How many times does a woman need to say no to mean it?
In 2017, the #MeToo movement took the world by storm. Hundreds of thousands of women flooded digital newsfeeds with stories of their neighbours or friends or lovers or bosses, stories that elicited horror or solidarity or criticism or memories.
More than anything, the movement reminded me, for this blip in modern history, that a woman didn’t need to dress or speak or act a certain way for her voice to be heard, that the onus of proving her perpetrator’s guilt didn’t rest on her, that she could be trusted to tell the truth, that ten years ago, five weeks ago, yesterday, her body was violated, and that was simply unacceptable.
I have a confession to make. I am an angry woman, but I’m also a hopeful woman. Some call this way of being naive, emotional, or — my favourite — sensitive. At the tail end of 2017, I thought we were onto something magical. A new wave of feminism, perhaps. I also thought that misogyny was a product of the generations before us, a relic of our forefathers. In detecting their ideological fallacy, we were more culturally evolved. Woke, we called it.
I was wrong on both accounts.
It breaks my heart to admit that I’ve failed the future. When an eight-year-old girl was gangraped by 16 people, I posted the appalling news on my Instagram story. I lived in Goa, and the girl had lived in Chennai. Now she was dead. There wasn’t much else, I reasoned, that I could do.
It’s laughable, really, the ease with which the news slid in and out of my psyche. Had the incident taken place closer to home, in North Goa for example, then I might have reacted differently. I didn’t have to wait long for this to happen.
How many times does a man need to be sexually inappropriate to be called a predator?
A woman — let’s call her Toshada — accused a man — let’s call him Iggy, because that’s what he goes by — of grabbing her butt, even after she had told him not to. Both times, Iggy performed this act in public, in the presence of other people. Both times, he didn’t apologise.
Toshada used to frequent Cirrus, the space that Iggy owned. Cirrus claims to be “a community that fosters creativity and sustainable living. Driven by music, we’re a wolf pack that believes in the Darwinian idea of natural selection”.
An article featuring Cirrus tells us that “Ignatius and his family will welcome you as long as you’re mindful of everyone’s personal space”. Miss Malini describes Iggy as “a cross between MacGyver and Captain Planet”.
Also read: The Selective Woke-ness of Indians
The first time I went to Cirrus, I saw Iggy playing table tennis next to a music console blaring house music, while his mother slept on a bed next to the bar. The second time, I attended a party in Cirrus’ backyard. A swimming pool glittered in the moonlight. The fabric curtaining bathroom cubicles fluttered. Two dozen bodies throbbed to trance music. I am not a fan of trance. That, along with something I couldn’t quite pinpoint, contributed to my sense of unease.
I stopped going to Cirrus.
Everything changed with Toshada’s post. It brought back memories of being touched without consent: on the metro, on the train, at the amusement park, on the street, at school. My body responded to his news just as strongly, if not more so, than my mind did.
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tw: sexual harrassment I moved to Goa last year and ended up at @cirrusgoa while partying with a few friends, it was nothing like anything I’d ever seen before, Utopian. There was an air of freedom, people dancing about without a care, music playing till wee hours in the morning,the owner ( @iggythebastard ), the owner’s mother and volunteers that kept the place running stayed there, it felt safe and homely – soon it became a personal favourite and frequented party spot. I even took my mother there, I had to share this experience with her. Everything was constantly amazing to me, I met many wonderful people I became friends with there, even began seeing a volunteer and ended up spending a considerable amount of time on the property and on their boat @alzirasomewhere. There was a party at the boat and this was when things went wrong, @iggythebastard mid way through the party just groped my butt, I told him off immediately and he went on to make jokes how its no different than shaking my hand and “dont go pull a #metoo on me haha”, at this point i was infuriated and told him I would slap him if he disrespected my boundaries which he promptly did and I came through on what I said. The day went on. I avoided the spot for a while but when I had a conversation with the person I was seeing, I was assured it was just a joke in poor taste (why I didn’t pack my shit and leave at this point itself is a whole different story) and no one would dare repeat that behaviour after literally being smacked, I should forgive and let go since there are so many other people I care about there. Me being me, I gave it a chance and went to another party at Cirrus where Iggy’s behaviour repeated, he groped me again; When I contested it this time, I was said absolutely vile things to,” isnt it public property?” This person fully groped me and called my body public property in front of people, I couldn’t believe the audacity. These weren’t one on one interactions in isolated locations, this person acted the way he did while we were surrounded by 5-15 people in both incidents and not ONE person said anything. Contd in comments
The comments under this post aggravated me further. In the volley of comments, one particular woman stood out.
I knew her. She sold masks to support artists struggling during the pandemic. She ran a project that promoted community through sports. She had also lived at Cirrus. Her discrediting of Toshada’s narrative and blind faith in Iggy’s integrity felt like a betrayal of sisterhood. To grow up in a female’s body is to know trauma: to sense danger in a crowded room, to memorise the shortest path to the exit, to jut out elbows and be ready to scream, because you’re tired of trusting the intentions of others and being disappointed.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Toshada. How it could’ve been me instead of her. How I too wondered if it was somehow her fault. Some might call it trivial, this graze of the rear. Iggy posted a video in response to Toshada’s accusation. The video was captioned, “when something so childlike and playful was used to defame me”.
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In this video, Iggy sits between Toshada and another swimsuit-clad girl.
“She slapped me because I touched her butt,” he tells the other girl.
Toshada walks away; he touches her butt again. She slaps him again.
It is a gentle slap. One might call it playful, but I see it as anything but. The slap stems from discomfort, fear of losing social status and friendship, fear of being labelled a bitch, of making a big deal out of nothing.
In that moment, when Toshada slaps Iggy, she is afraid. In her post, she is not.
I reached out to Iggy for his comments. This is his response. Nothing has been added, removed or altered.
First of all, I find it very childish and juvenile for someone to post something randomly after a few months. Considering the fact that we know each other quite well, that I was fathering her and her boyfriend, who caused a lot of monetary damage to me but still, you know, they’re kids. They need space and time.
This is my nature, I take messed up people, in a way. My place has messed up people. I was giving her a platform to perform. I couldn’t engage much with her because she was most of the time high, okay? And what happened on the boat is, we were all close to each other. Obviously like friends. And she made that into a groping incident, which is purely out of fun. Lots of friends do it to one another. And she made it into a whole dramatic episode which targeted me and my business.
The way she and her friends tried to malign my image, I found it quite odd and disappointing. At the same time, I got frustrated. Why is such a thing happening. What is her intention?
The same night she wrote about this, her friend was here at my venue having a good time, completely on drugs, falling all over me. I remember telling her friend to lay off. I need space, I don’t want to engage with her. I’m very careful with people because when they are intoxicated they don’t know what they are doing. I made sure this girl was taken care of.
Honestly speaking, people have known me for years. I’ve been in the fashion industry and the entertainment industry. I’m not known to do such stuff. I’m a playful guy, but I don’t disrespect people. I don’t talk much with people unless I really feel comfortable with them.
It’s unfortunate that something like that happened. Whatever people have to think about me, her friends, I can’t help what they want to think. I did my part. A lot of my friends said Iggy just ignore it. But I thought I should let people know what the truth is. Yes, I was sad and anxious but this is my nature. I have nothing to hide. So this is what I did.
I put a video saying yeah, I’m sorry you felt violated. But at the same time she can not be using that to defame me. And use it for entertainment or for engaging people in her public profile. And we all know she’s 21. I don’t even want to judge and say she did it for that, but okay it happened. I’m trying to forget, and she’s a child. But I also had to say something in defense. Not in defense, but tell people the truth what happened. I know my drinking limits.
I really liked her boyfriend, because he was an artist, and I like people who have some sort of talent in music, and that’s why I was hosting them. I let them live on the boat.
People literally get raped. Boys go out on the road and literally ridicule women. Those are real people that are going through trauma. What is this? This is a show.
Come on, this isn’t trauma. I know what it is to be abused. It is not about feminism or patriarchy. It’s about equality. And using such words like gaslighting and feminism and putting down the opposite sex defeats the purpose of real feminism. Then what is the difference between feminism and patriarchy? If women like this are going to use incidents like these to defame innocent people. And we can all see in the video. Even a stupid person will say these people are having fun. And there are some people who are super sensitive will not understand them. The guy in the four wheeler is always wrong, you’re from Maharashtra, you’re wrong, it’s like that, you know? There are more serious matters to post or write or be traumatised about. For me, anyway it’s a forgotten thing. It lasted for two, three days. Four days. And it’s over. I’ve moved on.
We’ve become the people we used to criticise. Toshada hugged Iggy, didn’t she? She’s roaming around in revealing clothing. What a slut. What a tease. She was drunk. Too drunk. What did she expect was going to happen? Her then boyfriend owed Iggy money. She’s accusing Iggy now because she wants to take revenge for her ex. She’s a liar. She just wants attention. What kind of girl drinks that much? What kind of girl flaunts her body and expects nothing to happen?
I’ll tell you what kind of girl. The kind that thinks she’s with her people. She thinks her community will respect her body, will listen to what she has to say, will support her when that trust is breached, will understand that it’s not an easy thing to accuse the powerful of wrongdoing.
In continuing to run Cirrus without consequence, Iggy wins. The woke have exposed exactly how asleep they really are. But like I said, I operate with both anger and hope. The #MeToo movement hasn’t failed, not yet. Toshada’s story will continue to be told. Such stories are like seeds. Who knows where, or in whom, they will root.
Pragya Bhagat is a spoken-word poet, award-winning essayist, and author of two books. She currently lives in Goa.