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Oxygen Cylinder For Sex: The Cost Of Being A Woman In The Pandemic

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Men offering up oxygen cylinder for sex, netizens receiving unsolicited photos of genitals in their inboxes, numbers being leaked: it’s all real and happening to women, despite a raging health emergency.

Social media is flooded with such horrific experiences, but are they being heard? Are those in power, both at governmental positions and social networking websites, taking cognisance of the routine online bullying women are having to shoulder? And for what – having asked for something as basic, as vital as oxygen.

Prominent activist and environmentalist Bhavreen Kandhari earlier this week took to Twitter to share a disturbing ordeal she witnessed up close, amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis in India. “My friend’s sister like my baby sister was asked by a neighbour in an elite colony to sleep with him for an oxygen cylinder that she desperately needed for her father,” she wrote.

“Humanity is dead,” she declared. Going by this experience, it certainly seems to be.

“His oxygen was dipping,” Kandhari tells SheThePeople“We weren’t getting an ICU bed, his condition wasn’t good and he urgently needed oxygen support. A common friend connected her to this man (the accused). He came to drop the cylinder off and remarked at my friend, ‘Arey aap toh married bhi nahi lagte.‘ [You don’t look married.] That comment itself left her taken aback. He called her again later, and in suggestive overtones, said, ‘Aapko oxygen ka mushkil nahi hoga ab…'”

Through April, and even May, the world has stood in observation of the power of social media exuded via India. The online community – especially that on Twitter – is working round the clock to connect the needy to resources, with officers, journalists, celebrities, common citizens, everyone pitching in as best they can. Read about some here.

But there is little conversation around the flip side of this healthcare emergency. A side only women are having to face. Harassment, bullying, abuse, sexual favours, unsolicited dick pics – women are bracing themselves against what they always have to brace against. Only, a national health emergency is making it triply stressful, overbearing and draining.

The patient recently lost his life, we are told. SheThePeople hasn’t yet been able to reach out to his daughter, the woman who faced the harassment, given she is understandably busy at this point without the time or space to reflect on other events.

On being asked whether legal recourse will be sought in the harassment case, Kandhari says, “There’s not much police can do because there’s no evidence really and the man will outright deny it. Even if we pursue it legally, the battle will be extremely long. But I will definitely encourage her to speak up about it all. I shared her story because these incidents need to be recognised. Every woman must speak up.”

Oxygen Cylinder For Sex, Dick Pics During Emergency: How Some Are Taking Advantage Of The Pandemic

Indians have been busy in 2021, as the second wave of COVID-19 struck the country with immense, but not unprecedented, force. Where some have moved heaven and earth to save lives, others are leaving no stone unturned in raising hell for them. And offering oxygen cylinder for sex isn’t the only way they have figured out how to take advantage of people’s trauma.

A woman detailed at length her experience of paying the price of looking for plasma donors, from sexual images to inappropriate date requests. “I’ve received (on Whatsapp) 3 dick pics, and 7 men trying to video call me continuously. Even in a medical emergency, men think only with their genitals.”

Another tweet by a user recorded an incident where a woman, in dire need of plasma as her husband lay suffering, was brutally ridiculed and sexually taunted by netizens. She “didn’t get leads but hundreds of obnoxious pics instead,” the user wrote. “The worst, ‘Mar gaya to bata dena. Shaadi kar lenge’.”

Could there be a more scathing, searing comment on the condition of women’s cyber-safety than this? If, even in the middle of a ruinous pandemic, women aren’t safe from the predatory advances of men, is there a chance they will ever at all be? How powerful are male entitlement and toxic masculinity that they refuse to bend even before matters of life and death? The COVID-19 pandemic may pass, but will the pandemic of gender injustice ever?

Views expressed are the author’s own.