My brother sold my daughter into prostitution for thirty-five thousand rupees. My father let another man rape me in front of him for money. My husband threatened to kill me if I didn’t let his friends have their way with me. A civil servant is protecting the man who raped me.The police are threatening to implicate me in a false case. My father-in-law tried to set me on fire.
Please help me.
An internship at the National Commission for Women makes you evaluate a few things in life. Apart from the mind-numbing clerical work, you get to read the complaints that come in. And they are nothing short of horrifying, the sort that give you sleepless nights. They make you recognise the little bubble of privilege you have been growing up in and that there really is a lot worse happening out there. It is one thing to read in the newspapers about incidents that happen on a daily basis and objectively analyse them, and quite another to talk to a complainant who shrouds her face for fear of being seen. The fear eating at her soul like the acid did her face.
Please help me.
The subject of crimes against women is nothing new in India. Every day fresh crimes are reported, hundreds of crimes go unreported, and those which are reported are not followed up on, unless they are extremely high profile cases or garner enough public notice to put pressure on the relevant authorities.Such crimes are engendered because our society itself breeds distorted values of religion, caste and class, the superior and inferior, the natural and unnatural. Equality of the genders will never be achieved in such a regressive patriarchy that teaches us, right from the start, that the genders have traditional roles to which they must succumb in order for the ‘natural’ way of life to continue.
To some extent, this can be termed a failure on part of our society because it is the way our social mores are constructed that hinder equality of the genders. Gender specific ideologies need radical re-orientation in the long run that can only come through means of education. In schools, students are taught mathematics, the sciences, humanities and other skills meant to foster holistic growth but the most important is also the most neglected. Intervention in the process of interaction between male and female students and how they come to perceive each other is something that needs a lot more attention that is currently given. Gender roles are reinforced from the very start of our lives and it is at this crucial stage, where we begin to imbibe values, that it is important those values do not carry with them the toxic notions bred by the patriarchal system.
Girls like pink while boys like blue. While growing up, girls need to be sensitive, understanding and caring, they need to accept that anger is no way to solve an issue, it is not ladylike and highly inappropriate to do so. Boys will be boys, and any display of high spirited activity on their part will be attributed to the healthy growth of the child and his advent into manhood. It is to be noted that all children are taught to be well mannered but a difference exists in the threshold for the same between the genders. These are all subtle ways in which children are socially conditioned to fit into the patriarchy and made to accept their respective roles as the protected and the protector. These are issues that don’t only affect children from less privileged and educated backgrounds, but is socially an all-pervasive phenomenon.
As we grow into adolescence, new ways of covertly engaging teenagers begin to be employed. There is nobody who employs these methods of indoctrinating us into the ‘natural’ order, rather, we watch the behaviour of people that surround us, learn and grow.Prevalent notions of male ownership over women’s bodies and their reproductive rights leads us to believe that it’s okay to be treated as an object, especially of sexual desire. The act of a man’s assertion of a right of possession over a woman’s body can mean only one thing: there is something fundamentally flawed in our society and that is the idea that a woman has no agency at all when it comes to herself and her body.
I need you to help me.
There are some very subtle ways in which language is also used a tool of repression. In Language and A Woman’s Place (1975), Robin Lakoff, Professor of linguistics at UC, Berkeley, established that while growing up, girls are dissuaded from talking rough like boys and keeping forceful forms of expression out of their vocabulary. This directly leads to women not being able to put their point across when they do grow into womanhood, which hampers their chances of success in their professional lives. As she says so succinctly, “The ultimate effect of these discrepancies is that women are systematically denied access to power, on the grounds that they are not capable of holding it as demonstrated by their linguistic behaviour along with other aspects of their behaviour; and the irony here is that women are made to feel that they deserve such treatment, because of inadequacies in their own intelligence and/or education.”
Indigenous television dictates the behaviour of millions of girls across the country and is therefore a perfect way to depict what girls should be like. Soap operas with startlingly backward representation of women as only scheming housewives, simple minded, small town girls who lack all forms of intellectual acuity and capacity but are determined and manage to snag the rich, powerful and authoritative male lead character etc. are all creating a flux in behaviour towards women.Depiction of women wearing scanty clothing as whorish, home-breaking skanks with no individuality of their own and sari-clad sanskari characters, the bearers of chastity and virtue, only hurts the idea of the freedom to choose what you want to wear and how you express yourself. In complete synchronicity with traditional modes of storytelling, it tries to depict the battle between good and evil, where none exists and undeniably reinforces conventional stereotypes.
Due to the various hierarchies that exist in society, women from privileged and educated backgrounds mostly manage to escape this, but an unfortunately large number of the underprivileged and uneducated in both urban and rural areas do not. Educated society, brought up on a diet of liberal ideology and ideas of equality, may disagree completely with such notions but a very large number of people do get influenced by this.
Despite the opportunities in education afforded to them, women from privileged homes do not fully escape the patriarchy either. Sexism prevails everywhere, we have to fight it every day, in almost every situation we encounter. They are so numerous that after a while we adapt to becoming cynics and accepting the situation as it is.Public spaces in India have become hostile to women and their safety; seldom can you see a woman walking alone anywhere, regardless of what time it is. This especially holds true for the suffocating atmosphere of metropolitan cities, where crimes are reported on a daily basis.
The identity of women as separate from a man is one that is, at present, inconceivable in society; if a woman is rising through the social and professional ranks, the first question she is asked the identity of the powerful man she slept with. Filmmakers and writers with strong female protagonists in their story lines are constantly asked why they chose to do so. In fact, George R.R. Martin, author of the bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series once replied to this inane question saying, “Well, because I think they’re human too.” Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and director of Firefly and the Avengers) chose to reply to the same question with, “So for the hundredth time, why did I create such a strong female lead? Because you’re still asking me that question.”
Therefore, it is imperative that these social constructs be broken, and broken fast. Children, from a very young age need to be taught a very important lesson: the idea of consent. Every form of interaction with another person is wrong if it is without his or her consent. Every act requires specific consent; obtaining the consent to talk doesn’t mean you have elicited the consent to touch that person. As Huma Qureishi, in Gangs of Wasseypur, so neatly puts, “…aapko permission leni chahiye na? Aapko laga ki matlab jo marzi, hath laga lenge humko? Aapko poochna chahiye na, pooch ke rakhiye hath…”[…You should take my permission, yes? Do you think you can touch me whenever you feel like it? Ask me, touch me with my permission…]
Since most crimes are gender specific, boys need to be taught that the idea of automatic ownership does not apply and most importantly, victim blaming and shaming needs to stop. It is not okay for a victim to be blamed for what she wears or her character to be questioned when it is a man’s uncontrolled libido that’s the cause of trouble. This is not to blame all men in society, generalisations can be just as devastating. This sort of education needs to be provided to everybody.
The feminist movement in India is usually derided by subversive elements which desperately try to hold on to the patriarchy as a means of perpetuating their own vested interests. Violence against activists, of course, is the fastest means of achieving this objective. When that violence is overlooked by law enforcement agencies, it gives power to the perpetrators. The cycle never ends. The patriarchy continues to be self-sufficient and self-propagating. The repression never stops.
Please help me.
(The original post first appeared on Glasnost on February 2, 2015.)