It's been almost a year since I heard about Ester, my childhood friend from Arunachal Pradesh. On Sunday (Dec 23), as I was watching violent protests unfolding across Delhi to make India safer for women on Television, in the midst of the swelling crowd at India Gate, I managed to spot my petite friend Ester.
My immediate reaction was, "This is Ester...this is Ester, my friend...." Those few companions of mine who were watching the Live TV updates were amused at my excitement. "So, what's the big deal?" Asked one of them. "Almost entire Delhi is there....."
But, for me sitting in Bangalore, it was a big deal. I felt as if I was part of those protests.
I hurriedly searched for her number in my mobile phone and gave a call. She did not reply. Late in the night when I was snoring hard, the shrill ringtones of my phone woke me up. Obviously, I got alarmed. I am faint-hearted, and late night calls trigger good amount of trepidation in me. Still I received the call. It was Ester. In between my yawns, I congratulated her. I told her how good I felt to see her on TV joining the protests and doing her bit.
My warm notes failed to uplift her mood. I could sense she was very angry. For I know, how angry she gets whenever any injustice unfolds in front of her. We used to call her "activist Ester". And, her usual answer would be, "if raising your voice for the right cause is activism, then I am an activist." Many boys in our school used to tease her as "woman activist or feminist..." Mostly, she used to fight for our (girls') rights.
We often used to ask her, "What makes you so angry?" She would reply, "Injustice, my dear friends injustice...why only against us (girls/women)?"
For many of us, it is nothing new. Most of us have grown up witnessing injustice and violence against women on a daily basis. We all have become thick-skinned. Often we respond as if it is normal, the very tradition of our nation to abuse, rape and murder women. And justice has always been elusive.
"Who would demand justice? If we talk about women issues, we are branded as feminists, something scornful, a threat to male species. In order to be in the good books of men-folk, women (those who are in the capacity to raise their voices for their own tribe) would prefer to keep mum. I know my single voice won't change the mindset of men. But still, I cannot be a mute spectator. If I feel anybody is degrading and abusing women, I will fight against it. If needed, I would have fisticuffs with them," she told me years back, as a teenager.
Last night Ester did not talk for long. She was exhausted and wanted to sleep desperately. All she said, "Indian males are misogynist."
"Is it the right time for Indian women to overthrow 'misogynist' men? I might be sounding like Valerie Solanas, the radical American feminist who had famously argued in her much debated book 'SCUM Manifesto' that men have ruined the world and that women should overthrow society and eliminate the male sex. Isn't the raging issue of safety of women in India purely depends on how our Indian males
behave?" Ester, now a mother of a three-year-old son, asked.
"For women in India, a tiger or wolf looks much benign than a man. Probably, women would move more freely in the deep forests of the country where wild animals are plenty than on the streets of urban habitats. Don't go out at night. Dress properly. Ignore eve-teasers... These are some of the common lines Indian women/girls are told/re-told to avoid becoming victim of men's assaults. In spite of
all our efforts, we women are raped, molested, assaulted, murdered...on a daily basis," Ester vented her anger and abruptly disconnected the line.
I did not call her back. The whole night I could not sleep. Her words rang hard in the silence of the night.
"I wish we should have raised our voices much earlier? We should not have waited for so long, when the situation is almost out of control."
Night failed to answer my queries. Morning brought some hope. We cannot slip into pessimism. After all, it is not too late. If Ester is still fighting, why cannot we? All women of India need to raise their voices against any atrocity. And, thank god today we have many men (as evident from protests' sites) who want women to be safe, respected and equally valued.