By Debarupa De Biswas, FHI Kolkata
Before writing this post, I might have spent a long time in consideration of this subject, the controversial arena of talking about sexual consent, but as from the first moment of its contemplation, I determined on which course to pursue, it seemed to me that the delay to write or talk about the same was wholly unnecessary.
In the summer of 2018, Fly Higher India had organised an event in an NGO called Ektara. While it’s generally imperative for us to hold an important event focusing on a particular subject every month, I had for a large amount of time introspected on the wise number of issues relating to the urgent need of discussing sexual consent in times like today. As sexual misconduct continues, an expression that had and is still used to spur controversy in relation to sexual harassments is the #MeToo movement. Until recently, there have been millions of women around the world, who’ve had the words to describe it, though it’s a place where most of us have been. But unlike most other movements, many women privately and publicly have found the language to speak out and come to terms with it. Much in the same way that the cases of Harvey Weinstein and others exposed the nasty pervasiveness of workplace sexual harassment and assault, these grey zone stories have prompted equally important conversations about sexual consent, sexual assault and how we understand the interplay of, and at times ambiguity between the two.
The #MeToo Movement in fact, has in honest terms been able to accomplish what sexual harassment law to date has not. This mass mobilization against sexual abuse, through an unprecedented wave of speaking out in conventional and social media, is eroding the two biggest barriers to ending sexual harassment in law and in life: the disbelief and trivializing dehumanization of its victims.
The torture and humiliation that most sexual assault victims have had to face are innumerable which include: being defeated in advance, trying uselessly to tell their loved ones that these are the kinds of things that victims (people of all genders) of sexual violence have to put themselves through is a disturbing sight to read or come across. We need to understand that in severely patriarchal countries like ours crimes against such molestations need to be taken seriously. Consider this: the increasing acid attacks against women in a country like India. Like gun control becoming a deep, controversial problem in America (for example the brutal killings done by a man called Stephen Paddok), the sale of acid in India has become more difficult to ban. They are usually done by men who seem to take no for an answer.
As observed, stricter laws in the aftermath of the 2012 Nirbhaya case or the brutal Kathua Rape Case in 2018 have led to higher levels of reporting but not necessarily to higher conviction rates or quicker investigations. Thus, what is required is an overhaul of the current legal infrastructure in place to deal with these cases in a quicker and more efficient manner, along with other remedies of social welfare, economic growth, awareness programmes, sex education etc. Haryana, a state known for its dismal sex ratio, has recently reported that its ratio has improved to 914 girls to 1,000 boys. Not long ago, it used to have one of the worst indicators in the country with a ratio of only 879 to 1,000 boys in 2011. While it still has a long way to go to ensure gender parity, the state has achieved progress through a combination of strong laws, their strict enforcement, and innovative awareness campaigns like ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’. It’s time to implement a similar holistic approach to deal with sexual violence across India.
Taking all of this into introspection, it’s been about time we sensitised or more importantly started from the primary stages by bringing into attention the importance of sex education in schools and educated children on ideas related to “Good Touch” and “Bad Touch” that prevent them from more damage being inflicted on them by the society.
Having said that, it can however certainly be agonising to talk about an issue as sensitive as sexual consent with children who’ve barely observed these atrocities, that has in all honesty, only reaped society of its humanity and goodness. While it was certainly a difficult task to talk about a subject that most of society considers to be taboo, I somehow remained determined or in more precise terms, made sure I put my feet to the ground and explain to them every inch of what sexual consent is. Speaking to them of the differentiation between good and bad touch, the four important zones in one’s body that nobody apart from a loved one can touch without their consent and sensitising them about more such detailed issues of sexual consent, put me in a position where I can do something, as tiny as it may be, to make the world slightly less terrible for them.
In a world filled with a million Harvey Weinstein’s these sexual attacks have never really stopped; and it’s only because humanity has begun to disappear more and more from the society we live in now. Will these horrifying thoughts be able to reach the surfaces of our limpid consciousness? I do not know. The gap between our education system and real life skills, remain as large as ever, and still needs to be bridged. Reforming our society with discussions like these have the power to uplift individuals and promote open minds who can inculcate the emboldening task of thinking for themselves and bring into light the inequalities perpetuated by toxic masculinity and the patriarchal thought process that is deeply entrenched in every part of our society.
I shall however, not ever choose to forget the twinkle in the children’s eyes and their wide happy smiles as they went on telling me about their dreams and in that moment I made sure I must do everything possible to hang on to them. Hopefully we all will.