Recently when the Honâ€™ble Supreme Court of India upheld the death penalty for four culprits in the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape case, I felt a sense of vacuum lurking behind. The decision is applaudable, but there are questions even the so called â€˜feministsâ€™ in India are not ready to answer; what has tangibly changed for the average Indian woman in the last five years? Big media brouhaha, some pretty enterprising hashtags, few films showing rape and a consolatory verdict after four years are all we have to show for it. A woman, who was called â€˜Nirbhayaâ€™ for the fearless public reaction she evoked, would have been heartbroken at the fear mongering that the current popular narrative thrives on.
During the Universal Periodic
Review held last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Special Rapporteurâ€™s report has shined the torch on incidences of caste and gender-based violence. There were 73 recommendations for India specifically on womenâ€™s issues, varying from sexual violence to honour killing, including those from twelve countries pushing for criminalisation of marital rape and the removal of the exception related to marital rape from the definition of rape in the Indian Penal Code. Sadly though, going against the usual norm, all recommendations made last week at the UPR have been dumped in the pending list. This reflects the mindset of our government and the Indian society at large, which becomes defensive at the slightest suggestion of the uncomfortable ground reality concerning women in India. Till the denial exists, there is little hope for real change.
A while back, I was watching an auditions episode of the latest season of a reality show Roadies and was taken aback when judge Karan Kundra slapped an aspiring contestant Anshuman. The guy was asked if he would slap his sister and when he replied in the affirmative, Mr. Kundra reprimanded him with the usual â€˜ma behen ki duhaiâ€™ and went right ahead with a generous slap to prove his own masculinity and respect towards the wilting Maâ€™s and Behenâ€™s of the world. A film titled â€˜Kaabilâ€™(I.e. worthy In Hindi) tells the story of a blind woman who is successively raped, with titillating scenes of the acts to convey the â€˜seriousnessâ€™ of the subject and the filmmaker; The helpless girl commits suicide to save her â€˜kaabilâ€™ husband from shame and the blind husband proves his â€˜kaabiliyatâ€™ (worthiness) by murdering all the wrongdoers and not getting caught in the act. Both incidents are projected as heroic acts to avenge the hapless n helpless women, who supposedly lack the brain, brawn and enterprise to speak up for themselves.
Why does the protagonist of a child abuse film (Kahani 2) have to be a female kid when reports say that male child abuse is as rampant in India, if not more? Why doesnâ€™t a film on testicular cancer zoom in on the fearful face of the patient or the doctor as he fiddles with private parts of the patient (isnâ€™t the subject serious enough)? A disturbing trend is being set where modern endorsers of womenâ€™s rights who are reinforcing the popular perception that women exist as fragile objects to be pitied, protected or scandalized. The ever chivalrous men will protect them because all women are either their mothers, sisters or their god forsaken wives! A respectable man will never raise his voice or hit a woman, because if he is masculine enough, he will rather take on another mighty man (even if the woman is a bloody bodybuilder, murderer or just . . .wrong???)! All womankind is almost always just a single identity-less creature ever-morphing into multiplicity, all bundled into a single prototype existing either to take away every manâ€™s peace in whatsapp jokes and to be rescued and avenged by the brave men of the land!
Data from the National Crime
Records Bureau (NCRB) suggests a 34% increase in crimes against women from 2012 to 2015. Though some theorists believe that the rise just conveys the increased official reportage of such crimes, it cannot be the only reason. There might be some strong laws on paper now, the implementation of these laws is subject to their interpretation, which is essentially biased in nature. It might be because there are very few female judges in India; they constitute less than 11 per cent of the total number of High Court and Supreme Court judges in the country, a number which is much lower than the percentage of female members of parliament.
Despite the umpteen online petitions and activist groups peppering the internet, women are more at risk now than they were a decade back. The average twitter tweep would wonder how that is possible despite him signing the online petition against the same! And you Sir (and Madam) might be thinking that deranged moi wants to convince you that all efforts at bringing gender equality are futile. All I want to say is that perhaps we need a different approach.
The myth of â€˜female innocenceâ€™ is just a manifestation of misogyny. As a thriving half of the worldâ€™s population, is it so hard to imagine that every woman is different, that women CAN be pious, atheists, dumb, brilliant, funny, sulky, cunning, criminal and even psychopaths! The list is endless. To suggest that half the population should not be challenged because of their â€˜weakâ€™ gender is to take away an opportunity from the female population to exercise their agency and enterprise. Meanwhile masculinity is associated with power and enterprise. Femininity and masculinity are just human traits. Be it man or woman, we all have both these traits in varying degrees. We have to stop viewing traits considered feminine as inferior to the ones considered masculine; havenâ€™t the men suffered enough in their bid to be â€˜masculineâ€™?
Women are not innocent. They are not always right. They are not powerless. They are not always good cooks. Women donâ€™t need to be deemed perpetual â€˜Gods, mothers and sistersâ€™ to escape the male wrath. There are misogynist women and feminist men. Women are just mere mortals, with their own flaws, who need to be accepted as the equal half of humanity and challenged in an equal measure. All violence is unjustified, period. Amongst other things, we need to teach respect and restraint to our sons and self-assurance to our daughters, from a very young age when minds are impressionable. Men need to be told that they can question the opposite gender but not dismiss them; all women need not be their relatives. Indian men need to be informed that they can desire women but it is not ok to ambush their objects of desire; the same way that it is not acceptable ask another dissident man to a duel!
From Draupadi to Indira Gandhi to Priyanka Chopra, Indian women donâ€™t have a dearth of colourful examples. They donâ€™t need pity or protection. They donâ€™t even need separate ladiesâ€™ queues or reserved seats in buses (save those for the sick and elderly please!). Indian women just need an acknowledgement of our inherent power, period.