Gender Based Violence – It’s not funny

Violence Against Women is not funny. Stop joking about it!

I got up this morning with an urgent need to write. I had received a simple forward. A meme. The joke seemed almost harmless, just like every other misogynistic joke which rides the internet waves.

The picture depicted a wife and a husband in a car with the caption “Darling, put on your seatbelt!” Seemingly harmless? Apparently, it’s not funny.

It was shared on social media by a recently married woman. Many other women replied to it with “LOLs” and “ROTFLs”. Not one of them objected to the cartoon! A few years ago, I would have ignored and blocked it. But I have changed. I gently posted a comment that there was nothing funny about a husband wanting his wife dead.

Have you realized how easily we perpetuate the notion that violence against women is funny? We do it all the time because it’s convenient. We have accepted it as a part of our daily lives. The number of memes and online cartoons depicting violence against women as a joke is infinite. A hotel in India was recently under fire for an implied rape joke. Unfortunately, we had men and women participating in these jokes. We would rather laugh at these jokes than believe that violence against women is a malaise which plagues our society and the very home we live in.

A survivor’s voice is not something that our world accepts as easily as they accept a rape. If a survivor somehow musters up the courage and talks about his/her harassment our immediate reaction is to question the body language which invited the act. We question the clothes worn at the time of the incident or if they had ordered a beer, vodka, wine or tequila instead of a lemonade. We ask why was she out without a chaperone to keep her safe?

Following a rape incidence at Infosys, I overheard colleagues say “she wasn’t an employee just a lowly contractor in their cafeteria”. So if it’s not a white collar employee, rape is inconsequential?  In the eyes of the world details like the age, status, social standing and other definitions matter more than the act of violence.

While talking to a friend, I was struggling to explain my own experience with violence at the age of 15. She is a rational person who likes to analyse situations and I cannot be pragmatic when it comes to my story. My friend wanted to understand how it happened. I clarified it wasn’t rape. She reiterated,” so he didn’t rape you? What happened? Did the man just slap you?” He molested me”, I replied.

The type of assault and it’s definition was not the focus of my story.  I felt her tone and questions hanging on my head. ” Why did he molest you?” She was trying to find out if I had provoked the attacker? Was there some logical reason behind it?  It’s not her fault. Culturally, we question the details of an attack and rationalize it. By doing so, we feel we can reason the violence and to some extent prevent it from happening to us. Because now we now know better.

It’s still difficult for me to explain the mental trauma and physical violence I faced when I was 15 years old. I still avoid discussing it because I no longer want to hear the questions, “what did you do to make him attack you? Who hit the first punch?” I won’t allow anyone to make me feel guilty anymore.

I was molested when I was 15 years old. It was not my fault!

The incident took place at 1 PM on a sunny and hot March afternoon in 1997. I was returning from school to our rented apartment above a garage. A burly man stopped me from entering my building. I didn’t know why but just thought him to be some idiot. As a hot-headed teen, I told him to step aside and let me go. I was hungry and it had been a long day at school. I told him in a loud and stern voice to get out of my way.

My neighbour saw this and called my mother informing her that something was not right. She came home immediately from work. She and I started talking to this man and asking him to stop barring our way. What was his problem anyway?

During this discussion, the man lashed out and punched my mother and lifted me and threw me on the concrete ground. At this moment I saw this in slow motion before I blacked out. I saw my mother rush to save me from his kicks and instead took the entire brunt of his brutal assault. Her nose was bleeding. She curled up on the floor as he kicked and punched her in the stomach. I remember, much later, a policeman lifting and taking me away. We filed an FIR (First Information Report) for unprovoked physical assault (IPC 351,354 etc) and battery with intent to sexually abuse.

I am sure you still want to know why he attacked us? Who was he? Was he a stranger?  Because you would still want to analyse this as best as you can. I will answer your questions:

  • Yes, he was a stranger. I had never seen or met him before.
  • I later realized he was a man with a dubious history who lived in the neighborhood.
  • His job was to intimidate us.
  • My mother was a divorcee raising kids alone in the 90s in an orthodox small town. She was in a court battle for a property dispute. There were a lot of haters.

Like many reading, I had police, lawyers and a judge question my assault for 5 years. They logically heard both sides. The 45-year-old, 6 feet tall man explained how he was forced to defend himself while a scrawny teen attacked him first. I was screaming inside as the questions were hurled at me one after the other. Were they trying to prove that I was some juvenile delinquent who went around attacking people in broad daylight? I remained calm despite my bruises and my mother’s bloody face. But in reality, I just wanted to scream until my voice would give up.

Do you still feel like I ‘deserved’ what happened to me? That I brought this upon myself? We had to leave that apartment and live on the mercy of some friends. They were kind enough to offer a mattress on the floor because even at night we saw the man lurking outside our flat. We feared he would rape or kill us. I had my 9th standard final exam the very next day and that I still went for that physics exam with my bruises.

Is this still funny?

Violence is not logical. Nor does it always fall into the neat buckets of statistical tables. The courts couldn’t find much logic to the assault as the offender had enough to bribe his way through. They suggested we settle the case. Eventually, the lawyers got rich, while a mother and daughter walked away without justice or money. We had to move away and try and live like normal people instead. At 18, I was still walking the urine-drenched halls of a subordinate court. That is not the teen life anyone would imagine for themselves.

Remember this, the next time you dismiss a survivor’s story as false or attempt to rationalise a rape or even pass a silly joke which depicts some form of violence, you are part of the problem which I fight every day to fix.

Some Statistics because it matters:

  • According to the National Crimes Record Bureau assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (470,556), earlier classified as molestation under section 354 of IPC, is the second-most-reported crime against women over the last decade.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey-3, one in three women aged 14-49 have experienced sexual or physical violence in her lifetime.

About the Author
Elara Mehta is a blogger and advocate for women’s rights. Her aim is to bring change in her corner of the world through her stories.