Keya Dutt

Women are now emerging from the shadows to speak of the abuse they have experienced, to talk of their hurt, their shame. The #ME TOO movement and the ramifications, here in India began with Tanushree Dutta. Kudos to her for speaking up about a well known actor who had touched her wrongly some years ago. But this led to the conflicting reports in the media of a deeply divided nation, mostly revolving around the delay in reporting the matter. Women live in a man’s world and it is not easy to immediately come out with uncomfortable truths in a patriarchal society. I say so from experience.

Some weeks back my brother Avijit Dutt, an actor, playwright and a stage director, called me from Delhi to clarify a few things to help him complete the script he was writing. It was a script on abuse in childhood. And he took me aback by openly mentioning, what I had thought was my dirty secret. That which I had not come out with at the time or even in the subsequent years, until recently.

As a nine year old I had been raped by a trusted family servant. All I remembered of that incident was the revolting smell of bidis, coconut oil and a hurt between my legs. Years later as I was preparing to be a counselor for the NGO I volunteer with, I went through psychological assessment. To my utter shock I burst into tears when I suddenly recalled that which I had suppressed for so long. The rape. To my horror it was like an old film un-reeling. All the painful details I had suppressed came back to me. I realized why, like any person raped had gone through all the classical symptoms all my life, without understanding why; the anger, the absolute shame, the guilt, the unending rage, the confusion, the lifelong fear, the guilt.

When on top of all that the rapist threatened that he would kill me and my mother if I dared to tell her, I swore never to tell anyone. In fact in my late teens when my mother died of stomach cancer, at the back of mind, I blamed myself.

I was horrified to learn that my brother as a child had also been inappropriately touched by the same man. We don’t usually think boys can be raped or inappropriately touched. But after my brother told me, I thought of the Church abuse and how the Pope requests all Catholics to pray that Satan does not work his evil any more. What does one do if one does not believe in Satan? Over the phone I told my brother I want to kill the rapist. But then I corrected myself. I felt the man ought to be named and shamed so he cannot repeat his abuse.

That is exactly what is happening now. Women are naming and shaming the abusers and the harassers. In the West the boys who had been abused have complained to their Church. But why do the young male actors in India who are abused by Directors not raise their voices too? At least then the social media won’t have messages circulating about ‘No man is safe from #METOO accusers’. Of course they are not safe, because their birth families did not bring them up to respect women and now that some women are finding their voices the men are afraid. Of course the men, who have gone scot free so far, fear that things may not be so easy now that the voices are raising their volume. If men speak of their abuse #METOO need not be restricted to women only.

Abused children grow up to be abusers themselves; or they are bullied all their lives and believe they deserve the bad treatment. ‘Despicable Me’ is not a patch to what the abused feel about themselves. And the abused are frequently facing abuse in their lives they are physically threatened with violence in words and acts and don’t have the courage to walk away.

Yet what is shocking is that many women are loud spokespersons against #METOO. Is it because the rapists are not just the economically depressed men, as in the case of Nirbhaya? I received a WhatsApp message today depicting an obviously wealthy woman, filmed among her riches threatening women who are in the #METOO movement that such women will create problems in industries because men will not employ any women in the future. Such empty headed patriarchal and insensitive women should shut up.

Meanwhile my brother Avijit Dutt staged his play 9.45 Ki Express Ki Citee which is about Child Rights and child abuse at the Habitat Centre last month.  I request that like my brother other men like him to come out and appeal for justice. My brother’s play was to a packed house and I do hope that many got the message. But what we need is an enraged protest as it happened in the Nirbhaya case. So that awareness and sensitivity increases.

 Rape needs to be outed, however many years ago.


- - -

India: Feminism and after

Keya Dutt

In the 80s I was going around doing street theatre protesting against patriarchy and championing for the equal rights for women. I had decided in my mind that all women are friends and all men, the opposite of that in the patriarchal traditional society I lived in. Of course life is not as simplistic. . . I found at the time several men among actors in the play and viewers of the street theatre who were as passionate about equal rights. Later, as life went along I realized not everything is black and white. Truthfully, patriarchs could be well educated young men in cities who try to kidnap and rape, as it happened with Varnika Kundu. Or it can mean any male. And all too frequently, it can mean a woman, particularly an older woman.

And such anomalies pop up all the time. For instance, my son is a true feminist, my aunt is not. This shakes my belief that women will always support other women. I have found bonding and a united approach among women in their 20’s and 30’s.  And every time I see it, I rejoice silently. It seems that I was right all my life in my belief. But then along comes an encounter with an older woman and I am shaken in my belief. Like my aunt when confronted by the Varnika Kundu news item quietly muttered, ‘she was asking for trouble for being out that late.’ Hence the Cinderella allegory. If one analyses the Cinderella story, good girls don’t fly in the face of male social order by staying out late wearing fairy clothes. Men make such comments as do women of a certain age.  Ironically such older women may work in the sector of women’s study but are deeply antagonistic towards women on the whole. Particularly when it comes to younger women, such women may or may not admit they agree with the men in upholding the Cinderella allegory. By and large such older women say they are helping girls in general when they echo the male dictum – ‘don’t go to such and such localities, don’t stay out after dark, don’t wear this or that.’ The admonitions and bans by these women are in fact more extensive than those of the male counterparts. Ironically the same older women frequently make a study of gender issues.

Traditionally one hears of mother-in-law, sister-in-law confrontations with the new bride of the son of the family. This is borne out by TV serials and / or movies. Girls are permitted to wear tamer versions of the bad girl clothes, till they marry. Traditional clothes become their clothes of choice along with the traditional behavior patterns after marriage. And traditional domestic strife over the son of the family is a theme so common that it becomes a bore. This might be seen as the tussle for power in the family. The more traditional families may still subject themselves to such power plays but the bride is now fast becoming friends with the sisters–in-laws. However the mothers in the traditional families … they compete for the affection of the son by means fair and foul; such as preparing food that he prefers, shoving  his baby pictures on to him and do such things to ensure she remains in her position. In nontraditional families, even if the two family units live apart, the psychological warfare between the older woman and the younger one continues in a subtle manner. This warfare is conducted more by the older woman than the younger one. This may consist of criticizing the bride for being not traditional enough or too traditional. I have heard a mother-in-law complain bitterly about how the son’s wife idolizes her own mother.

I have heard that women are their own enemies. Is it competition, such as trying to get the attention of a male – in a version of the male bar brawl? I think we have some years on the Feminism front to contain same sex aggression. And it is the younger women who are showing the path to a happier co-existence. In fact, why just women? Men too are marching to a different tune, at least the younger men. So, viva la difference and viva ‘I aint Cinderella’ movement.

Seventy years we are independent, but women are still treated as unequal citizens. But as I was saying just yesterday, despite politicians we Indians are beating a progressive path. At least young Indians are. Especially the young Indian.

- - -