Growing up as a socially inept kid, I’ve always taken my behavioural cues from the people around me when I don’t know how to respond. Most times, it works out for the best.
I went to watch ‘ Badrinath ki Dulhania ’ at Cinepolis and this practice failed me for the first time. There is a scene in the movie when the male protagonist Badri is molested in an alley by a group of masked men. The encounter ends with his clothes ending up torn. When his friends arrive at the scene, they view the situation as hilarious. Why? Because obviously, ” Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota”.
When a very dazed and dejected looking Badri attempts to cover up his bare chest with his hands, Alia’s character, Vaidehi offers him her scarf, resulting in peals of laughter from their other companions as well as the theatre audience. I do not find sexual assault funny, so I did not laugh. I did, however, find it odd how society and gender roles have built the ideal of masculinity to the point where they are not allowed to feel vulnerable or violated.
But the matter at hand is about much more than just a scene in a movie, this is about the natural response that an educated audience had to a man’s dignity being violated. For centuries, men have been perceived as sexual predators always on the hunt for the opposite sex. It is because of this perception people believed that men cannot be raped. Also, because it is widely held that men are the stronger of the sexes, they cannot be subdued. These wrongful notions have perpetuated rape culture and have made millions of men suffer in silence from the trauma of being raped.
To quote Bell Hooks, “Patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others.”
But how can we expect the masses to be sensitive to this when our government itself refuses to acknowledge the significance of the issue. ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013’ is not gender neutral and applies to the protection of women only. I fail to understand what the administration gained by making this very necessary law limited to women only.
Sexual harassment does not come with an instruction manual, and to curb the protection of the law to just one-half of the population seems very inherently patriarchal and sexist.
This law and the mindset behind it highlights our cultural concept that any male should be able to protect himself against any attacker. At this level, it tells us that any male victim is at least partly responsible for what happened. This same logic that says a woman who wears a short skirt is partly accountable for being raped. And if you’re partially guilty for your own victimisation, then you don’t really warrant our compassion or help.
In the song ‘Kaari Kaari’ from the movie ‘Pink’, there’s a verse which very succinctly encapsulates the very essence of what I’m trying to explain, “Reshmi libaason ko cheerte hai kuch khanjarae khuda tu ghum hai kahan”, which roughly translates to, “silken clothes are being ripped apart by dagger yet there is no sign of God.” The beauty of this line, for me, is that neither the wearer of the silken cloth nor the wielder of the knife is distinguished by gender.
Consent is gender neutral and compassion should be universal.