Editor, pretending to read my copy as I type away asks “Is that a Marks and Spencer?”
No sir, I reply, typing. “It’s an Olivetti.” Today I wouldn’t have been so naive. My heart goes out to young women in newsrooms today. Irrespective of whether they need their jobs or not, no man has any business denying them respect and a safe working environment.
My debut column for Republic will not tell stories of horror, intimidation, rape and abuse that Indian women journalists have been documenting on Twitter for the past few days. The facts are so sensational and galling, that any attempt to re-tell them is to disrespect what the victims underwent. I have also been shocked beyond belief to read what the so-called stand-up comedians have been tweeting and saying about sex and children.
Wanting to have sex with little boys and girls and comparing sex organs is a disease. There is nothing more debauched – and I am being diplomatic - than ‘enjoying’ sex with a child and boasting about it in a public platform like Twitter. A Twitter mea culpa is a crude attempt to sew up a new virginity so the predators can be back in business. If these are human beings, they should have the courage to walk out of their homes to the nearest police station and surrender.
It is with sense of agitated peace and power-giving turmoil that I salute the scores of Indian women journalists who have braved all – all - to call out men who have raped them and abused them sexually. Tanushree Dutta’s story accusing Nana Patekar and Vivek Agnihotri, now facing two lawsuits from them, was probably the last straw that broke the camel’s back. You’re a brave woman, Ms. Dutta, to stand up in the film and entertainment industry where sexual harassment seems par for the course and where some stars of the industry – on whose shoulders I am told, ride millions of dollars - think nothing about hitting women. Hitting.
The other people I want to salute are the brave people on social media (SM). Think. If SM were available to Ms. Dutta at the time of the incident, what a different turn her entire story would have taken. I earned my spurs in the print world. The search engine then was a library. I have often wondered what would I have done during Bofors when my reportage was suddenly pulled? What would I have done when the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi referred to me as a ‘girl’ who is producing photocopies? One thing is certain. I would not have been subjected to the mood swings of dishonest and wealthy editors, some looking for personal glory, others for pelf and all looking to be invited to high flying political dinners in Delhi!
Surprise. They were all men and some women. I remember one woman in particular – the Mumbai-based night queen of raunchy novels – who wrote that maybe I was intelligent but I was rather unkempt. Right. I was a young mother and was on a major international investigation. But this is beyond the pale of night queen’s understanding who, even today, runs down young women journalists and encourages sexual predators.
Many male editors who criticised my work then, are new feminists because their daughters are now as old as I was when they spilt bile on me. The politician who played footsie at a 24 people-sit down dinner till I lifted the tablecloth and asked who it was in a loud voice, the Bollywood star who insisted on leaving his hotel room keys in front of my eyes till I threw them out of the window at a cocktail. Do I want to call out the men? I don’t need to. Almost all have had their come-uppance in many ways including being slammed on SM.
Technology is a powerful tool. Ignore that at your own peril, predators, rapists, faux feminists and parvenus. During the 2014 general elections, one section of political India woke up with a start to advances in technology and the power of SM. Prime Minister candidate Narendra Modi was pasted for using technology to spread his message. No one’s asking you to agree with him, but he got that one right. What’s deeply unfortunate is that so many people followed by his official handle are abusive, use bad language and treat women like dirt. Mr. Prime Minister, you do need to do something about them urgently – women hold up half of India’s sky.
When technology meets a struggle, the power it unleashes is unimaginable. In public health, for example, the meeting of science and technology has revolutionized the cure and care landscape. In much the same way, when women become politically conscious, the revolution reaches cruising – and visible - altitudes. Indian women journalists have gone one step further. They have merged struggle, hurt, rape, sexual assault, rejection and hopefully rejuvenation using technology. This is not an innovation in the traditional sense with a go-to-market strategy.
This is innovation aimed at the market place of human beings with sexual predators and rapists masquerading as journalists and artists, choreographers and mentors. Time is not far when people in other professions – political, corporate, NGOs, academia, public intellectuals (what on earth does that mean) advertising and marketing – will get their call. I can already see shameful ‘apologies’ by men on twitter accounts silently deleting the over friendly tweets to women. They are all comedians. To all of them who they can hide debauched thoughts in jest, a passing remark, a loud guffaw or back-thumping instant familiarity, I say this. You will be hoist on the same petard – the SM – upon which you have shamelessly sought instant fame by rubbishing women journalists. The SM has just switched the lights off from your acts and once again, Indian women are in the lead.
The outcry has nothing to with the ‘evils’ of western tradition. Rape and sexual harassment happen in our homes and schools – including kindergarten – in our places of worship and transport, in offices and en route to, in corridors and streets, in parties and family functions. So, please cut the nonsense about ‘foreign’ tradition. You do not have to part of any ‘ism’ to understand in your gut that you are hurting someone beyond repair. You do not have to cite chapter and verse from studies to show that your debauchery is a medical problem. Get a diagnosis dammit and stay out of public life. If you continue to poison our community well, SM will call you out.
There is nothing dirty about sex. Attraction between human beings is natural. Abuse is not. There is no other side to rape and sexual harassment. How difficult is that to understand? I do not know if this is India’s #metoo moment, but there’s certainly a tide in the affairs of women rising upwards on the wings of SM.