Dear Teacher, have you used public transportation in your city and never been groped? Have you walked along a street lined with men smoking beedi or drinking chai and never been hollered at? Have you never been judged as a woman when your parents sought a suitable alliance for you? Have you never been mentally undressed by perverted eyes in public? Or did your iron-clad-saree-armour protect you from these experiences?
Ever wonder why it’s easier to blame a girl for her jeans and lipstick?
People generally believe that bad things happen to others. The “others” is something people do not want to associate themselves with. Because once you do that, the threat becomes personal. Bad things could then happen to all people. We are scared to believe that. And so we start defining the characteristics of “others.” Jeans, lipstick, heels, being out after dark, alone with a boy, cell phones, Indian-Chinese food, peacocks, etc. etc. etc.
Don’t feel bad to associate yourself with your students. Yes, you are free to choose what modesty means to you and what perverse means to you. No, you are not free to pass judgment on a girl because she has defined her boundaries differently.
Dear Teacher, you are free to speculate Nirbhaya’s gruesome assault, torture, and demise. But you are not doing anyone any favors when your speculation has no bearing on statistical facts of a study showing 41% of women who reported their rape in India were dressed in sarees. And no, the other 59% were not all flaunting themselves in jeans or skirts. Majority of them were burkha clad, which indicates a very small possibility of sexual provocation as defined by you.
I am a woman, a mother, a sister, and all those wonderful tags that people use to associate themselves with others. I am saying this to find common ground with you. So that I may plead with you to not just take back your words but to learn the truth about sexual assault and rape.
Your prejudice filled rant might have actually been an attempt to educate your young students about safety. But I urge you to use not only sympathy but empathy, in the classroom. Without empathy, you will be fighting a losing battle. So here are some ideas that might help you to effectively advocate the safety of your students:
- Boys and girls are both in danger of being raped and sexually abused in our nation. The Study of Child Abuse: India 2007, published by the Government of India had a shocking revelation that 52% of boys surveyed claimed to be sexually abused. So, when addressing safety issues, make sure to keep students from all sexual and gender orientation safe.
- The hardest thing for a child to do is communicate the violation and abuse they experienced because often they lack the awareness and vocabulary to do so. The next time you choose to address your students on safety mandates, begin by assuring them that you will be an adult who will believe their broken words and incoherent stories. Assure them that the violation of their bodies was not their fault.
- Do not let socio-economic status or caste lead you to believe in the existence of an automatic safety zone for the child. Please know that most children are sexually abused during the day in places where they feel safe: their home, their neighborhood, their community. So make sure to talk to all your students about safe resources available to them, like 1098 (the phone number for Childline), or a school counselor, or your classroom – because it’s time to maintain an open door policy and create safe classrooms.
- Also, if anyone tells you that ignoring the abuse will allow the child to get over it sooner, please do not believe them. Trauma manifests itself in different ways and at different times, often hindering the student from enjoying healthy lifestyles and relationships as they grow older.
- I have already presented data to dispute that clothes don’t make a victim, and this is especially true in the case of child sexual abuse. But if clothes are something that distracts you from associating with a student who has been sexually abused, look for common ground as a fellow human being. Always exercise your power to empathize.
I am glad you want to address safety issues with your students. For a student to succeed academically, socially or emotionally, safety has to be a priority. Make sure the school administration supports you in this effort to keep your students safe.
There are several organizations that can help your school implement safety protocols in order to promote the best interest of the student. If you unable to find one in your area, write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you with your efforts.
Let’s build each other up instead of shaming those who have suffered much already.
Lydia Durairaj, WOW Staff.