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Posted at: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM; last updated: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM (IST)TAKE MY WORD

Walking the talk on stalking

Harvinder Khetal
Walking the talk on stalking
Illustration: Vishu Verma
AS the Varnika Kundu stalking case of Chandigarh played out in the media this week, it triggered the replay in most women's minds of similar horrendous experiences that they may have endured at some point or the other. While some such mishaps are dismissively minor or mild, many are too morbid to be made light of or laughed away. 

I recalled that eerily identical instance when hooting hooligans hounded me on a lonely stretch on a dark night around 9 pm when I was returning home from work in the early 90s in Chandigarh. Those were not the days of mobile phones or CCTV cameras or patrolling cops. Panic gripped me and I felt my legs shiver in fear. I had nothing but my wits to fall back on, praying that I don't fall off the scooter when the gleeful goons zigzagged dangerously close. As they shot ahead, I gave them the slip by slipping into a road on the left that led to a friend's house. Thankfully, the chasers chose to give up the chase and I chose to not tell anyone anything while I recouped at the friend's place before going home that was a couple of kilometres ahead. But even almost 25 years later, those gruesome moments give me the goosebumps. 

Those were also the days of Punjab terrorism and people rarely ventured out after dark. Of course, this was a terror of a different kind. But while Punjab terrorism has been contained, this terror of stalking continues. Stalking is a social menace. Rather, now, there's another space for stalkers: cyberspace. Stalking has virtually become the bane of the virtual world with stalkers populating social media sites. In this context, there is this disparaging tagline: 'Facebook: Helping stalkers since 2004.' Stalking is the act or crime of pursuing or following someone persistently or threateningly.

We need a supercop to tame this terror too. That supercop could be literally a cop. It could be a teacher. It could be a parent. A boss. Or, any other elder. Ideally, all of them collectively in their own capacities. They need to bring up children, both boys and girls, as well as counsel the youth to be respectful and responsible citizens. Aim for peaceful and complementary co-existence marked by equality, not patriarchy,… and no petrifying anyone, please. A healthy pursuit is preferable to poising to pounce on a prey. Only perverts press for undue perks and privileges.

Patriarchy is a system in which men have all or most of the power and importance in a society or group. It is the main cause of women's oppression. 

It also reminds me of 1991 when I was doing the masters of mass communication course in Panjab University, Chandigarh. One day, after our classes, as we girls trooped out of the department to leave, we found two persons, armed with a big camera, running towards us, shrieking with delight, as if they had spotted something unusual. It turned out that the duo was a team from Delhi covering the “dress code” that some terrorists had imposed for girls to follow in Punjab. We were the first group of “daring girls” on the campus that they had seen defying the dress diktat. We were wearing the western attire - jeans and top - rather than the prescribed salwar-kameez. Mind you, the boys were free to shun their Indian attire for the same jeans fearlessly. It was the time just before the TV boom, when for a short period, video cassettes of news features were made and aired. Our take on the subject added the much-needed value and diverse view on the subject. And interestingly, much to my pleasant surprise, the following year, when I appeared for the interview for a job in The Tribune, the then Editor recognised me from the video and introduced me to the trustees as the “brave girl”, evoking smiles from all around.

But sadly, it seems that men are generally only ready to condescendingly acknowledge a woman's entity or talent. Male chauvinism (belief held by some men that they are inherently superior to women) is too deeply rooted to allow gender equality or respect for the feminine view. It is necessary to pierce this thought since ours is a patriarchal world. Backlash builds against the disparity sporadically when certain cases get highlighted and there's a furore, but the basic sense of superiority that they are suffering from is hard to shake off. Mostly, jeers are reserved for the girls and the boys get the cheers.

Otherwise, even highly placed women in the developed world would not still be fighting for their rightful space in the arena, as these very recent cases show. The BBC's culture of inequity was exposed as yawning gaps between the pay structures of male and female workers for the same job came to fore. Then, a former top journalist of the Time magazine has sued the journal for discrimination due to her sex and age. The Silicon Valley is rocked by charges of sexual harassment in the start-up world. Many firms are having had to deal with criticism that they have not done enough to hire and promote women and minorities. Google last week fired an employee who wrote a memo criticizing the company's leftist-leaning diversity programmes. The memo states women as being “agreeable” rather than “assertive”, showing a “lower stress tolerance”, or being “neurotic”.

Well, a blend of raising awareness of the existing prejudice and raising children as equals could bend the gender bias.

hkhetal@gmail.com

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