Let's talk about rape.
That's something most parents in India shy away from. They tell us to stay cautious, but they never delve deep into the topic. Hindustan Times has taken the initiative of getting eight eminent Indians to write open letters, discussing the harsh reality of sexual assault in India.
The series begins with Farhan Akhtar's open letter to his elder daughter, Shakya Akhtar, who is now 16.
Farhan begins the letter with a soul stirring poem that he composed a few years ago:
"What is this country that I live in?
That takes away her right to love
Brutalises her with an iron glove
Rapes her without fear
of there being justice for her tear…
…what do I tell my daughter?
That she’s growing up to be lamb for the slaughter
we’ve got to make a change
Reboot, reformat, rearrange,
and never give in
no matter how much our head may spin
Just keep asking the question
What is this country that I live in?"
He speaks to Shakya about the unfortunate gap between the definition of freedom that she has been taught and the harsh realities of the society we live in:
"I know your head spins. I know your young mind grapples with how we treat our women. We’ve tried, as parents should do, of teaching you the importance of equality, of never ever making a distinction between boys and girls, of introducing you to the concept of choice; of even talking to you about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’."
He writes, "We live in an unsafe, largely unequal world."
He throws light on Bollywood's fascination with objectification. It saddens him that Bollywood's idea of love is synonymous to the practice of stalking the heroine, till she gives in.
"You must also have seen movies in which the entire supporting cast conspires to help the ‘hero’ know the girl he’s interested in. They get together to help him (not her); they block her path wherever she goes. They conspire to bring them face to face, to the point where he’ll hold her, catch her dress, even jump on top of her in some instances. Such behaviour — which flies in the face of consent that I’ve always tried to talk to you about — has been normalised by movies"
These things end up leaving a mark on the public's mind, because as a nation we're obsessed with our movies and our stars.
"You must always chase your dreams and live your life with freedom. Of course, be safe. You know what safe is. Have your wits about you. Be smart and be in control of yourself."
Communication is vital and that's what makes him her friend. Like all fathers he worries, but he encourages her to find herself and fulfill her dreams. No matter what, he will stand by her.
Farhan concludes the letter by writing this:
"I understand you little girl
Your rage, your surprise
Your confusion about the beast in human disguise
I stand with you, little girl, I stand with you"
We can sense a father's concern, love and emotion flowing through this letter. This is not just Farhan Akhtar writing to his daughter. This is the voice of every father who has ever wanted to speak to his daughter about rape.
You can read the entire letter here.
H/T - Hindustan Times