One year ago I wrote an Open Letter to the Men of India to describe what it was like growing up as a woman in India.
The letter went viral within 24 hours. My phone rang non-stop, while it was trending on FB and Twitter. TV stations camped outside my home in Bandra.
My family was upset that I had dragged them into this media frenzy. I was asked to leave my parents house (and then taken back).
BBC worldwide covered it. Every website and paper in India carried it, it was bigger than anything I had ever done – MTV, my films, nothing compared to this… The letter was bigger than me.
I was accused of orchestrating a publicity stunt. My character was attacked and my choice of films (i.e. Delhi Belly) were called into question.
People took sides on social media and in real life. I was ridiculed by some and praised by others. NOBODY was indifferent. Everyone had an opinion.
Overnight, I became an Accidental Activist. People started asking me to start a movement. “Do something Shenaz.” I desperately wanted to do more. I realized that the letter had struck a nerve, sparking an ongoing debate.
While I lay awake at night burdened by threats, insults and hundreds of open letters to me – I thought about why so many people wanted to drag me down for speaking the truth. For speaking up against sexual assault and molestation.
Then, from all corners of India, Women AND MEN started in-boxing me with stories of their own. Violated and raped by their uncles, neighbors, drivers, doctors. The list was endless.
You see, everyone had a story. And that’s why it had evoked such a powerful response. Women and some men who had kept silent for years started speaking up. I realized that People were afraid of my letter. Afraid of strong women. SCARED THAT THINGS WOULD CHANGE AND THE OPPRESSED WOULD HAVE A VOICE.
Today, one year later – I do not regret my decision to write the letter. I STAND BY MY LETTER.
I will keep encouraging women to speak up, stressing that embracing our sexuality and drawing strength from our womanhood does not mean that we are inviting men to touch us. I promise to keep this conversation alive.
DO NOT BE SHAMED INTO SILENCE.
Please share and join me in making your voice heard.
This is a video of me reading the letter and then talking about the issue at a college. Please share: