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Why have we normalised sexual harassment?

Updated: May 18, 2020

If you’re one of millions of Indians who use social media, you’re probably aware of the sordid situation which presented itself to us a few days ago. The “boys locker room” Instagram chat was used mainly by boys in the 11th and 12th grade, to casually body shame, make rape threats and slut-shame their peers and other underage girls by posting pictures of them on the group without consent. Last Sunday, screenshots of the horrific group chat were exposed on Instagram.

While the actual train of events leading up to this shocking exposé are rather unclear, the one thing we know for certain is that our society has failed us. We have allowed rape, misogyny and objectification to become normal, even ingrained in our everyday lives. Does one even bat an eye when we see yet another rape hidden away in a tiny box in the corner of the newspaper? India itself is one of the most dangerous countries for women, with nearly 32,500 rape cases a year. On average, that’s one woman reporting a rape every 15 minutes. We can’t allow this to go on.

To really get to the root of the problem, we’ve got to look at where the exposure begins. Schools and Colleges are places where toxic masculinity thrives and rape culture is glorified. But the problem here is actually bigger than a few schools. The result of the ‘Boys locker room’ saga, was an even more glaring problem: The ‘girls locker room’ chat. A chat in retaliation for the teenage boys who slut-shamed, body shamed and sexually harassed girls. The girls in turn are no better, using foul language, and sexualising the boys commented on. This calls to question whether our girls are any better than our boys at all.

Is this where the culture of victim-blaming comes from? Victim-blaming is a normal feature of conversations about rape. And the men and women who lead our country are prime examples of the misogyny. In July of 2012, Chhattisgarh’s home minister, Nankiram Kanwar commented on the rape of a 16-year old by asking “Why wasn’t she home at 2:15 a.m.?”. In January of 2014, Asha Mirje of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra said “women invite rape through their clothes and behaviour”. Again in 2014, home minister of MP, Babulal Gaur was quoted saying, "This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong.”

How can something which violates fundamental human rights be sometimes wrong and sometimes right?

Because of our leaders, our homes are also susceptible to the perverse sexist turn of mind. The ‘Log Kia Kahainge’ (what will people say?) mentality is just one of many reasons why rape goes unreported a majority of the time. The practice of victim-blaming and in turn self-blaming is caused by deep rooted societal issues and broken principles of our male-dominated society. Our culture is one in which it is not only acceptable, but also deemed necessary to victim-blame and find fault in the supposed ‘weaker sex’ when an incident such as this one takes place.

Most women, and many men too, depend on this fight against toxic masculinity. While female rape is a hugely ignored problem, male rape is a lesser known, but equally important issue. Every time we take a stand against body shaming, sexual harassment and slut shaming, we fight a small battle. Every single victim of these abuses hangs their freedom, safety and life on this battle. But a small truth about trying to fight for these things is that you are mocked for it, ridiculed, and even sometimes harmed, by the people who are supposed to have your back. In a country where our politicians, police, and even friends and relatives don’t support us, how can we be assured that our safety comes first?

What comes next?

Rape culture, casual objectification, and toxic masculinity have become deeply intertwined in our society. Each and every one of us, despite our gender, needs to take a moment of self-reflection to realise the role we play in this critical issue, and understand how together, we can change our society.

Author : Venya Naidu

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