Friday, December 21, 2012

No Country for Women

The more I read about the gang rape of the 23 year old student in Delhi, the more I feel helpless about not being able to do anything about it. Having learnt the details of the gruesome crime, I left for work feeling both aghast and extremely angry. I  wondered that in a country where only one in four rape accused gets convicted, what the odds of her getting justice were. And more importantly, I hoped this will be one of the last sacrifices a woman will have to make before our country wakes up to creating a system that is a strong deterrent to such acts - including others such as abduction, dowry harassment, molestation, domestic violence, honour killings, female foeticide, forced prostitution or even verbal harassment and eve teasing. (No wonder India has been ranked as worst country for women of the G20 countries, even behind Saudi Arabia!)

I am not going to talk about stuff that we read in the headlines. I will talk about the lives of the ones I know and my own. I have witnessed a woman being groped in public by a group of hooligans while she was getting off a shared passenger tempo. A cousin of mine was harassed and beaten for dowry for many years until she divorced her husband. My maid left her husband because he was physically abusive. One of my friends confessed to me about how a member of her family had once made an attempt to take advantage of her when she was 13. Another friend spoke about how his friend and neighbour was killed on resisting a sexual assault (this one made it to the headlines). I am appalled by the frequency with which I hear/see such instances of varying degree in my daily life. I can go on and on but I intend to focus on a more deeper problem - of the male mentality.

I started a discussion with my team (graduates from a tier two college) over lunch about the recent cases in Delhi and Mumbai. One asked who the Delhi victim will marry, to which the other replied "the guy who she was with in the bus". Regarding the rape of the Spanish woman and murder of my friend's friend in Mumbai, they commented that it is not always the male fault - "Women should not encourage men by wearing provocative clothing and inviting unnecessary conversation". My friend who's friend was killed was asked in the interrogation by the police - "What was a girl doing with a him at 10.30PM in his house when they were 'just' friends?" and "Did she always wear clothes like this (probably pyjamas/shorts and tee shirt) ?"

To such male chauvinism and highhandedness, I have the following questions:

Why should a woman dress decently to prevent rape? Even if she is naked, would it still not be her prerogative whether to get physical with a man? Why can't men stay at home to keep the women safe? Why does a woman with many male friends become immoral? Why is the onus on women to not get raped? And the more universal questions related to all acts of violence against women -Why is a woman victimized when her only crime is "being forced" into the act?

The worst part is this chauvinism is not restricted to just one section of the society - it's prevalent across economic classes, castes and education levels - more in case of some pockets of the country, less in case of some others. I can't speak on behalf of these men because I don't fall in their category.

However, I can't do nothing about it. I can challenge the derogatory mindset when I get an opportunity. I can help and support the ones who have been roughened up by these experiences. I can educate children on the importance of being sensitive to people from all genders and respecting their opinion. I can vote for governments which take proactive steps in prevention of violence against women. I can respect the women in my life for the individuals they are.

I can't be both enraged and helpless - anger is valuable driving force best not wasted. I can however channelize these feelings into better activities and not just FB/Twitter symbolisms. I can change one person's views and hope that the next time he looks at a woman as a sexual object that can be owned and abused, he remembers my words. 

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