A Harasser Being Celebrated – What Has Become of Us, Malayalis?

It has only been a few weeks since another harasser got arrested for flashing and harassing a woman from inside a crowded bus in Kerala. One of many stories, which would’ve also gone unreported and buried like the rest, had it not been for the survivors’ courage in voicing out, quite loudly and precisely– “parathi und.” (Yes, I do have a complaint).

Savad Shah, a native of Kozhikode, was seated in between two women in the ladies’ seat and was traveling from Angamaly to Ernakulam on May 16. He allegedly stroked one of their waists with his arm while masturbating with the other, as narrated by Nandita Sankara, the complainant, in her Instagram video. It was her swift move to videograph the harasser’s face while she confronted him, and the conductor’s timely intervention that resulted in the harasser’s arrest at the Nedumbassery police station. Upon posting this clip on her social media, it went viral, garnering a lot of support for Nandita, and even more women confessing similar experiences they had faced with the same man in the clip.

Weeks after his arrest, the Ernakulam sessions court granted him bail with certain conditions. To the disappointment of many, mainly Nandita, the All Kerala Men’s Association welcomed him with a garland upon his release.

A Harasser Being Celebrated - What Has Become of Us, Malayalis?

“…my question is what remarkable and commendable act did this person perform to warrant a group of men garlanding him? These are the same individuals who engage in domestic violence, abuse their wives, mothers and sisters…” asks Nandita

What’s worse than celebrating sexual harassers and predators is the victim-shaming the association has unleashed on Nandita. They claim that she made this story up and filed a false complaint against Savad for the sake of “fame and followers.” The comments under Nandita’s video narrating this incident are even more horrific. 

A Harasser Being Celebrated - What Has Become of Us, Malayalis?

This specific comment accuses Nandita of having “unzipped” the harasser, and having cooked up stories to go “viral” on social media. 

A Harasser Being Celebrated - What Has Become of Us, Malayalis?

Another common way of victim-shaming harassment survivors is to point at their clothes. Many commenters ask, or even demand, Nandita to “dress up properly” before speaking on “such” issues implying that her appearance somehow did not give her the authority to talk about sexual harassment, even if she herself is a victim of it.

While many comments under the clip support Nandita, many men have resorted to victim-shaming victim-blaming, accusing her of being “fame-obsessed” etc. A glance at how Malayali men have embraced the harasser, turned him into some hero and cyber-bullied the victim reflects how this toxic masculinity feeds more and more perpetrators of sexual violence.

The limited number of women who voice out such cases also makes it difficult to establish that this is common for women everywhere in India. In one of the news clips, the conductor who chased Savad and got him arrested stresses the frequency of such incidents in buses and how the silence maintained by the women who face this makes an intervention from his side all the more difficult for him. He stands his ground that Savad should be arrested and punished for his crime. He also mentions how other passengers’ neglecting attitude is equally complicit in such cases, as they choose to remain silent even when a victim is yelling out her discomfort, demanding action be taken.

Is it appropriate to show support (read, solidarity) for an accused sexual offender? This entire incident shows how victim blaming and harsh attacks on a woman’s character have superseded the conversation around women’s safety.

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