Shamir Reuben Incident Shows Why Women Need to Stop Second Guessing Themselves
Last two days in the poetry community of India were restless. Devastating. Shamir Reuben, a very popular slam poet and storyteller, has been alleged of sexual harassment. More than 25 women unrelated to each other have spoken up, one by one. Most of them were minors at the time Mr Reuben hit on them. It has shaken so many of us, because we looked up to him.
His stories and poems soothed our souls and healed our wounds. He talked about our wounds, made it his and weaved it in his stories. He talked about gender equality. He was always kind and invariably we started looking up to him, to his words. Until a day before.
Sakina Bootwala came up with evidence that he was something else when the lights were out. We felt betrayed. Triggered. It felt like we were mourning someone’s death. We mourned when the man was still alive. We mourned the death of our hopes and faith. Many cried. It is not that I know him personally, but yes he moved me, like so many. I learnt to tell stories from him, to talk about my wounds unapologetically. I feel betrayed. How stupid I was to believe that the art and the artists are same. Shame on me!
But this is not about me. It is about those 25 girls who stood up.
What is heartbreaking is that if you read through their stories, you will see how they at first second-guessed themselves, kept quiet and tried to be good to him in social dos. This is the 21st century and we are still gaslighted to second guess ourselves. It took 25 of them to validate their personal stories. And therein lies the failings of our society.
We don’t trust women. We groom our girls to second guess themselves especially when it comes to powerful men. We marinate girls in the culture of silence. That is where men who harass us get their power from and walk scot free. We don’t call them out and we don’t trust the ones who do. They are always the good man, the family man. Men who have amazing female friends. In most cases, women are termed as liars trying to trap innocent men.
I read the Bengali Novel Maan Sanmaan (Honour) by Shankar many many years back. Here is a working woman who complains of sexual assault by men each time. All men who were bhadra lok (Honourable man.) Throughout the novel, no one trusted her. Even as a reader, you won’t validate her complaints. Only in the last page of the novel, you would realize she was always speaking the truth. She was going through sexual assaults and was repeatedly gaslighted. That is how strong the culture of patriarchy is. And it still works.
I am talking about this incident after 15 years. There was this so-called rakhi brother. When I came to Delhi, he asked me to come to his hostel to tie him a rakhi. I did. He tried to molest me. For years I kept second guessing myself for he was always the good guy. Helped his mother in the kitchen, read books, was well loved. I feared that no one would believe me. Also, it was my fault that I went to meet him. I was 18 years old then.
Took me 15 odd years to talk about it.
I wonder how many women he must have molested in the garb of being the good guy. The culture of silence is so deeply embedded in us that we second guess our own experiences.
Now that I am a grown-up, I put Indian women in perspective. The experience of Draupadi as a survivor of sexual assault is not recorded as much as the gallantry of men. When Karna is celebrated as Data Karna (The giver), rarely do we call him out on his silence when Draupadi was disrobed. He was a very good man, the narratives say, wronged by destiny.
But doesn’t being a good man include being good to a woman or standing up when a woman is assaulted?
And why talk about the men only - Gandhari too spoke nothing. Nothing. And let her sons do as they please. What if Krishna did not intervene? It leaves shivers down my spine. But in that court, the wise men sat and sat in silence. The tragedy is that the story continues.
In many of our conversations, our girlfriends talk about sexual abuse they have been through when very young. And in all of the cases, the abuser was known to the family. In most cases, the parents even after knowing it kept quiet and kept a civil relationship with the abuser. This is how the betrayal of young women begins. This is how we second guess ourselves. This is how predators thrive.
But here is what is changing. This time, nobody is questioning the girls who are coming out with their stories, and that is the silver lining. The ray of hope we are pinning on. We trust the girls, their experiences and we are one. In those women, many so young, we as women are finding our courage to share our own stories. To call out the man, who abuses his power and position. To call out assault even when the bet is against us.
I am not sure where the case of Shamir Reuben goes, but we trust the girls.
We are standing up as one and that’s where maybe Draupadi can find some solace. That we are learning to document and trust our own stories.
There is always a joke which has become a part of our narrative, that all wars are fought for women and men die. No one tells that Krishna went to negotiate, but the Kauravas refused to give anything to the Pandavas. That’s what initiated the war. Had the five villages been given, the war would not have been called maybe? Had Yudhisthira not betted his wife, the war could have stopped. But the narratives come as if one woman brought all the good men down.
But not anymore are we buying those stories. We are calling out the good man, the gentleman, every man who walks as a predator and we are giving women a chance at their narratives. This is the revolution. This is the change. And it is happening now!