Borah says her group recognized several men among recent protesters who had attacked members of her collective with misogynistic threats during quieter demonstrations that preceded the infamous gang rape. “They told us we had no right to protest there, and if we wear indecent clothes they will molest us.”
The presence of some men that Borah characterized as “thugs” has helped to create an atmosphere during some of the recent protests that has been outwardly hostile toward women. Women have been subjected to the same type of groping and ogling by some of the men at these protests that the protesting women have long fought to eradicate from Indian society.
In India this is known as “Eve teasing”—the natural consequence for a woman who, like the medical student, rides a public bus. To protect themselves from attack and harassment, women in India are often warned to dress modestly and travel with a man after dark. Most of the crimes against women in India are inflicted against poor, uneducated women in rural areas, and they often go unreported.
When New Delhi Chief Minister Sehila Dikshit reached the demonstration on Saturday, shortly after the rape victim’s death, she was chased away by a mob of angry protesters, most of them men, in apparent retaliation for her government’s failure to prevent rapes in the city. Rukmini Shrinivasan, a female journalist with more than 200 bylines at the Times of India, pressed into the pack to do her job.
“It was a mad scramble, but of the sort journalists are used to,” Shrinivasan reported in an article titled “Long way to go, I was groped at protest.” “I raised my camera above my head and started taking pictures. Within a few seconds, I felt a hand on my behind. I tried to give the person the benefit of doubt by elbowing his arm and twisting around to dislodge his hand, while still taking pictures. But when I knew I was unmistakably being groped, I caught the guy by the arm.”
“We may benefit from some of the [men],” said Rachana Johri, an associate professor at Ambedkar University in Delhi who specializes in women’s studies. “But we may also, in the long run, realize that some of them come from positions that do not fit in well with the perspective of women’s movements.”
The optimistic way of framing the problem is, as these women’s groups continue in their long-fought battle for meaningful changes in India’s darkly patriarchal society, they have to figure out how to welcome men into their movement without getting overwhelmed by them. Which won’t be easy so long as misogynistic foes of their campaign move in their midst.