nothing else is needed. No rule books. No laws. Every man who has ever touched / brushed past a woman deliberately, knows in his heart of hearts that he has crossed a certain limit. That his behavior is out of line. He doesn’t require a complicated judicial system to tell him he is being offensive. If he persists, he should also know the repercussions of that act. The question of misreading or misunderstanding the situation simply does not arise. And if it does he has to pay the price for his ignorance. In all fairness, the same goes for any woman trying these tricks with a man. If her advances are rebuffed , she should immediately get the message and back off. Or face the music.
The Tejpal imbroglio has triggered off a debate that is strictly urban in tone. Urban and elitist (come on, who do you think attends Think Fests?). Let’s not mix up issues and talk about a naughty judge and other incidents. And let us also be candid and admit Tejpal is not the only one. The media world is full of Tejpals. They are out there even as I write this, and some of them are very, very nervous indeed! Tejpal got caught, that’s all. He got caught because a young woman decided to confront him. There are countless young women in the same position who have kept their silence. Going by recent revelations about the Goa writers’ gang, chances are what took place two years ago, will now be tabled and aggressively addressed by the women who were harassed. Their argument is interesting since they insist what they endured is no different from the Tehelka case and should be treated in exactly the same way. It does not matter when the incidents took place. What matters is that such men need to be nailed – regardless of how well connected they are. This is the other positive off shoot of the Tejpal case. For all his influence and power, all it took was a spunky young woman to expose him without shame or fear.
So, please, let’s not reduce this sensitive issue to a joke. It’s really not funny. And let’s discourage people from jesting about Tejpal and others like him. That is an insult to all women. There are countless clever digs doing the rounds, most of them are misogynistic and sick. It upsets me greatly when women join in the laughter… adding insult to injury. If women would start objecting to sexist remarks being passed in their presence, not only will they be standing up for personal dignity, they may also be protecting themselves from an unwanted physical encounter. Participating in vulgar exchanges that demean women is indirectly telling men it’s okay to go further and grope. Let us start with ourselves first. The joke has been on us for way too long!