The trolls who are after Zaira Wasim have either completely missed, or deliberately forgotten, that the person they’re vilifying is a minor.

Zaira Wasim molestation Are you still wondering why survivors dont speak upScreenshot: Secret Superstar
Voices Opinion Sunday, December 17, 2017 - 12:38

“Does a man touching a woman’s back and neck with his feet amount to molestation?”

“What if the man Zaira Wasim accused was your father, brother, husband or son?”

“It could be an attempt to demonise Bharat as the worst country for women for Zaira’s Pakistan loving brave mom!”

These are just some of the reactions on social networks to a 17-year-old girl’s complaint of alleged sexual harassment on a flight. India – or Bharat as some insist we should be called at all times – refuses to listen to a minor girl about a harrowing experience. It refuses to even suspend judgment till all the facts in the case are out.

In fact, hours after Zaira Wasim posted a video online, in which she broke down while explaining what had happened to her, the outrage industry subsidiary of victim blaming was hard at work: Was she really molested? Is it really molestation if a man is just rubbing his leg against your back? Is this just a publicity stunt by Zaira Wasim? Was she throwing a superstar tantrum? Look at this girl – she spoke up against a Minister condescendingly! How can we believe her?

The comments continue to come in, and continue to vilify Zaira despite the fact that the Mumbai police has arrested the accused, Vikas Sachdeva, based on the available evidence. The victim blaming industry now had more fodder to go after Zaira – Vikas’s wife had written a defence of her husband, and obviously she’s the “good woman” because she’s a married Hindu mother, compared to “bad girl” Zaira, who is a Kashmiri Muslim actor girl. What’s more, Vikas Sachdeva has been charged under POCSO – rightly so because he is accused of harassing a minor girl. But for Bharat Online, this is just more proof of how much of a “bad girl” Zaira is for trying to ruin the life of a “family man”.

While the Islamophobia and hatred for Kashmiris couched as patriotism is disgusting in itself – not to mention completely irrelevant to the issue at hand which is sexual harassment – the fact that our internet gyaanis would stoop to such a level to vilify a girl who reacted to an incident of abuse in the only way she could possibly think of, is even more disturbing.

But one thing it’s not is surprising. No one is shocked – especially not women and girls – that this is the reaction that people have when someone lodges a complaint of sexual harassment, either formally or informally.

Most women and girls believe it’s easier to just shudder and cry to yourself than report an instance of molestation or rape, because if we do, the onus is on us to prove that we are the “good” victim. The onus is on us to prove that we were not out at the wrong time, in the wrong place, with the wrong people, wearing the wrong clothes.

The onus is on us to never have said or done anything in the past that makes us the wrong person, who does not rightly deserve the sympathy of the people of this country.

Not to mention the fact that while we are constantly thinking about how to avoid rape and molestation in public, we are hardly prepared to react to the incident when it does happen.

Do you scream if a man touches you inappropriately on a bus? Would your co-passengers help you or ignore you? Would the bus driver and conductor follow some protocol when something like this happens?

Do you jump out of an auto in the middle of the night if three men are trying to assault you? Would you die from the impact if you do? If the road is empty, would they just pick you up again and continue to assault you?

Do you tell your parents if the man in the berth across yours molests you on the train at night? Would they ever let you travel alone again if you do? Will you even go to back to college in another city?

Let me say it in simple words: It is not easy to react to harassment, no matter how many times we face it.

To ask Zaira Wasim why she reacted late to the incident and not when it happened is to be blind to the fact that she’s a 17-year-old minor who tried to do the best thing she could when much older, much more accomplished women still have trouble dealing with such cases. To ask why her mother didn’t react immediately is to ask every mother of a teenaged girl why she hasn’t complained about sexual harassment when she knew her daughters were facing it.

Really, the questions to ask here are, what was a “respectable” grown man doing with his feet up on someone else’s seat in a flight? How does any stranger have the right to touch a minor girl, whether with his foot or his little finger, whether on her back or on her face, without her consent?

And why does Bharat still insist on “measuring” sexual harassment by what the supposed “intention” of the abuser is? Sexual harassment is the experience of the victim-survivor, and to claim that just because a man “thought of you as my daughter/sister”, he should be absolved of the crime is plain stupid.

Whether Vikas Sachdeva is guilty or not is for the court to find. But for the rest of us to sit on judgment of Zaira in the meantime is just not fair. 

Views expressed are the author's own.

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