A week ago, during a conversation with journalist Rajeev Masand as part of a roundtable series, actress Sonam Kapoor spoke about being molested when she was younger (http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/12/13/sonam-kapoor-i-was-molested-when-i-was-younger-it-was-traumati/).
In a debate on violence against women held in the UK parliament last week, MP Michelle Thomson narrated her experience of being raped when she was a teenager. Her story, “As is common, it was by somebody who was known to me.” But she kept it to herself. “I didn’t tell my mother, I didn’t tell my father, I didn’t tell my friends and I didn’t tell the police. I bottled it all up inside me.”
Her story is not unique; another MP in the debate narrated her experience of attempted rape.
The interview on television and the debate in UK’s parliament show that women in all walks of life and all sections of society have faced sexual violence from partners, lovers, husbands—and other people known to them.
But, women do not speak up. They do not share their experiences within the family, or with friends. Not many women leaders in India have spoken up in public about their experiences of sexual abuse and assault. Debates in Indian parliament have been mostly moralistic, preaching others not to behave in this fashion, and respect women as goddesses.
Four years after the Nirbhaya case, streets of our cities, playgrounds in schools, libraries and labs in colleges, trains, buses and metros, offices, hospitals, hotels, markets… and homes… continue to be unsafe for girls and women.
One way to counter sexual harassment, abuse and violence is to encourage all victims to speak up. Speaking about such experiences soon after it happens is essential to stop and punish the perpetrators. Speak up!
As friends, colleagues, parents and relatives of all girls and women, it is our responsibility to assure them of support when they speak up. To begin with, we assure them of listening to their experience, respectfully, non-judgmentally. We assure them of our emotional and material support when they speak up. We assure them that we will also speak up loud and clear that violence against women is unacceptable from anyone, anywhere.
Let us start with encouraging all girls and women we each know personally to Speak up! when any one of them experiences sexual harassment, abuse and violence.
Dr. Rajesh Tandon is one of the Founder Directors of MFF (Martha Farrell Foundation), the Founder President of PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia), and Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair on Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, living in Delhi, India. He completed his graduation from IIT, Kanpur and post-graduation from IIM, Kolkata, and received his PhD from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, United States. He is an internationally acclaimed leader and practitioner of participatory research and development. Dr. Tandon specialises in social and organisational change and has contributed to the enhancement of perspectives and capacities of many voluntary activists and organizations. He has served on numerous government task forces and committees, and is the founder of the Board of Directors of World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS). He has written a number of articles, books and manuals on Participatory Research and related topics.