Transcript: Stop Sexual Violence in India – Talk About Sex by Vithika Yadav

Vithika Yadav, Head of Operations of Love Matters India, presents Stop Sexual Violence in India – Talk About Sex at TEDxHagueAcademy (Transcript)

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Vithika Yadav – Head of Operations, Love Matters India

There’s little about my life that should create a sense of fear. I’m 32, I have an amazing job, and I’m very fortunate to have a loving and supportive family.

People look at me as one independent and empowered Indian woman. But, even today I live a life that does not shield me completely from the daily exasperation of being “eve teased,” which in Indian context would mean, being touched, being groped and being sexually harassed at any given point of time, in any public space in India.

We in India, choose to not talk about one of the most important facts of life, and that fact is: sex.

Well, we all know that sex is universal, we all love sex. Don’t we? I do. But it is still this topic that we choose to go all hushes about.

I work on a sexual health project that educates young people in India about sex, by answering their supposedly most awkward sexual health questions, in an open, frank and friendly manner. That too with the complete privacy.

So when I get up in front of a room full of young people and tell them, “Consent is Sexy,” I mean it. I’m not saying that to get any feminist agenda across. Or maybe because it is the politically correct thing to say in the wake of sexual assault epidemic. No. I’m saying that because I mean it.

Consent is sexy. Talking about sex is sexy. You know what isn’t sexy? Rape isn’t sexy. Sexual harassment isn’t sexy. Let us think about what this culture of silence has gotten us: Rape, incest, abuse, discrimination, injustice, misogyny, institutional sexism, which also keeps us from acknowledging and reporting on any of these.

In India on an average, every hour, two women are raped, one is molested and four are sexually harassed. Growing up as a girl child in India can be very hard. The first time I was pinched on my boobs, I was busy playing with my friends and I was 12 years old. Such was the impact of that incident on me that I started to hate myself for being a girl. I cried, I wanted to speak to my parents about it, but I couldn’t, something stopped me.

So what did I do? I wore a mask and I smiled. But behind that mask were a lot of tears. And when I was off to the big city Delhi for higher education, the city threw many more challenges. But I couldn’t cry every single day for feeling sexually harassed. So I started reacting from shouting, to slapping to abusing. I did it all.

Years have passed by, I’m a mom now, but it was just the other day when I was walking close to a public park with my son, and a man on a bike came close pinched me on my butt and rode away. What could I do? Nothing. Because before I could react he was off.

So what has really changed for me as a woman in 32 years of my life in India? Nothing. There’s no simple explanation of what it means to be a woman in India today. Yes, it depends of how educated you are, where you live, what you do, your class, your cast. But, there is this one thing which is common to every single Indian woman, and that is the experience of being sexually harassed.

If you’re an Indian woman in a public space, you’re forever on the edge. Looking out for men standing too close, wondering if that grope on the bus was accidental.

At an early age, you learn to not look at men in the eyes. You learn to shield yourself with scarfs and bags. And this is the story of tens and thousands of Indian women and girls, who step out of their houses every single day, and also the story of those tens and thousands of women and girls who do not have to step out of their houses to feel mistreated and discriminated. Because abuse also happens within the four walls of a house.

When I look back at the families I knew when I was growing up, I begin to understand why some men tend to think the way they do in India. It is the society at large, the families, and even schools that knowingly and unknowingly make boys feel more privileged than girls.

So basically in India, the penis is supposed to enjoy more privileges than the vagina. If a boy says something it is being smart. If a girl says the same thing it is being over smart. If a boy goes out, drinks and smokes and indulges in lots of experimental sex, it’s a cool and fun thing to do. If a girl does the same thing, she’s dumped cheap, and she’s definitely not someone you can take home to your mother. And this is what we call, “The famous Indian male mentality.”

Now where is this mentality coming from? No one has born with a mentality. It is the social and cultural factors that make up a mentality. Both men and women get affected by the gender roles that define what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Gender equality would mean that all men and women, boys and girls would enjoy equal status in society. And measuring gender equality is in essence an analysis of power, in terms of who has it, who doesn’t and how to distribute it more equally.

Equality can only be one, if everyone is made aware of unequal power structures, if everybody is equipped to claim it for themselves.

Let me ask you a few questions here. Is there a connection between gender inequality, rape and sex education? Is there a systematic silencing of information when it comes to sex and sexuality in India? And how does this silencing of information contribute to larger issues of gender inequality, discrimination, injustice and patriarchal attitudes present in our culture?

India is a country where vast sorts of society are highly conservative in nature. There’s often a culture of silence when it comes to talking about sexuality and sexual health. The taboo around sex is such that people find it very difficult to talk about any sexual health issues or problems that they might be facing.