This New Year’s eve, I was reminded of the advertisement of a popular two-wheeler brand with the punchline, ‘Why should boys have all the fun’. Featuring a Bollywood actress, the advertisement provides some much-needed encouragement to girls in India to go out and have a good time and tells them that it’s not something that only boys are supposed to do. Why should girls or women not have some fun by going around on two-wheelers, or otherwise? In patriarchal societies such as ours, the fairer sex must be encouraged to venture out on their own as it is a vital step towards becoming independent.
However, women who were out to have some innocent fun this New Year’s eve in at least two metropolitan cities were in for a rude shock that left many of us breathless and stigmatised. While New Delhi lived up to its notorious reputation, Bangalore lost the status of a cultured and sophisticated city moments after ushering in 2017. There was a sense of deja vu as horrifying as the mass molestation of women by a mob of unruly men took place in Mumbai on January 1, 2008. In all these years, nothing seems to have changed for Indian women who still have not been able to claim their rightful space at public places be it during the day or night.
To make matters worse, some moralistic political leaders reacted in the most insensitive and misogynistic manner. While Karnataka Home Minister G Paramshwara said the “western ways” were responsible for the gruesome incident, Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi, in his “hosho hawaaz” (complete senses), blamed women for following the latest “fashion of nudity” and deviating from Indian values. He stressed that women should be controlled from going against Indian culture and embracing western culture.
Such tasteless statements from politicians follow after almost every incident of sexual assault that, of late, have been occurring on a regular basis in different parts of India. Strangely, each time a woman/girl is sexually harassed, the blame is almost always pinned on the victim and not the perpetrator. Time and again, we hear the most absurd statements from those who are meant to lead citizens towards the principle of equality that’s enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
What is it about the ‘western culture’ that pricks the self-proclaimed saviours of Indian culture? Why doesn’t the Indian value system stop its men from behaving like sexual predators? Why don’t the politicians ask the men not to keep pouncing on women, but to follow Indian culture and respect women? Does Indian culture teach them to respect women in sarees and prey upon those in skirts? Going by this benchmark, why did a fully clad woman in a burqa have to be attacked by a pervert in Bangalore a few days ago? Why are so many women going about their daily lives dressed in salwar kameez in cities, towns and villages molested and raped?
While western culture has its own flaws, Indian culture is not as unblemished as it is proclaimed to be. On the contrary, the Indian value system is highly lopsided when it comes to equality of the sexes; all the values and moral lessons are imposed only on girls/women and hardly any on the boys/men. Right from childhood, girls are taught to behave in a certain manner, perform various duties and be obedient daughters, sisters and wives. Women are taught that the men in their lives — be it fathers, bothers or husbands — are their protectors and their word is every girl’s command.
Daughters are never taught to be assertive or to stand up to their rights. They are never taught to look a man in the eye. Every woman in this country has faced eve teasing or other forms of sexual violations at least once in her lifetime and yet they are told to keep quiet and look the other way.
At the same time, the sons are taught to be assertive. In traditional Indian families a much younger brother has a right to impose his will on his sister. Boys are never specifically told to respect the women in their families. A man is never taught to respect the rights of his sister or wife. Men are discouraged from being compassionate; protectiveness towards the family’s women comes with assertiveness and aggression. While daughters are ‘taught’ to not get raped, sons are never told not to commit rape.
Sexual assault is a behavioural crime. They are committed by those who think that women are not individuals in their own capacity. Those with patriarchal mindsets are unable to cope with the changing personalities of women who are now becoming more confident and assert themselves. As more and more women are claiming rights over their own lives and liberties, it comes as a culture shock to a large number of men (and women) who have grown and lived with the ‘values’ that women are not meant to go out of their homes unaccompanied after dark, or that women who consume alcohol or wear short skirts are more often than not seen as promiscuous.
Most hooligans in the mass molestations this New Year’s eve were youngsters — many of them IAS aspirants training in New Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar — which is a matter of grave concern. It is an almost impossible task to change the mindsets of such youths, who have grown up seeing their mothers and sisters being intimidated by the men in their families and thus in future will treat their wives and daughters with indignation. What is also disturbing is the fearlessness with which several cops and a police station were attacked. This kind of courage comes only when there is no fear of the law. The feeling that the policemen are powerless and that one can get away with impunity leads people to commit crimes. When people know that they can get away by committing crimes, be it traffic violations, eve teasing or molestation, it has a direct effect on rise in crime graph. Thus it is important the molesters of the above-mentioned incidents are brought to book and punished to instil fear of the law and set the right precedent.
The Indian formula for women to escape molestation is to shut themselves up and not go out into the world, at least not beyond what is deemed necessary. After any incident of sexual assault, questions are first raised about the purpose for which a woman was out of her house. “What is the purpose of women venturing out at midnight on New Year’s eve?” ask the self-appointed ambassadors of Bharatiya Sabhyata.
It is so bewildering that in India women, who constitute half of its population, have to think twice about their safety before doing something as simple as stepping out for a walk after dark. They are bereft of the simple pleasures of life such as having chai alone at a tea stall, enjoying solitude in a secluded park, going for a run on the street before sleeping at night, travelling alone or taking a stroll.
It’s high time that instead of women being asked to be responsible for their safety, thekedaars of the society are told to mend their ways. A change in the mindset will need a revolution from women themselves. Women in large numbers must go wherever they want to, whenever they want to, wearing whatever they desire. Women, it is high time to let the world know that ‘girls will be girls’.