Mental Health Counsellor And Educationist
IT IS a very disturbing morning. The papers carry eight separate incidents of violence against women. A young woman’s face is slashed for the second time within two months by a man she rejected. A video is made of a private, intimate interaction and posted on a porn site without the victim’s knowledge. And a number of incidents of molestation and gang-rapes seem to occupy just as many columns as they did in yesterday’s edition. The deterrents, if any, are clearly ineffective if the crimes are so similar and so common day after day.
In the video clip case, the boys responsible are still at Jawaharlal Nehru University while the girl has had to flee, as per the news report. That is a trend too. The Delhi Public School MMS case followed a similar pattern with a far graver outcome.
Maybe we will move in a scarier direction where locking up the victim is the norm
How does one not get discouraged in the face of this? I know anger and outrage are ready responses; yet I am left with a sense that it is anger and frustration that has led to this pervasive violence in the first place.
And, of course, a total sense of entitlement. Men are entitled to exert power — we have condoned it in many arenas so why not in this one. They are taught more and more to trounce the weaker opponent. Rape is a weapon, used strategically during war and extensively during peace both inside and outside the home. What easier target than a child/woman who either trusts her caretaker or is victimised because she is alone in a city that has yet to learn the value of safeguarding its women and children.
The perpetrators are also following a cultural trend — the men who rape women do it in packs, finding safety in numbers. Girls are attacked in schools and homes by the very custodians of their safe havens.
Maybe the growing malaise is the disempowerment that many feel and translate into violent acts — violating a woman’s body or crushing a man to death under their car? Human nature expects male aggression and societies like ours help perpetuate harmful ways of expressing it. Damaging clichés like “boys will be boys” and “the girl asked for it” still ring shrill in this new India. How can we expect a young man to not believe he can have any woman if the hero in Dabangg gets his way by intimidating the heroine into submitting to his “love”?
Conveniently, this collectivist and traditional culture is morphing into one where sexual violations are considered an individual’s problem and an inevitable byproduct of a modernising nation.
In many ways, the changing culture may well be feeding the fungus. In part by promoting the sevenyear- old girl who is thrusting her pelvis at a male judge as she emulates item girl moves to win a prize on television. Do we even consider the message we send when we brand women who do catchy and popular songs as “item girls”? One definition of an item is something we put on a list to buy and tick off — raping a woman is often about dehumanising her, possessing her and discarding her.
There was a time when “munni” was a term of endearment for the beloved daughter in a household. Today, it represents the woman whose sexual prowess warrants her defamation. The seven-year-old who performs like the item girl is not a sexual being but the 35-year-old man watching her believes she is and hence can be the object of his twisted fantasy.
Many will flag this as the ill-effects of popular culture and move instantly to the old orthodox rhetoric of censorship. How convenient it would be to do that. Why address the question when you can silence the voice that raises it? Maybe we will move in a scarier direction — where locking up the victim becomes more the norm than holding the perpetrators accountable.
I am sure fingers are being pointed at the victims — why break tradition here? The 16-year-old who takes a ride on her trusted neighbour’s motorcycle and is later raped by his friends, may well have been willing to share more than just the ride with him. According to the report, she happened to be fascinated by his motorcycle and perhaps his suaveness — many 16-yearold girls are — should we line them all up and brand them? And the emancipated woman who meets a man she befriended on the Internet may well have been targeted just for that.
What if we granted women more freedom and instilled in men more fear?
Many Hindi film dialogues will echo in your ears when this scene plays out — a man and a young woman sitting in a secluded part of the park, hoping for some rightful privacy are approached by four male strangers who could well accuse him of not sharing the spoils and her of being a whore.
The hero never emerges here because the power of four villains in reality is far greater. He is beaten and she is raped.
THE AUTHORITIES’ reaction to this incident is to warn residents to steer clear of unsafe parts of the park. This puts the onus on women yet again — it circumscribes their lives as the family and society tell them to curtail their activities in order to remain safe.
What if the reverse had been the reaction? A response that would grant women more freedom and instill in men more fear. What if the police had come forward and said we are making those very corners of the parks safe. How to shift to this mindset where the measures are proactive and expand people’s lives rather than shrink them? We certainly aren’t punishing crime in a way that scares off fresh perpetrators. Maybe we could find ways to prevent crimes that come from a place of acceptance of what lives are actually like — women will work long hours and wait at isolated bus stops, call centres will flout the drop-off rules to cut costs, girls and boys will want to meet in the park, children will believe that their homes are safe and their teachers are trustworthy.
Men will victimise women as their pack mentality grows and access to cars with tinted windows increases while the power of an ill-equipped police force dwindles. Can we please look to what is happening on a city-wide level rather than pretend that these are isolated incidents and hence, provide lip service and meagre measures to tackle an epidemic of violence?
We are moving in a dangerous direction if any woman who resists a harasser’s advance or embraces a freer lifestyle runs the risk of becoming a victim of male violence. Today, she can only hope to get away with as little damage as possible. The growing fear in a woman’s mind is not whether it will happen, but when and to what extent.
Yes, India is shining. Just ask the woman who catches the glint off a switch blade moments before it slashes her face.