Apologies for putting Tehelka and many such more within parantheses. Nevertheless, such bracketing is a reflection of the societal attitude, especially those of its diverse stakeholders. Few have called it a surprise not expected of Tehelka, some have expressed disbelief, and few others wondered what would happen to Tehelka now that its patron is an accused.
A key section of these stakeholders began the rhetoric of blaming the market for man’s conduct. None ever talked about the values that should govern man in his professional and personal interactions in the society. None bothered to address the feelings of the victim in this episode and others like her who are constantly exposed to the fact that their complaints would be subject to all the above reactions including efforts to demean their confidence in reporting a wrong.
Our reaction to everything concerned with causing discomfort to women is met with disbelief and excuses, the latest in such efforts being the public statement of disbelief from the members of the judiciary regarding complaints of sexually reprehensible conduct.
Pardon me for my sarcasm, but I am still told that women are seen as colonies of servitude. I found it strange, but it all came real as I found my way through adulthood. My childhood and adolescence were thankfully spared. As we come to terms with the fact that we need to address decolonization of the last vestiges of mental imperialism, we find that we do not have a methodology for such address. I say that because we are still at a stage of disbelief. Did sexual assault happen at all is a question that bothers us at the first place. Disbelief about sexual violation seems to be the sine qua non of human relations in every forum, personal and professional, academic and commercial space.
While there are few who believe, their attempts at theorization are even more startling. They seem to attribute all such practices of servitude to the market, as if market and its necessities make a man look at a woman as an object of his pleasure. I have not seen an address to the innate sense of man and his responsibility as a human and as a citizen and as a participant in the societal structures. Addressing the market as the reason for sexual reprehension and sexual violence in all its unimaginable form is an attempt at finding excuses rather than explanations for human conduct.
Now to the reason why I have put the parentheses marks. I have always found that despite some level of discussion that happens on societal structures and its results, much of the debate is centred on an investigation into individual episodes, interspersed with comments of disbelief about the possibility of the event happening at all. Interestingly disbelief is not gender-specific, and therein lay the tragedy of sexual assault. Whether it was Tehelka, the law intern’s case, or many more such incidents that were reported and some yet to be and some that may never be reported, one feature runs common through all of them. All of the women who dared to report were subjected to the first words or gestures amounting to disbelief, both by men and women. Further still, people, instead of listening and possibly ruminating on the event that is being reported, begin reciting events and episodes where the perpetrator of the sexual violence was otherwise a personification of good behaviour, thus hinting on the impossibility of sexual violation conduct. Do these so-called conscience keepers of the perpetrators ever understand that sexist conduct is possible even if it is single incident and it does not require a conduct of events to prove his reprehensible behaviour?
The Tehelka episode threw another important feature of our handling of sexual violations. The perpetrator pompously stated that he is going on an atonement activity. Supplemented by the head of the organization trying to settle the issue with a carefully worded apology that did not hint either the conduct that the perpetrator was supposedly atoning for nor any straight words of accepting the reprehensible conduct. It is disgusting that the head of the organization was concerned about settling the matter not to affect the reputation of the organization rather than report any criminal conduct occurring in the organization. How accommodating of her to accept the pompous karmic statement of apology that never gave an indication of the hurt and harm that the perpetrator at Tehelka caused to the victim. Tehelka episode continued the downspiral of society much further; the conscience-keepers of the fourth estate unwittingly lead to the trivialization of the complaint of sexual harassment by wondering about the future of the organization because of the episode involving its patron. If justice and punishment were such private affairs, are we living in a society that is fit to call itself as civil? Morality is not to be confused with individual morals, and atonement can be fashioned to gain public sympathy as was done in this instance. It defeats my sense of understanding as to why and how previous conduct is ever relevant in justifying/excusing an episode of reprehensible sexual conduct.
That presents the anathema of our society in the context of sexual assault, and my frustration in parenthesizing these episodes that appear with increased frequency on our societal landscape. Disbelief and unwitting attempts to demoralize the complainants/victims is the main reason for the survival and continuance of sexually reprehensible conduct. We as a society with disbelief, surprise, justifications/excuses and trivialization as our structured reaction allow further additions to the miscellany of sexual assault that women’s existence has been reduced to.