Harassment and eve-teasing are so commonplace in Indian women’s life that they don’t even complain nowadays.
The Delhi gang rape incident has been in news since the past few days and almost everyone seems to be quite shocked by the brutality and inhumanity with which the unfortunate incident took place. Well, I am not shocked. Yes, you got that right. I am not shocked. What else can we expect in a patriarchal, male-dominated, women-battering society where girls are killed even before they are born?
The constant craving for sons, the adherence to some rotten practices of the so-called ‘Great Indian culture’ like female foeticide, dowry, the purdah system, and the deprivation of the girl child from good food, nutrition, education, health, entertainment and freedom, are only a few examples of how the Indian woman is treated as an unwanted sub-human species in her own country. It is this latent hatred and brutality towards women that we have internalised as a society which was manifested in the Delhi incident. I am sorry, but not surprised.
The subjugated status of women is evident right from the seemingly harmless cultural practices like taking the husband’s family name after marriage to the more violent practices like honour killings and rapes. Even among the very educated families of modern India, a woman’s education and career are considered secondary and her duty of bearing and rearing children as primary while it is just the opposite for men.
On top of it, the Indian woman is burdened with the additional responsibility of upholding the family honour. Therefore, in any form of power display, be it in a communal riot or simple personal enmity, the easiest way for the Indian male to dishonour his rival is to sexually assault the women related to the rival or his community.
We should be ashamed to call ourselves a 21st century nation when even today the honour of a girl is measured not by her education or personal achievement in any field but only by her capacity to uphold her bodily integrity. The biggest evidence of this medieval practice is the term izzat lootna for rape.
That an average woman walks on the Indian streets, goes to school, college or office and lives independently is the result of years of struggle by women. But there is a counter current that constantly tries to push the independent women back into their homes where they can be kept confined within the four walls. That is precisely why any and every modern educated independent woman is harassed not just on the crowded streets and buses but in their offices and homes as well.
I doubt there is any independently travelling woman in India who has not faced vulgar comments, gestures, and groping irrespective of what dress she wears or at what time of the day or night she travels. And yet, not just the semi-educated, rural people but the very elite, educated and modern people lecture women on what to wear and at what time to travel.
I saw many facebook comments on modest dressing for women. First, how does one define modest dressing? For some a baggy jeans and a loose tee may be modest, whereas for others even showing your fingers or face may be bold. So whose standards are the girls supposed to follow? And who guarantees a harassment-free living for woman if she dresses up modestly? Fathers rape daughters, uncles rape nieces, masters rape their maid servants, husbands rape wives, teachers rape students — harassment and eve-teasing are so integral to every Indian woman’s life that they don’t even complain nowadays and the solution to all these as suggested by our experts is modest dressing! Now I am shocked!
Some strategies discussed on various TV channels like more patrolling, police training, more street-lights, strict adherence to laws prohibiting the use of tinted glasses on vehicles, tracking illegal vehicles, police and legal reforms, more women police, etc., are all fine as long as they are not just on paper and discussion committees but are actually implemented. But unless we change our patriarchal and misogynistic mindset, the police, the law-makers, the judiciary who are people from this very society can never be any different. Their attitude will only reflect the attitude of our society towards women.
Therefore, we have to change. Our society needs to change. We, as parents, as teachers, as friends, as leaders, as colleagues and as human beings need to inculcate in ourselves as well as in our children, students, friends, followers, colleagues and every fellow human being, the values of gender sensitivity, gender equality, equal respect for men and women; and, together, we need to fight our medieval mindset and embrace the virtues of modernity with open arms while keeping its vices at bay.
And, above all, women need to be aware of and fight for their rights. As someone has rightly said, rights that are not asserted cease to exist.
(The writer’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org)