I was thirteen years old when I realized that the world was a more dangerous place for me than it was for my brother. It was a warm evening; spring perhaps, or the beginning of autumn. I was walking with my family near the place where Kupandole turns into Pulchowk, wearing a short-sleeved kurti, trying to avoid stepping on the trash on the pavement, when two drunken soldiers in outfit extended their hands to caress my arms, or more likely, my barely-there breasts. The country was in a state of Emergency, and my mother told my father to leave the soldiers alone and avoid trouble. But my father believed that we deserved to be protected by our government, and he called the police. I still remember waiting on the pavement until the police came to arrest the soldiers. That night I realized that I was not immune to sexual harassment that my mother used to talk to me about. But I also believed in the rule of law, and I was proud of the Nepal Police.
As a teenager in Kathmandu, I have had men inch closer and closer to me in a tempos or public buses until their bodies were touching mine in a way that made me feel dirty. I have had young boys shout loud, sometimes vulgar, comments about the clothes I was wearing, even if it was a kurta-suruwal or jeans. Sometimes I have told them off, but most of the times I was scared, and did not want to create a scene. In America, the culture of sexual harassment is different, but not non-existent. Often, men expect dates to result in sex. When my friends and I go dancing, we watch out for each other because there are men who take the liberty to grab us in different ways without our permission.
In the wake of several incidents of sexual violence and the movements they spurred in different parts of South Asia, I have had many conversations with friends about rape-culture and victim-blaming that takes different forms in different places. That is why, when a friend mentioned the One Billion Rising flash mob, I signed myself up for it instantly. Later, though, I started having doubts about it—how was I going to combat the violence that millions of women face by dancing on Valentine’s Day? Their lives would not improve even if a Billion people did dance. I was also skeptical about how this flash mob, conceptualized by middle-class women in the West, would be relevant in the global South, where resistance and movements are different from what they are in the West.
But there was something in me that didn’t let me back out. It was the commitment I had made to my friend, but more than that, it was the fact that if I could not take concrete action against gender-based violence, I could at least raise my voice against it. On the morning of Valentine’s Day, I rode the train to the venue with about thirty friends, and joined countless other people at Woodruff Park. When the official One Billion Rising song started playing, men and women, old and young, Black and White and Asian and Hispanic, danced in a sea of red with hundreds of strangers.
And in that crowd, I too danced. I tried not to worry about forgetting the steps of the dance, and focused on the fact that each one of us in the park was connected by our goal to end gender-based violence. It was a short dance, but for the few minutes while the song played, each one of us claimed our bodies, with all their flaws, as holy. For me, this is why we were dancing, as opposed to participating in a run, or a rally, or a fast. Regardless of our height or weight or skin color or ability, we were saying, our bodies are not an excuse for anyone to violate us. All over the world, we were united by a common goal, to “break the chain” of violence against women.
When I got home later that day, I watched videos from One Billion Rising events throughout the world. Somehow, this experience felt more empowering than participating in the flash mob had been. In each of the videos I watched, the flash mob was a little different—sometimes it wasn’t a flash mob at all. In Patan Durbar Square, the organizers attracted the attention of bystanders by playing the 1974 AD song “Yo man ta mero Nepali ho” before starting the flash mob. In Delhi, the song “Jaago Delhi jaago” (rise Delhi, rise) was played instead of the One Billion Rising song in English. Men, women, and children, from Belgium to Bhutan were saying “no more excuses.”
When a girl gets in your car, she isn’t “asking for it.” If a girl pushes you away, she wants you to stay away, not “try harder.”
A person’s gender, lack of physical strength, body-type, ethnicity, or legal status are not excuses for you to assault them. The fact that they are walking through an unlit path after dark does not mean that you have an excuse to rape them, regardless of what they are wearing. Just because someone has dinner with you, or lets you put your arm on their thigh, or kiss you doesn’t mean that they owe you sex. When someone gets drunk around you, it doesn’t mean they want to be raped when they’re unconscious. When someone gets into your car, they are not “asking for it.” If someone is trying to push you away, it means they want you to stay away, and not “try harder.” If someone has been intimate with you before, it doesn’t mean you have the right to demand the same from them this time.
Some of my educated, respectful male friends who claim that they would never assume a girl is consenting to sex when she goes out with them argue that date-rape isn’t “really” rape. The assumption that men have an unconditional right on their partners’ bodies is widespread, and causes much of the gender-based violence in the world. According to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign to end Violence against Women, “at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime.” We need to understand that the romance and respect end in a relationship when coercion, blackmail, and violence begin.
Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. When we blame the victims of sexual assault, who are mostly women, we are not protecting the men that victimize them; rather we are saying that men have a need to violate other human beings and that they have no control over their sexual desires. We need to realize that forcing someone to have sex with you does not make you more of a man; it only makes you less of a human being. Sexual contact is either consensual or not, and any sexual act that is not consensual is sexual assault. There are really no excuses.
The author is a Political Science graduate from Agnes Scott College, US