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Geek by profession, thinker/writer/artist by passion. Part-time blogger,social media enthusiast and a tramp by nature :) A Man Of Mud


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Introspection On Gender-Equality In India

The mindset has to change,this has been repeated almost ritualistically after the heinous crime in Delhi that has left the nation ashamed. But how does it begin ? The underlying cause is the growing intolerance of independent women among a large section of people. From passing lewd comments,harassment in public place/transport/at work, the obnoxious custom of dowry, domestic violence and instances of honor killings are some of the other misdeeds and offenses arising out of the this misogynistic mindset prevalent which in worst cases leads to rape and brutalization of women. To ensure that such gruesome acts are never repeated it is necessary to find out the reason for the intolerance and a feasible solution to end it.

During last two weeks I have observed that a lot of people who have been genuinely shocked,pained and outraged, continue to believe that if women are "more careful", such incidents may become less frequent. This is actually a dilution of the belief system characterized by the thought that women wearing short clothes provoke crime against themselves. The gruesome incident may have shaken many people out of apathy,especially on the subject of gender-based violence but it is not very clear what course of action they should take.  I think the sentiment of retribution is not adequate enough, measures to prevent such ghastly crimes should be a multi-pronged approach. Capital punishment can act as deterrent but to a certain extent which may be as much as it has in murder cases fulfilling the criteria of section 302 IPC or perhaps even more. But it does not address the root of the problem, of which rape is the most gruesome manifestation but not the only one. The cancerous malaise at the root of our society is reluctance to accept women as equal partners in all spheres of life.

 Patriarchal values in the Indian subcontinent have deeper roots than we acknowledge them to be. They are ingrained in the culture, but then Indian culture is both diverse and assimilative. A culture which can assimilate modernism without losing its essence can and has to accept gender-equality in absolute terms. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that traditions and customs are not always  based on wisdom and they are certainly not timeless. More importantly, prevalent traditions and customs are not the same as religion though they often seem inseparable  (I am tempted to explain this further but for the sake of brevity I will desist). If I say that a woman is an independent and equal partner of man, I am sure no one would dispute it but if we take a closer look at most of the traditional institutions, what we find is quite contradictory.

A woman's social identity is often defined by her relationship with the male. For instance,if you (assuming you are a man) are filling an application form of any of the various governmental department, you would be required to provide not only your own name but also your father's name also, whereas your wife would have to provide your name to identify herself. Further, the practice of women changing their surname to that of their husband continues, though the trend is slowing down. Case in point is a sportsperson who has been called a youth icon and a feminine icon and who now tweets under the name Sania Mirza-Malik. (Btw, I may mention here that Islam forbids the practice) This harmless tradition is actually based on the ancient concept that the man holds dominion over his family and women belong to him. Even now women are considered to represent honor of the family,clan,tribe,community but it is not as honorific concept as it sounds. For our tribal ancestors cattle symbolized wealth, territory suzerainty  women symbolized honor, all three being possessions that enhanced the owner's prestige over his rivals.

 During armed conflict the victorious usually captured and enslaved women and children or raped the women to morally crush the opponent, a practice which continues even today during ethnic cleansing, communal riots and similar violent conflicts .The act itself is not committed for sexual gratification but for subjugation and domination,they are meant to humiliate the males of the defeated tribe as inability to protect their women is considered the biggest blow to their manliness. Within the tribe or group itself, these crimes are committed more for personal gratification of the beastly instincts. Currently in our society,victims of this beastly act suffer twice. First by the perpetrator then by society that ostracizes them, implicitly if not explicitly. As protesters demand  for the victim of the Delhi gang-rape case, I wonder why no one gives a thought to other victims of similar ordeal who have survived but remain unacceptable to society.

 As for that matter, why does the administration think that revealing the identity of the victim may make her family members vulnerable to  embarrassment  and social stigma ? As far as I know this 23 year old student was brutalized  by gang of more people with more physically stronger men, armed with rod, yet she fought with them leaving  teeth marks on three of them which would be  later be admitted by the courts  as evidence     . She fought with death for two weeks  and also gave testimonial to the magistrate thus ensuring  that the culprits can be convicted.  If indeed people consider her a brave-heart the next question that arises is why would they stigmatize her family ? Brave hearts deserve medals not embarrassment. !

We may have evolved into a more civilized society, but some of our values continue to be rooted in our primitive past and can be found in popular culture. For instance,nearly all television serials continue to promote patriarchal values, even those with themes aimed at gender sensitization end up glorifying male chauvinism. Hindi terms and catechism used in these serials are thoroughly regressive, but repackaged with glamour and cultural jingoism. In a manner they reflect the same view that some conservative politicians have made in the last week.Political and religious leaders should be held more accountable. There is an urgent need to sanitize the language used in the films and television and by leaders as well as the common people. While freedom of expression is sacrosanct one cannot turn a blind eye to the changed social reality.

The term  "Harijan", a name  patronizingly given to the oppressed class by Mahatma Gandhi, is now considered derogatory and mere utterance of it constitutes an offense. Laws enacted to protect the dalits from further victimization as well as to sensitize the rest of the people of the plight of the dalits have at least been partly successful. Why can't similar laws and social initiatives be introduced to check misogynistic statements ? Needless to say, if at all such laws are passed the punishment they provide may not be more than a slap on the wrist, but this is exactly what is needed ! A change in mindset has to begin with change in our vocabulary.

A truly democratic and egalitarian society cannot call itself that as long as half of its population live in a society that is seen only from the masculine view even if women play active role in the same society. Respecting woman as the life-bringer, as the mother, sister, wife, daughter is a highly emotive sentiment, we treasure it, we celebrate it, we even worship this feminine but it is not enough. All we have to do is accept in our heart the truth we already know but forget, that besides being core part of family a woman is also a distinct individual with mind of her own and who has te absolute right to live as she wants to,to wear whatever she  wants to and exercise her fundamental rights on her own terms. Accepting woman's  individuality and her inalienable rights  is the magic mantra.

In response to calls to citizens for suggestion on how to tackle the menace, following suggestions were submitted by yours truly :)

1. Special teams in plain-clothes may be deployed in public places such as malls,parks and even by-lanes to apprehend those harassing women or even passing lewd comments, red handed.  However, penalty should vary depending upon the enormity of offense. The identity of the offender may be recorded,penalty should definitely go up in cases of repeat offenders.
Caveat :  Cops shouldn't become moral police or surrogate parents or otherwise be unreasonable.
2. Laws  making misogynistic statements as offense, only when statements made to public gathering or news agencies. (bailable offense except in case of repeat offenders)
3. Police officers (at least 1 per team) may be trained how to use smartphones/ tablets optimally, especially in using GPS, Maps, access online database etc.  Leverage social media initiatives to communicate/sensitize and instill confidence in the users. Social web can be one of the best avenues to receive information on offenses.
 Caveat: Leverage web technology only, not try policing the web.