Can Women Rise?

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Self-Defence Can Land A Woman In Jail

Feb. 14,Thiruvananthapuram. Two men drove up in a government jeep and began to harass a group of young women standing outside a fast-food restaurant.  As always the crowd looked at all of this silently.

But then out of nowhere one woman, Amritha Mohan, decided to stand up and got into a quarrel with the men. They drove away. However, things did not end there; the men came back with reinforcements, ready to avenge the insult.

Amritha now turned to the passive audience and asked, “None of you spoke a word when all this was happening. This guy is now standing right here. Do any of you have anything to do or say?”

They did not.

One of the men moved in to assault her father… We all know how this dreary tale ends, right?

Not quite.

Amritha changed the narrative by refusing to become another unhappy figure on some report in the police station. The Kalaripayayattu (a form of martial arts in Kerala) champion and karate black belt beat the crap out of the man who dared to push her father.

Inspired by her courage, the once silent crowd joined in, and for once, the woman was victorious. Amrita became an overnight hero or rather heroine in Kerala, a symbol of feminine courage, hope and pride.

“[W]hen this man was hurling abuses at me… I was there, as a representative of women. If I did not respond here, if I did not respond in this situation, there would be no meaning in saying that I am proud to be a girl,” she said in an interview.

Happy ending to a feel-good story, right?

Not quite because the story does not end here. There’s more.

Amritha and four others, including her father, have been charged by the Kerala police on the direction of a judicial magistrate. When the eve-teasers were caught by the police, one of them filed a private complaint in a local court alleging that he had been beaten up by the girl who also blocked his car.  Acknowledging the complaint, the court directed the city police to register a case and investigate the incident, yesterday.

The court said that Amritha tried to hamper with the duty of government employees and also brutally assaulted them. According to the law it’s a non-bailable offence and the punishment is seven years jail time.

Didn’t we talk about teaching women to protect themselves just a few months back?

Newspapers carried stories about young college students stocking up on pepper spray and signing up for self-defence classes, like Sunanda Jalote a psychology student, who told Reuters, “Women have to learn to defend themselves… We don’t want to have to wear a burka (a loose garment worn by Muslim women) in order to go out and feel safe.”

(If you want to read the full article http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/22/us-india-rape-security-idUSBRE90L09M20130122)

But as Amritha’s case illustrates, in India, defending yourself may not be safe either. Position a gun on your would-be attackers and you may find yourself facing charges of attempted murder.

Pepper spraying predators may be deemed as causing serious bodily harm. And that karate chop of yours which breaks a harasser’s nose, may earn you a whole new world of legal troubles— just like Amritha.

So here is what we as Indian women learn from this whole incident.

twitter page Can Women Rise?Be afraid. Hide in your homes or in offices; stay off the streets and away from any public place where you might catch the wrong person’s eye.

Remember, everyone else is scared, as well— look at the audience in Amrita’s case. They will not come to your rescue, however great in numbers they are.

Amritha is in trouble today because she was not raised to be fearful:

“I think, the biggest restriction is the family. Most parents (at least among my friends) advise their daughters not to respond if anything happens. They tell their daughters not to make an issue. It’s not that, my parents tell me to “create” issues.  But they tell me, if there does arise a situation, “Face it and come back”. They know that, if they sent me out, I will surely come back… All parents should develop that trust.”

So should we. But will we be able to trust the police or the courts to do right by us girls?

Forget one billion (in reference to One Billion Rising). Our judicial system can barely tolerate one woman rising.

Shraddha Jandial

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