Women have been living in fear, the causes of which are not just violence by certain elements but the malaise of society at large, said Kendra Sahitya Akademi award winner Vaidehi here on Sunday.

Talking at the silver jubilee celebrations of Karavali Lekhakhiyara Vachakiyara Sangha (Karavali Writers, Readers’ Association), she said the recent gang-rape of a woman in New Delhi had shown how vulnerable women were in society.

“When a woman gets off a bus at 10 p.m. and there are men around on the road, why should only she fear and not them? And when a complaint is given, she is asked what she was doing out on the road in the middle of the night. It is not just the men who judge the woman, unfortunately, even many women profess such a viewpoint,” she said, and added: “Why are women treated as second-grade citizens with lesser rights and freedom?”

Known for her feminist writings, the writer said atrocities against women had long history, even glorified in the Ramayana. “The book shows Sita getting kidnapped and her character questioned after getting kidnapped, and the cutting off of Shoorpanakha’s nose by Lakshmana… Instead of cutting off the nose, they now throw acid on women’s face,” she said.

It was heartening to see even men protesting against the horrendous New Delhi gang-rape, Ms. Vaidehi said.

Scathing in her commentary on the masculine and misogynic tendencies of society, writer and professor at Kannada University, Hampi, H. Nagaveni said discrimination against women was at all levels, and was even seen even in literature.

“Culture” and “traditions” were the reasons given to exclude women, she said, citing the example of Yakshagana where certain roles are out of bounds for women, and added that derogatory terms such as “old number” and “petromax” were used in jest to describe women in literature and plays.

Having grown up in rural Dakshina Kannada, she said harassment of women was a daily sight, with “pregnant women seen at clinics after having been sexually exploited in factories or isolated farms.”