The Commandments for Consent

#MeToo wave has hit India and it has come close to home. People we know are in the list of the accused and it is raking up some amount of emotion.

We were raised without information or conversations. The maximum we had to look up and follow was the ‘ten commandments’, moral science texts we read, and the handful of sermons we heard on being good and honest humans, paying our tithe to the Lord, etc.

ten commandments
Our Code on Morality

Nowhere were we told about consent, personal boundaries and sexual abuse. Our parents, teachers and families failed us. When an uncle brushed our breasts in a small kitchen we only knew to ignore the episode, pretend it never happened. When an uncle groped a boys privates in the bedroom at an opportune moment, we were not taught to make a scene.  

In kerala we often say  “മലാണ് കെടന്നു തുപ്പള് “which means do not lie on your back and spit up. A statement every parent tells their child if they question anything embarrassing within the family.  So when you question an abusive relative, you are doing just that. And possibly opening up yourself for blame as to why you were the ‘chosen’ one.   

Even as adults, I know of friends who are ashamed to ask their parents pointedly if they were aware of the incident or the risk that they put their child in.    My husband asked me a pertinent question this morning, “When were we ever educated to know that something constitutes abuse?” My first reaction was but it is obvious!  Fact is “It is NOT.”  And “We Were NOT trained, taught or educated on what was wrong or that it was NOT OUR FAULT!”  

Priya Ramani writes about MJ Akbar and her interview with him. When a similar incident happened to me at 22, I did not have the vocabulary to explain what I felt. After all nothing had happened. Except that as I got into the train that night, I felt uncomfortable and decided I would not go back.  I chose to walk away from a career I had invested five years of education into. I was privileged I could walk away. I had the good sense that this was just the start. Not all do.   

I raise two boys.  I understand that they could be victims of abuse.  I understand that abuse is neither defined by gender or age.  I am also aware that if I fail to raise them well, my sons too could be among the many misogynists in the world.  I worry.   

SO here are my commandments for him, so he never tells me I didn’t explain consent to him. I also showed him this video that explains it better than I ever can.   

1. You shall not do something that makes another uncomfortable. Boundaries are important. For yourself and others.  

2. You shall shall ask for permission: If you want to sit next to someone, you want to hold someone’s hands or give them a hug, ask them if you can.   

3. NO MEANS NO: I am not comfortable also means NO. I don’t want to; Not now; I am not ready: they all mean NO.   

4. STOP: If they say yes but change their mind later. Pay heed. Stop.   

5. You shall not be angry or upset with them for saying NO.   

6. You shall not blackmail people to get your way.   

Commandments for Consent for my Sons

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