In my teenage, I was called a jogi (a sadhu) by my male friends – for I abstained from smoking and drinking. Neither did I make any love proposal to any girl. Even, which was the most important for earning the jogi nickname, I did not tease any girl on streets and I did not write any girl's name on wall of my school's toilet!
Instead, I would help my mom and sister in domestic chores. The boys would tell me that I was girlish. While many of my men friends do not believe that I have never eve-teased, others find it shocking – As if I failed as a man for not involving in any of such activities, as if I could not showcase my masculinity.
But, it makes me sad that even those educated friends find me different for not teasing girls on streets. I feel like crying aloud to express pity over them. But, I do not cry – for I feel proud that I am working for gender equality. Those friends who tease me for not teasing girls, indeed, are reasons why I work for equality between men and women.
If a family has two (or more) little kids, a son and a daughter, we give dolls to daughters to play with. We ask her to play with the doll, change its attires and wash those clothes. Of course, the girl then learns to be self-dependent for her daily chores including bathing and washing. But, for not seeing her dad or uncle performing any indoor task, she develops an undeletable impression regarding traditional gender roles. So does the son – he now thinks that all domestic chores are women's jobs. A granny has to do them anyhow, no matter how old she is. The dad or the uncle should not care about them, because they are women's jobs.
Childhood is very, very significant for the rest of life, for many reasons. If my parents had not taught me that I have to share equal responsibilities with my sister for the chores, how could have I dared to write this article here today? While I was growing-up, some incidents occurred in my life, which made me too sensitive toward women. I changed my perspectives toward them. Perhaps, I underwent through a paradigm shift.
|In this photo taken on March 23, 2015, a group of male youth take out a rally in Kathmandu protesting violence against women. Yuwalaya had taken an initiative for organizing the first ever event of its kind.|
What incident from your childhood do you remember when you are asked to do so? Perhaps, you go back to some games with friends or siblings, or any kind of merrymaking. But, mine was different. When I turn first few pages of my early childhood, I feel that time was a nightmare. I remember a day when my dad was beating my mom black and blue. The mom was sobbing. My elder siblings – a brother and two sisters – were not there; apparently they were upstairs with the landlord watching some TV shows. I was left by them for I was a small boy (around 5/6-year-old), to see my parents fight. I was forced to witness the ugly quarrel with my body all trembled in fear.
My pa was a good-hearted man. As a father, he must have thought of and worked for us and our future. But, due to that single incident that I just explained, I did never forgive him. Never forgot and never forgave. That incident taught me how important it is for a woman's life to have a gender-sensitive man with her, as a brother, as a father, as a husband, as a friend. Today, I think that if dad had not thrashed my mom that day, he would get a loving son in me who would idealize him even after death. But, he fell short of the opportunity. Also, I was short of the fatherly love, which I will miss throughout my life.
I was a small boy then, unable to analyze all these causes and consequences. I connected all these later. But, there is another related incident, which I understood instantly. I was in Grade V then, my youngest elder sister was in Grade VIII. The Mina cartoon series was popular among kids and teens. A new series of character Rita was on the TV. Some boys would tease a teenage girl named Rita with the song "Rita O Rita, kina naboleki?" (O Rita! Why don't you talk to us?) on the show. Unfortunately, my sister's name was also Rita. So, what more did those boys need? A gang of boys would wander around Bhotebahal throughout the day, just to eve-tease. Studying into her faces, I could feel that my sister would get irritated from them every day. But, how could the producer UNICEF know that their cartoon series had become a curse for some girls living in some part of the nation?
On a usual day, the gang nearby my home teased my sister so bad while we were returning home from the school. I don't know why, but I felt funny and wore a smiling face upon seeing the act. Later, when we reached to home, the sister shouted at me, "O boy, you laughed out loud upon seeing your sister harassed. For you never experience such a cruelty, you will never know how it feels, how it feels to lose your status of being a human and surrendering yourself to them. You may know it later when they will tease your own girlfriend, wife or daughter!"
And, I was speechless. My lips went dry for want of a word to reply her, but I could feel nothing. I had never ever imagined that teasing was a form of harassment. I had never realized their pains.
But, then, I committed myself to understanding them, realizing their pain. By this day, I have not broken the promise to myself. I never irritated girls on streets. Of course, sometime while seeing a pretty girl on my way, I would wish that I could utter a word to her. But, I would suddenly think that what my sister, beloved or daughter would do if they were in that place. That thought would shut my mouth and force me to continue along my own way.
Okay, I could tease them for my pleasure. But, I am sure that their face after the incident will not be different than the face of my sister on that particular day. Upon seeing that tortured face, what would the innocent Sanjog feel; I could imagine that quite well. I feel myself in a storm of memories while thinking of the issue.
Yes, some groups of girls have irritated me also on streets. Perhaps they were exceptional cases, I do not know.
Some extremist feminists occasionally opine that men's role is not necessary in stopping violence against women. Today's society cannot and should not be defined on the basis of a thought that has been dominating women and providing opportunities to men for centuries. It seems easy today, but it will surely lead to a disaster in far future. When human beings did not treat fellow humans as humans, many wars have taken place in the history.
That is why we now have to realize that Nepali society today is patriarchal and pro-men. I am not underestimating power of women; but without making men sensitive toward women, an equitable society cannot be imagined in Nepal given its current power structure.
I still remember when a 13-year-old sister of my sister's friend came to my home some years ago, frightened of lolas thrown by boys, even around 10 days before the Holi festival. I was startled to know that what kind of impression we men have left on those innocent girls and adolescents. What a fearful life we have offered them to live in for our pleasure?
We feel too frightened to walk along a dark passageway after watching a 30-minute horror movie. But, our sisters are so courageous to go through even greater horrors, created by us, on streets every day, every minute.
We have been abusing girls and women in public places, including roads, streets, spouts and transportation vehicles, every day, every time, perhaps in unexpressed forms most of the times. Now, we men have to question ourselves: Don't we want women in our life – sisters, friends, girl friends, wives, daughters – walk on the streets freely, without any fear? Or, do we want to frighten them every time they come home a bit late in the evening? If we want to make them live freely without any fear, we have to begin changes from ourselves.
But, let me alert you, not all men in the society are monsters. This all depends on how they are/were grown-up. If we all men and women avoid applying gender stereotypes on young boys and girls and teach them to be sensitive toward the other sex, we can really actualize the dream for an equitable society.
This week (from April 12 to 18), we are celebrating the Anti-Street Harassment Week. We need individual commitments to make the celebration successful. I want to conclude my article by quoting Chief Secretary of Government of Nepal, Leela Mani Paudyal. At the closing function of the first ever Men's March against Violence against Women and Girls last month, Paudyal said, "Those who commit violence against women are only criminals, we cannot even call them men."
Yes, perhaps "man" is a status which deserves respect, like a "woman", like a "mother." We have to make our streets safe and sensitive toward mothers of our future. Hopefully, it is safe and sensitive, because our would-be sons-in-law are also growing-up on the same streets.
Thakuri is a co-founder of Yuwalaya.
Thakuri is a co-founder of Yuwalaya.