There has to be something fundamentally wrong about a country not being able to recognise the rights of our bodies neutrally. One which creates laws that assume one gender is always the victim and the other, the perpetrator. Sections 354, 375, 376 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code concern themselves with crimes of sexual abuse and assault. However, each of them fail to coherently articulate the recognition of men as a victim of such crimes.
Let’s call a spade a spade, though. There’s no denying that In a country like ours, whose backbone was once created by an indisputably patriarchal system, the scales of violence, exploitation and injustice have always tipped towards the so-called weaker ‘second’ sex. In an interview, Mumbai Advocate Flavia Agnes summed it up best. “I oppose the proposal to make rape laws gender-neutral. We had opposed it when the government made child rape laws gender-neutral. After the feminist wave of the 1980s, many countries in the West made rape laws gender-neutral. But, they have realized these laws are harming women more than men.”
What now seems like a punishment for patriarchy, the loss of male recognition within such legislatures has a parallel connection to the equally poisonous culture of masculinity in our nation. Despite acknowledging the unfairness of the system towards the female sex, it’s important to both accept and seek to solve the other side or risk not eradicating the problem at its roots. Our society still functions within the isolation of strict norms for both genders, and within this, men are supposed to conform to norms that project power and strength. As such, sensitive topics like male sexual abuse, assault and even rape go unreported or unheard of, as societal norms prohibit them within community spaces.
Since the problem begins from the domains of our history, it can only be mended by active cultural change and perhaps later, we can hope for landmark policy changes. Bharath Divakar’s poem ‘Expecto Petronum’ is an example of such change within our community. Released as part of Airplane Poetry Movement’s National Youth Poetry Slam campaign, the poem is a brave attempt to articulate the poet’s encounter with sexual abuse.
“It happened for a span of eight years from when I was 6 to 14. I never reported it, as I hadn’t come to terms with the entire thing. I have only started sharing it with my close ones recently. In fact, writing a poem about it was the closure I needed. But if I had been more aware, I would have definitely reported it,” says Divakar in an interview with Homegrown. When it came down to writing the poem, Divakar explains he took a month to finish the piece. He explains, “It is always difficult to write about something which harbours a negative space in your mind. I knew I wanted to end it on a positive note, but it was difficult to reach there.”
“I was reading the Harry Potter series (again) when I got to the part about dementors, I related to how I was fighting with the dementors of my own mind. I kept visiting the bad memories of my abuse the same way Harry kept going back to his parents’ deaths.”, says Divakar explaining the correlation of the title of the poem with its theme. He said that he wrote the poem exactly when Harry produces a patronus (spell). In a way, he believes that he became his own patronus for the dementors in his mind.
As he stands heart held in front of the camera, Divakar breaks all the stereotypes and norms that guard India’s culture of masculinity. At a greater level, it addresses the trauma felt and forcefully preserved by any individual who has ever gone through any kind of abuse.
Towards the end of the poem he says, “My body is a work of art, meant for hugs, caresses and love...my hands are for my lover to hold,” thus reclaiming the pride that was always within him and moving on from an encounter that had once plagued him. This poem is a creative tool that has shifted the gaze of such sensitive topics into the male community and would probably continue to help in reconstructing the historical norms that code and constraint each one of us.
Words: Karan Kaul