OPINION | A Letter to Girls in Bihar School Who Were Assaulted for Protesting Sexual Harassment
The girls, who are students at the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), had reportedly resisted the attempts by some local boys to harass them.
Illustration by Mir Suhail/ News18.com
My Brave Sisters,
I have seen you feel empowered. I have seen your bicycles competing with cars and buses on the streets of Bihar. You had given me that ‘have-won-the-world’ smile every time I asked you what a bicycle means to your dreams and aspirations. You taunted patriarchy and fought for your right to education. Your mothers, like mine, fought mindsets on giving priority to education to girls and it is important what many of them couldn’t achieve, you and I must.
Today, one incident has made me fear if this is the beginning of a reverse cycle. About 250 kilometres away from the state capital, in Triveniganj, a mob thrashed you mercilessly in the school premises till 30 of you landed in the hospital. All because you were trying to fight off a group of boys who tried to sexually harass you.
What happened at Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV) in Supaul has only reinforced that Bihar is slipping between the fault lines. The fault lines that say a woman’s freedom and empowerment has to be within confines and boundaries.
You were in a safe zone. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You were in your school playground. The principal and school teachers should have protected you. They should have called the police immediately. Instead, they stood shamelessly when a mob indulged in their definition of justice. The school betrayed your trust in them.
This is symptomatic of the larger decline in Bihar. The rising crime in the state and the Chief Minister losing control over the law and situation. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has failed the women and minorities of the state.
The Muzaffarpur shelter home horror is still fresh in our minds. Bihar has witnessed unprecedented communal violence making 17 percent Muslims in the state stare at an uncertain future.
In 2015, when I was touring the state as part of the election coverage, many women had backed the ban on alcohol. In a deeply feudal Bihar, where the 46.6 percent women voters were often perceived as political appendages to their husbands, there were many voices. It was a refreshing change. The sense of safety and security of women was palpable. I was glad that my state was witnessing a radically new social order.
At one point, Bihar’s social indices and the government schemes were making all of us feel proud as a Bihari. Nitish Kumar was seen as the unstoppable Chief Minister on way to becoming the Prime Minister. Things have changed and the decline is visible.
The CM stopped at giving cycles and forgot safety and security are a priority as well. He forgot that with every tenure of his, expectations were high because women of Bihar had emerged as a caste neutral constituency. They spoke their minds. Their assertion in fact made the Chief Minister come up with prohibition in Bihar, a ban he lifted three years later.
Today, it feels like the good old days of Bihar are all but over.
Even in what was called a ‘jungle raj’ in Bihar, when I was growing up there, the only fear that my parents had were about my security while going and returning from school. I was safe inside the school premises. I speak from a position of privilege. I remember how evening outings after college was a big ‘No’ as my parents would fear for mine and my sisters’ security.
But here’s the thing, you did no wrong. You defended yourself and refused to get defeated. The boy’s lewd comments aren’t acceptable. It takes courage to point out the ills and defects of the society. And I have to tell you that I am proud of each and every one of you. You have condemned misogyny with one act of yours. Your actions have a magnetic force to it. It will set an example of how to deal with boys who don’t respect women.
My heart aches to write this open letter, but you should know it takes special courage to do what you did.
Onward and Upward.
A fellow Bihari
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