Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Leaf and Thorn- Misplaced Wisdom of Sexual Education

The only phrase of sexual education that I ever heard, officially, while growing up, was the famous Malayalam saying “Ila mullil veenalum mullu ilayil veenalum, ilaykanu dosham”. The English translation would be “whether leaf falls on thorn or thorn falls on leaf; it is the leaf that will suffer”!
It didn’t take much time to know that leaf is the girl and thorn is the boy. But it took some time for me to grasp the fallacy of the saying, literally, as well as of the point it was intended to convey. Think about a leaf falling on a thorn or a thorn falling on to a leaf. What will happen? The thorn will make a hole in the leaf and/or break its sharp end. Wouldn’t it? Most likely, yes.

Now let us see what the effect is. A hole in the leaf makes no difference to it. It can continue with its assigned job of photo-synthesisation and production of oxygen and keep serving the nature, as long as its life remains. What about thorn? As soon as it loses its sharp end, what remains of it? Will anyone be scared of a thorn with no sharp end? It will end up being useless, throughout its remaining life!

So, it is the thorn that will end up a loser irrespective of whether it falls on the leaf or the leaf falls onto it.

Now let us see what the saying is meant to convey. It is meant to convey one of the most horrible theorems, used to keep 50% of the human population under the control of the remaining 50%. It teaches a girl that irrespective of who does what, if she comes into contact with a boy, it is she who will have to suffer for it. So she has to be beware of that danger, right from the days of growing up, and make sure that she protects herself from the thorn, at all times. If she has to give up her normal life or the freedom, so be it- just ensure that thorns are kept afar.

The girl has to protect herself from the thorns. In order to get that protection, she has to remain subjugated to rules that her family and society prescribe, no matter what the sacrifices she may have to make. She can’t even drive a car, because she might end up being holed by a thorn when her car breaks down somewhere (remember Saudi Arabia?)!

What about the thorns? Well, they have been conditioned with the belief that nothing will happen to them. They have the right to go around and make holes in as many leaves as they like. Nothing will happen to them. It is the fault of the leaves that they let him to make holes in them.

With this kind of one sided conditioning, can we be surprised at the number of increasing cases of sexual harassment and rapes being reported all across India? It is not just in Kerala, but all across the country (and to some extent to the whole world) similar conditioning happens to every child. Girls are made to feel inferior and vulnerable. They are even held responsible for the holes that are made by a thorn. Remember what triggered the current string of protests called ‘slut walks’? It was against a statement that tried to remind the leaves about their place in this world viz-a-viz the thorns!

If we have to change our society and bring the real gender equality and fairness, we need to re-write the old saying. We need to convince the thorns that they will have to suffer, if they ever try to make a hole in any leaf. We must ensure that the stigma of a broken thorn must accompany them for the remaining life. When I say this, I am not advocating the literal breaking of the sharp end of these thorns (though at least sometimes one feel justified in thinking about such retribution); I am only figuratively suggesting that we should make our legal system efficient enough to ensure punishment to the violators.

On the one hand we must put the fear in the minds of thorns... on the other hand, we must reassure the leaves. The stigma of a hole in the leaf must be removed from our collective psyche. Sexual harassment or rape must be treated like any other grievous crime, and not as one that stigmatises the victim.

Girls must be taught that violation of their body is not violation of their soul. It is merely similar to an incidence of causing a severe physical injury at the worst. There is no reason why a victim of sexual harassment or rape must be made to feel guilty. We do not hold a man to contempt even if someone cuts off one of his limbs. Then why a woman must be treated differently, if someone attacked her physically? Being subjected to rape or harassment is not a reflection on the character of a girl as much as being attacked is not a reflection on the character of any of us. Stigma of a rape must go off with just one good wash but the crime of rape must not go unpunished.

We do not stop our boys from going out for the fear of them getting beaten up by some bully somewhere. We must be able to treat our girls in the same way, at least some time in the future, if not in our life time. That is why I feel disgusted when even the feminists and human rights activists continue trying to make rape or sexual harassment something more than what it is- a crime. And that is why I felt very happy when I read this tweet that I quote:

“@Vidyut +1 RT @abhijitmajumder: Police Chief BK Gupta should make Delhi men stop travelling in the night so that women are safe”

Let us teach our children: If a thorn falls on a leaf, the thorn will have to face the consequences, including losing its sharpness; but if a hole is made in the leaf by the falling thorn, nothing changes for the leaf. Ila mullil veenalum Mullu ilayil veenalum mullinanu dosham

Let us now shift the stigma from the leaf to the thorn; for the leaf has suffered it for ages.


  1. The question is does the thorn really lose the sharpness..they are more emboldened by the current laws that ultimately leave them scot free due to the lack of evidence or the leaf choosing to wither away instead of gathering strength and fight against the vagaries of nature.
    In short lots need to be done to fight against this thorn and leaf saying..especially in Indian Middle class scenario..The thorn has to learn to respect the leaf and shield her from the cruel world with its sharpness and learn not to hurt her by safeguarding her interests,Let it learn never to cause a hole in the leaf but balance the leaf on its sharpness, tenderly without hurting or piercing her..I think it is possible..after all the leaf is tender, mild. But then the leaf must be ready to survive and FIGHT back just in case she is pierced by the Ruthless thorn..I am Sure the Leaf will survive and turn into a fresh green full of life a Leaf,even if it is pierced..God is there to look after each and everything and give strength..Why Wallow in Self Pity..Get going .. The Thorn will sure lose its sharpness one day..Leaf will continue to live with all effervescence..
    A good POST :)

  2. We need strict laws as deterrence.Also implementation of law is quite necessary.We dont take things seriously until we know we will get punished!

  3. hi jay,

    the thorn really never looses its sharpness unless the leaf is thick skinned and hard.

    getting off the metaphors, the only thing that is actually dented in the process is "ego" and somehow scars on the females ego is taken up by her entire family.

    yes, in kerala girls are simply taught that all men are possible rapist.

    but then u will only know how sad the plight is if u r a female in the state.yes men here gawk at u so hard that u think to yourself am i nude? am i an alien ??

    but then u know what i have realized is that it happens so badly in kerala only. where the male think they can subdue the female with just looks.

    its pathetic. i love kerala for all its scenic beauty . but for this sole reason i vow to never settle here. i dont want my daughter to live in a place where she has to walk with her head bent, cover every curve of hers under layers of clothing and still feel nude, where every male could be a possible rapist.

  4. that is a bad saying, we must enligfhten young girls to know there are dangers in life and how to recognize them and destroy these dangers and dangerous men...

  5. The problem lies deep rooted in our society. Far too often the focus is placed on the victim. It encourages even those with a supportive family to keep quite and suffer in silence. Why our society shuns and ostracizes the victim instead of the violator is beyond comprehension. The 'men will be men, they will rape, so women be careful' argument is both ridiculous and dangerous. Rapists should be dealt with strongly, and like Bindu chechi said, girls should be taught to be strong and fight back in case she has been violated. They should know that it is not their fault that they got abused, and that they deserve a normal life like everybody else.