I Rise, I Rise, I Rise, I look inside myself, I look with fresh eyes

I Rise, I Rise, I Rise, I look inside myself, I look with fresh eyes

By Isha Singh Sawhney | 5 January, 2013

In the last weeks of 2012, we poured out onto the streets as a nation, and Maya Angelou's Still I Rise came to mind.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Like the words chanted at the end of Angelou's evocative poem, "I rise, I rise, I rise", we rose. We came out as men and women of civil society, shaken to the core by the savagery of a rape that slowly came to represent the regular and systemic rape of society by the very systems we had put in place to govern, rule and police us.

Our horrified, public outpouring of grief couldn't begin to fathom her pain that terrible night, but it resonated through every fiber of our beings. We had nightmares. We were angry, sad, bewildered. We didn't know how we would express this hurt. We vented in public. We mourned in private. We expressed ourselves on absolutely any forum we had access to. We stood in groups on the street. We sang songs, lit candles, marched, wrote, drew and cried. Copiously.Image 2nd

But mostly, we just went outside. We wanted control over our public spaces. We wanted safety. We wanted discourse. We wanted to go about our lives without fearing every gaze, touch, brush or word of the man next to us. We wanted the system to listen to us.

As the new year began, we felt urgently the need to make resolutions. Promises for our safety, because this nameless, faceless girl, , without her asking of us, became synonymous with the struggle of everywoman. She became us. We became her. And we slowly melted into each other as we said, Enough is enough.

In this frustration towards the impotency of a system we live in, we were also slowly waking up to the fact that rape isn't just the construct of sexually deprived or criminally insane minds. Instead we realised we're all (some more and some less, some subconsciously and some consciously) guilty in some way or the other of perpetuating a system that allows such brutalities to take place.

We are all not just victims, but unconsciously also accomplices. We too contribute to making the world unsafe for a girl, both inside the womb and outside, as one particularly adroit poster said. So instead of directing your anger only towards the other sex or to the systems, let us direct some introspection towards ourselves.

Dropcap OnLet us begin with saying no. Because when we don't say no, we, as women in India, are perpetuating the same horrific cycle of patriarchy that leads to crimes against us.

1. No misogyny in popular culture.

Yes, people will protest about how censorship rings the death toll for creativity. Yes, people will say the answer is not in bans. But we must make a noise against anything and anyone who propagates the idea that women are to be harassed while being wooed (like Hindi movies from the last few decades) or to be portrayed as objects (the use of the word maal or item). Or to be bikini clad while selling a product completely unrelated to bikinis.

We might want to excuse Honey Singh for his lyrics by calling on the ghosts of hiphop artists past and present, but we should not hide from the fact that his songs glorify rape. We must make promises to ourselves to be conscious and aware of what we're dancing to at weddings or watching in films, and one day our filmmakers will listen to us.

2. Say no to separation on the basis of gender.

It's no longer about finding a few meters of a safe haven where you can let your guard down. It's about making the entire train safe for women. We need to in the same breath reclaim public spaces, and that thought, as much as it feels empowering, frightens us too. As ironically noted on the Facebook page of a march organised for the 31st of December at 11 pm in Delhi to Take Back the Night, where worried women voiced their fears about safety and drunk men. As a WSJ blog stated, the ladies' car is a reminder the public realm in India still largely belongs to men, and some of those men guard it jealously.

3. Say no to regressive traditions and religious.

This one is tricky. We call ourselves modern and liberal and educated, we decry violence against women, we complain about regressive TV shows and protest to make the streets safer for us, but do we ever consider how religion and its rules about purity and marriage and its traditions of kanyadan, bidai, seer guthi, karvachauth are the worst culprits in this fight? That in our so-called progressive homes we are guilty of the same crimes against women?

As parents, the more girls are taught the homes they grow up in aren't really theirs or the more tears that are shed when a daughter "leaves" her family after marriage or the more girls come as daan with gifts to the man's family, the more we are abandoning them. As women, the more we take our husband's names and their families identities and abandon ours, the more we mark ourselves by every kind of symbol, from vermillion to mangalsutras, to prove to the world we're married, the less we battle the power hierarchy of gender and sexuality has lead to India's female gendercide. The more we give birth to cities, streets and societies where women are unsafe.

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