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The writer on women who see virtue in hiding the abuse meted out against them.

Image for representation.

If there was a CCTV in the car that evening, would the viewers of the footage say it was consensual? They would have seen me smile, bid goodbye to the man in the driver’s seat who was an acquaintance and, with a calm face, shake my head sideways. What they would not have heard is the man asking me if he could kiss me, to which I shake my head: a strict NO.

Unable to decide if it was an awful joke, I turned away, but apparently not fast enough. A few seconds too late. What the viewers also wouldn’t have possibly noticed is that I am dreadfully uncomfortable when he does eventually shove his tongue in my face.

Was I being ‘consensual’ in not turning away fast enough and storming out of the car? Clearly not. When a woman’s personal space is intruded upon, especially by an acquaintance, few women are quick on their reflexes. A few seconds of paralysis are natural.

I was so shocked that I heard his uncommitted apologies calmly and perhaps even nodded an acknowledgement. I walked away.

In fact, getting down to writing this took me more than just a few seconds of recovery. Processing my thoughts and putting the incident in the larger context was not a painless exercise. When one peels off the sheltered layers around this story, one finds that the problem is acutely entrenched at every level.

First is the question of intrusion into my personal space. When I meet an acquaintance for coffee, I do not sign up for casual sexual encounters even if I vociferously make a case for sexual freedom for women. Sexual freedom is as much a freedom to say ‘no’ as it is to consent or have multiple sexual partners.

Second, one would assume that a media professional who is published by reputed news organisations would understand the intricacies of gender. What would an Ivy League education be worth, if not for a broader liberal outlook?! However, I realised after the incident that those are wrong assumptions. The man in question met all the parameters of being ‘suave’, but perhaps cosmetic appearances would do well to be backed up by some genuinely embedded liberalism.

The point being this: if a girl is progressive, it doesn’t mean she is ‘easy’. If a girl is liberal, it doesn’t mean you can take your chances with her. If a girl is modern and accepting, it doesn’t mean she has given you a signal to do as you please. No Ivy League education can pump that into your system if it has not been ingrained into your system by family and society. A ‘NO’ is not a ‘YES’.

Third, and probably the most important, is the fact that several women ensconce themselves in a discomforting silence. Women who stifle their stories forget that their silence is helping perpetuate such crimes. Unchaining the shackles of victimhood isn’t a choice, it is a mandate. Especially, if you have the requisite resources to speak up — the ability to express and access to a platform.

Last is the question of the times that we live in. What is not easy to digest is that a society is changing at a pace that we are not used to. As a society, we are shaken only when we see a girl’s intestines come out after being brutally raped. But the fact is that every infringement — small or big — is an infringement. The groping on the bus, the allegedly casual brushing past in a crowded street or a forceful kiss in the confines of a room are equally deplorable.

The law cannot come to one’s rescue in every instance. Laws are not meant to be the cure for all ills. The responsibility should be pinned on society in this case. Men, who are not still used to the fact that women can be as progressive and vocal as them, need to wake up. The sooner, the better. And women who still see virtue in hiding abuse meted out against them or seeing it as a shame should also make conscious efforts to change themselves. Again, the sooner, the better.

A period of change is, invariably, a period of turbulence. And the drastic change that our society is experiencing means extreme turbulence. The sooner we get used to it, the better.

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