You push it down, you push it down
Imagine being very young, just beginning your career, with high energy and even higher spirits. Imagine going to every leadership training, and volunteering event, wanting to build connections, planning on doing great things. You are nervous, yet determined. A strange man meets you, the conversation is good, he seems intelligent, talks to you about books and all.
Then, at a deserted alley, just outside the Anti Corruption Commission building, he first asks if you want to share the lip gel he has just put on.
Prior to that, you have been touched on the shoulder inappropriately, but the shock of the moment didn’t let you react as fast as you would’ve liked.
He grabs you and forces a kiss on you. “It’s nothing,” your more progressive friends tell you, much later on, after the shock has left your system somewhat. “These things happen. It was just a kiss.” You live with trauma, you endure, you “stay down and take it” until now.
Imagine being unemployed, desperate for any job that comes your way. Some publisher-bookseller is looking for a secretary, and you sign up. You do get some subtle indications of something being fishy, but you don’t quite comprehend immediately.
First, the employers say that you are to be a personal secretary, but then you’re told that you’ll do research on Rabindranath. Confusing, but you accept the offer anyway.
You meet your employer, the employer. Everyone respects him, authors meet him regularly, they eat cha-nasta and tete-a-tete. When you enter, he starts asking you inappropriate personal questions. “What kind of guys do you like?”
He is pressing himself against you at this point. He asks you things you can’t possibly state on a national daily. You experience things that you can’t possibly say on a national daily.
He brings out things, that demonic side of his character, that you can’t possibly disclose on a national daily. You storm out somehow, saving yourself from that “ultimate disgrace” you can’t talk about. But you too, you too, you too.
Your favourite author will be on stage in a few minutes. Beside you, another girl sits down hurriedly, and you discover that you are colleagues from two different departments. You discover that you have worked on each other’s projects without knowing the face behind those files.
Suddenly you feel a very sexual nudge from the row behind you. A decisive grab, a pinch -- it terrifies you, freezes you. You turn around immediately, see a silhouette in a checkered shirt scurrying away, your voice fails you. Feebly, you tell your colleague and newfound friend: “Him, he touched me. He just touched me. I don’t believe this!”
She’s baffled, clearly, her reaction time just as slow: “The actual f***, where, where is he?” The perpetrator has left, both of you sit stunned. It’s a packed auditorium, none of you can possibly get up from the middle of the row and catch him. “If I find him outside I’ll hit him hard,” your friend assures you, but you know, and know well, that you’ll never see him again.
The irony? All of that, just after a #metoo panel.
In your country, #metoo is a feeble movement, hardly even there, it’s nascent, says your mentor, a boro bhai of sorts. Every day, you open your browser, go to Facebook, and notice how everyone is happy. There are dog videos and cooking videos and videos of Youtube comedians. You scroll past all of that and discover -- you uncover.
You discover that in a neighbouring country, the minister of state for External Affairs resigned “over a little movement.” Some of your favourite singers, actors, and directors have been unmasked and arrested.
Some actress, almost a nobody now, has accused an actor, a somebody, of sexual misconduct. Other stories follow. You scroll down, somebody explains consent with tea in a little video. Cute little teacups and saucers teach men consent.
You are a newly appointed journalist, your excitement knows no bounds. You cover panel after panel, running around with a notebook and a recorder in hand. You interview the authors you don’t quite know but get to know. You grow to love them, and your job.
You also, hesitantly, make your way to the #metoo panels.
Four of them, one, two, three, four. Each takes turns to speak. This is an interesting panel, you think. One had denied the allegations brought against some media-somebody, by a young model.
“Oh, models? If you ask me, they are all characterless,” said some progressive auntie at a cocktail party. The other, a print media journalist, had defended the girl, and had dared to write about it.
There was no debate on that issue. Instead, they spoke of a more “corrective” approach to “those who have made a mistake or two.” They are, according to the experts, not outside of society.
We should make them understand what they have done wrong. Nobody speaks of punishment. Nobody from the audience points that out. It disgusts you.
Suddenly, you feel a hand reaching up against your … oh, you’re only just imagining things. That was in the past, you are completely, perfectly, spotlessly over it.
You focus on your job, you take notes, you change your pen when one runs out of ink, you hurry towards the next panel, and the next person to interview.
You push it down, you push it down.
Qazi Mustabeen Noor is working at Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.