The gender rights movement in India has been rising following the gangrape in New Delhi in 2012. Since then, we have battled sexual assault, the moral ban on the morning after pill in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and on January 21, we stood in solidarity with women across the world in multiple Indian cities to reclaim our public spaces with our version of the Women’s March: a campaign called I Will Go Out.
I Will Go Out, referred to by most as #IWillGoOut, is a campaign with a frightening past. During New Year celebrations in the city of Bengaluru, reports emerged about ‘mass molestation’ with male civilians groping a number of women in a frenzied mob. Police officials refused to file complaints due to lack of evidence. Bengaluru, a city once known for its public safety, was now being compared to New Delhi, which is often considered the ‘rape capital’ of the country. It was yet another dent in our armor, and it was a horrible one.
We knew we had to respond in a way that people would not forget.
Though I was raised outside India in the Arab city of Dubai, an environment where public safety was guaranteed at any point in time, I still felt the effects of India’s rape culture.
I had strict curfews imposed on me. I was told not to wear anything too revealing for fear of attracting attention. I was not allowed to go out socially in male-dominated groups.
When I moved to the city of Chennai three years ago, these actions became a necessity.
Our version of Donald Trump and his cabinet were elected to office nearly three years ago. Our politicians have proven to be overwhelmingly misogynist.
In this time period, we have had political figures make statements such as “women are to blame for molestation”, “every Hindu woman must produce at least four kids to preserve Hinduism”, “rape happens because women and men are allowed to interact freely”, and that “boys will be boys”. At least six cases of rape and 15 cases of molestation are reported per day in the country.
While misogyny, sexism and slut shaming are rampant in our culture, our politicians have managed to validate and justify its occurrence in the nation.
The more recent news dominating the country is the Supreme Court’s ban on a Tamil sport called jallikattu (played during a religious Tamil festival called Pongal) and its ensuing protests in Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai (where I live). Because the press was covering the protests of this decision, they neglected to investigate an incident in the Ariyular district of the state, where a lower-caste (known in India as Dalit) girl was brutally gang-raped and murdered. Preceding that, a transgender woman named Tara and a software engineer named Swathi were brutally murdered in separate instances last year.
Unfortunately, there were no public protests about these threats to women’s safety in the city when any of these incidents took place. This reflects a complete and utter disregard for the public safety of women over the preservation of an archaic and severely sexist culture.
While the marches in other cities went smoothly, the march in Chennai was overshadowed by the jallikattu protests. In spite of that, a small group of about 15 people (including my partner and me) did a silent march in a public park in the heart of the city.
We were small, but we made an impact in our space.
The #IWillGoOut campaign stands for taking control of our bodies. It stands for our unrelenting perseverance.
But most importantly, it stands for this: being able to exist in a public space as citizens of our country.