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  • Talking about empowerment is odd,

  • Because when we talk about empowerment, what affects us most are the stories.

  • So I want to begin with an everyday story.

  • What is it really like to be a young woman in India?

  • Now, I've spent the last 27 years of my life in India,

  • lived in three small towns, two major cities, and I've had several experiences.

  • When I was seven, a private tutor who used to come home to teach me mathematics molested me

  • He would put his hand up my skirt.

  • He put his hand up my skirt and told me he knew how to make me feel good.

  • At 17, a boy from my high school circulated an email

  • Detailing all the sexually aggressive things he could do to me because I didn't pay attention to him.

  • At 19, I helped a friend whose parents had forcefully married her to an older man escape an abusive marriage

  • At 21, when my friend and I were walking down the road one afternoon

  • A man pulled down his pants and masturbated in front of us.

  • We called people for help, and nobody came.

  • At 25, when I was walking home one evening, two men on a motorcycle attacked me.

  • I spent two nights in the hospital recovering from trauma and injuries.

  • So throughout my life, I've seen womenfamily, friends, colleagues

  • live through these experiences, and they seldom talk about it.

  • So in simple words, life in India is not easy.

  • But today I'm not going to talk to you about this fear.

  • I'm going to talk to you about an interesting path of learning that this fear took me on.

  • So, what happened one night in December 2012 changed my life.

  • So a young girl, a 23-year-old student,

  • boarded a bus in Delhi with her male friend.

  • There were six men on the bus, young men who you might encounter every day in India,

  • and the chilling account of what followed was played over and over again in the Indian and international media.

  • This girl was raped repeatedly,

  • forcefully penetrated with a blunt rod, beaten, bitten, and left to die.

  • Her friend was gagged, attacked, and knocked unconscious.

  • She died on the 29th of December.

  • And at a time when most of us here were preparing to welcome the new year, India plunged into darkness.

  • For the first time in our history, men and women in Indian cities woke up to the horrific truth about the true state of women in the country.

  • Now, like many other young women, I was absolutely terrified.

  • I couldn't believe that something like this could happen in a national capital.

  • I was angry and I was frustrated, but most of all, I felt utterly, completely helpless.

  • But really, what do you do, right?

  • Some write blogs, some ignore it, some join protests.

  • I did all of it. In fact, that was what everyone was doing two years ago.

  • So the media was filled with stories about all the horrific deeds that Indian men are capable of.

  • They were compared to animals, sexually repressed beasts.

  • In fact, so alien and unthinkable was this event in an Indian mind

  • that the response from the Indian media, public and politicians proved one point:

  • No one knew what to do. And no one wanted to be responsible for it.

  • In fact, these were a few insensitive comments which were made in the media by prominent people

  • in response to sexual violence against women in general.

  • So the first one is made by a member of parliament,

  • the second one is made by a spiritual leader,

  • and the third one was actually the defendants' lawyer when the girl was fighting for her life and she passed away.

  • Now, as a woman watching this day after day, I was tired.

  • So as a writer and gender activist, I have written extensively on women,

  • but this time, I realized it was different,

  • because a part of me realized I was a part of that young woman too, and I decided I wanted to change this.

  • So I did something spontaneous, hasty.

  • I logged on to a citizen journalism platform called iReport,

  • and I recorded a video talking about what the scene was like in Bangalore.

  • I talked about how I felt, I talked about the ground realities,

  • and I talked about the frustrations of living in India.

  • In a few hours, the blog was shared widely, and comments and thoughts poured in from across the world.

  • In that moment, a few things occurred to me.

  • One, technology was always at hand for many young women like me.

  • Two, like me, most young women hardly use it to express their views.

  • Three, I realized for the first time that my voice mattered.

  • So in the months that followed, I covered a trail of events in Bangalore

  • which had no space in the mainstream news.

  • In Cubbon Park, which is a big park in Bangalore

  • I gathered with over 100 others when groups of young men came forward to wear skirts

  • to prove that clothing does not invite rape.

  • When I reported about these events, I felt I had charge

  • I felt like I had a channel to release all the emotions I had inside me.

  • I attended the town hall march when students held up signs saying "Kill them, hang them."

  • "You wouldn't do this to your mothers or sisters."

  • I went to a candlelight vigil where citizens gathered together to talk about the issue of sexual violence openly,

  • and I recorded a lot of blogs in response to how worrying the situation was in India at that point.

  • Now, the reactions confused me.

  • While supportive comments poured in from across the world, as did vicious ones.

  • So some called me a hypocrite. Some called me a victim, a rape apologist.

  • Some even said I had a political motive.

  • But this one comment kind of describes what we are discussing here today.

  • But I was soon to learn that this was not all.

  • As empowered as I felt with the new liberty that this citizen journalism channel gave me

  • I found myself in an unfamiliar situation.

  • So sometime last August I logged onto Facebook and I was looking through my news feed

  • And I noticed there was a link that was being shared by my friends.

  • I clicked on the link; it led me back to a report uploaded by an American girl called Michaela Cross.

  • The report was titled, "India: The story you never wanted to hear."

  • And in this report, she recounted her firsthand account of facing sexual harassment in India.

  • She wrote, "There is no way to prepare for the eyes, the eyes that every day stared with such entitlement at my body,

  • with no change of expression whether I met their gaze or not.

  • Walking to the fruit seller's or the tailor's, I got stares so sharp that they sliced away bits of me piece by piece."

  • She called India a traveler's heaven and a woman's hell.

  • She said she was stalked, groped, and masturbated at.

  • Now, late that evening, the report went viral. It was on news channels across the world.

  • Everyone was discussing it. It had over a million views,

  • a thousand comments and shares, and I found myself witnessing a very similar thing.

  • The media was caught in this vicious cycle of opinion and outburst and no outcome whatsoever.

  • So that night, as I sat wondering how I should respond, I found myself filled with doubt.

  • You see, as a writer, I approached this issue as an observer,

  • as an Indian, I felt embarrassment and disbelief,

  • and as an activist, I looked at it as a defender of rights,

  • but as a citizen journalist, I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

  • I mean, here she was, a young woman who was using a channel to talk about her experience just as I was, and yet I felt unsettled.

  • You see, no one ever tells you that true empowerment comes from giving yourself the permission to think and act.

  • Empowerment is often made to sound as if it's an ideal, it's a wonderful outcome.

  • When we talk about empowerment, we often talk about giving people access to materials, giving them access to tools

  • But the thing is, empowerment is an emotion. It's a feeling.

  • The first step to empowerment is to give yourself the authority, the key to independent will

  • and for women everywhere, no matter who we are or where we come from, that is the most difficult step.

  • We fear the sound of our own voice, for it means admission, but it is this that gives us the power to change our environment.

  • Now in this situation where I was faced with so many different kinds of realities,

  • I was unsure how to judge, because I didn't know what it would mean for me.

  • I feared to judge because I didn't know what it would be if I didn't support the same view as this girl.

  • I didn't know what it would mean for me if I was challenging someone else's truth. But yet, it was simple.

  • I had to make a decision: Should I speak up or should I stay quiet?

  • So after a lot of thought, I recorded a video blog in response, and I told Michaela,

  • well, there are different sides to India, and I also tried to explain that things would be okay

  • and I expressed my regret for what she had faced.

  • And a few days later, I was invited to talk on air with her, and for the first time,

  • I reached out to this girl who I had never met, who was so far away, but yet I felt so close to.

  • Since this report came to light, more young people than ever were discussing sexual harassment on the campus,

  • and the university that Michaela belonged to gave her the assistance she needed.

  • The university even took measures to train its students to equip them with the skills

  • that they need to confront challenges such as harassment, and for the first the time, I felt I wasn't alone.

  • You see, if there's anything that I've learned as an active citizen journalist over the past few years,

  • it is our dire lack as a society to actively find avenues where our voices can be heard.

  • We don't realize that when we are standing up,

  • we are not just standing up as individuals, we are standing up for our communities, our friends, our peers.

  • Most of us say that women are denied their rights, but the truth is, oftentimes, women deny themselves these rights.

  • In a recent survey in India, 95 percent of the women who work in I.T., aviation, hospitality and call centers

  • Said they didn't feel safe returning home alone after work in the late hours or in the evening.

  • In Bangalore, where I come from, this number is 85 percent.

  • In rural areas in India, if anything is to go by the recent gang rapes in Badaun

  • and acid attacks in Odisha and Aligarh are supposed to go by, we need to act really soon.

  • Don't get me wrong, the challenges that women will face in telling their stories is real

  • But we need to start pursuing and trying to identify mediums

  • to participate in our system and not just pursue the media blindly.

  • Today, more women than ever are standing up and questioning the government in India, and this is a result of that courage.

  • There is a sixfold increase in women reporting harassment,

  • and the government passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2013 to protect women against sexual assault.

  • As I end this talk, I just want to say that I know a lot of us in this room have our secrets

  • but let us speak up. Let us fight the shame and talk about it.

  • It could be a platform, a community, your loved one,

  • whoever or whatever you choose, but let us speak up.

  • The truth is, the end to this problem begins with us.

  • Thank you.

Talking about empowerment is odd,

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【TED】Meera Vijayann: Find your voice against gender violence (Meera Vijayann: Find your voice against gender violence)

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