by Kanika Sud*
She dreamt of pursuing her higher education and enjoying civil liberties just like her brother. While the brother could choose the course of his career, possessed unrestricted freedom and had access to the public sphere, she could only drift in a reverie of doing so. She faced restrictions and burdens of performing back breaking house hold tasks, was unable to wear clothes of her choice, was expected to preserve and practice the cultural traditions, was not allowed to go out after a certain time, and if she did, countless questions were hurled at her. While at home she was constantly made to realize her identity as a ‘girl’, you’d like to believe outside was better, but it certainly wasn’t.
When she stepped outside her abode, the constant glares, cat calls, ogling, groping, etc. made her constantly apprehend every day, that she – a girl, in this patriarchal society, was destined to live a life of misery. She had to accept it as an inextricable aspect of her everyday existence. If any untoward incident occurred towards her, i.e. she was teased and raped; she was constantly blamed under the pretext that ‘she was asking for it’. A volley of questions and accusations would be tossed at her; ‘What were you wearing?’; ‘Why did you venture out at such an odd time?’; ‘You should have known better to go there!’
Why question the girl for something she is not responsible for in the first place? Why do we fail to question the behaviour of the perpetrator in question? Most of all, why are we so aversive to change? Look at our honourable Police commissioner Satyapal Singh’s comments! One would have laughed if these comments weren’t for real. Unfortunately they are, consequently making us recoil with fury. At such a time where crimes against women are on an immense high, sex education is the need of the hour. We need to get the young educated not only about anatomy but about attitudes too. But he proclaims otherwise.
In another instance, a renowned RJ puts the onus of women’s safety on the Bar dancers. Yes, because opening up of dance bars would prevent the men from attacking the ‘good girls’ – (read your wives, sisters, and daughters) Right! As if to say, men do not have an agency and are compelled to think from a space other than the one between their ears. Such statements reflect the fact that, men are socialized in a way which gives them a sense of entitlement to a woman’s body. They are internalized to believe that the responsibility to sexually gratify them lies with the women, so thank goodness for dance bars; otherwise women ought to beware, lest they be assaulted by a group of hungry ogres.
Our newspapers, news channels, social media outlets, atc. are replete with heaps of information on various atrocities committed against women every day. One positive aspect we can come across is that the newspapers and other media outlets, do not refer to the women at the receiving end of abuse as ‘victims’, but as ‘survivors’. Women, by virtue of their gender (along with other interlocking identities such as class, caste, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc) face enormous amount of atrocities in this patriarchy induced society. Women everywhere feel at risk of being violated, and if God forbid, they are violated, then in most scenarios they are held responsible, when in reality, the onus of the crime should have been the perpetrators.
In cases of domestic violence, many would shirk their responsibility as a fellow citizen to come forward and help the victim. They would conveniently identify it as ‘Ghar Ka Maamla’ and not intervene- reflecting an attitude that demonstrates the existence of a thick wall between the public and the private realm. Heck, marital rape is STILL not recognized as a crime in our country. As if it’s the duty of a woman to accept harsh treatment at her home, where she is supposed to feel safe!
All women in our country are at the risk of being sufferers of virulent atrocities like Rape, FGM, enforced child marriage, female foeticide and infanticide, acid attacks, forced servitude, abduction and imposed prostitution, sexual harassment, blatant victim blaming, dowry inflicted torture, etc in our excessively male dominated society. They are being constantly beaten, attacked, and ‘punished’ because many refuse to conform to the socially constructed notions of how a woman is ‘ought to behave’. Women in most places in India, get burnt, assaulted or mutilated because they either declined a proposal, transgressed ‘boundaries’ by getting into a relationship without their family’s knowledge and will, dressed ‘immodestly’, were a victim of sexual assault, or were talking to a male friend.
We need to question ourselves, why are so many women at the receiving end of such human rights violations? Why are these gruesome atrocities so normalized that we don’t even allow ourselves to wonder the legitimacy of these acts? It is taken for granted that – a woman’s body is supposed to be hidden, otherwise “she is at a risk of inviting attention and attack”, as if she were a piece of gold, and not a human being. Why have we not questioned such outmoded attitudes which do not serve us an iota of purpose?
Access to free mobility, speech, and safety from the petrifying apprehensions of gender based atrocities are every woman’s basic right. Yet, so many are denied their rights on some absurd ground such as culture, etc. Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International asserted that “Disparaging a woman’s sexuality and destroying her physical integrity have become a means by which to terrorize, demean, ‘defeat’ entire communities, as well as to punish, intimidate and humiliate women.”
Atrocities against women are a way to exercise male dominance, control, and power over them. Women are violated as they are perceived as unequal, meek, and submissive. (The fact that sexual assault is barely reported, committed by those who believe they can get away with the act of expressive power to another ‘subordinate’ human being, is a grave injustice). The historicity and pervasiveness of these and many more unspeakable atrocities against women and the patriarchal context, within which they function, serve to normalize and justify the grotesque forms of violations against women. It was not until the Women and Feminist movements came into the picture, that various forms of atrocities against women became a part of the public awareness campaigns worthy of deserving concern, in the USA and subsequently elsewhere.
Although we may have come a long way in understanding the importance of women’s rights, fostering equality and a gender just society, we still have a long way to go. Women are unsafe not only in the public sphere, but also in the private realm. Majority of the crimes against women happen by people they personally know and those who are supposed to ‘protect’ them, such as their own fathers, brothers, uncles, teachers, etc. This reflects the need to relinquish the notion that women need to take liability for their safety by being by ‘at the right place and right time’. The responsibility lies with each one of us, who are socially conditioned, to believe that ‘men naturally possess a ravenous appetite for power, and hence it’s obvious they perform such heinous acts’. Archaic notions such as these should be done away with, and there is a lot of unlearning and relearning to do on our part, to promote a gender just society. As Gloria Steinem quotes – ‘The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.’
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Kanika Sud is pursuing an MPhil in Sociology at the University of Mumbai, India. She is the author of an interesting Facebook page, The Feminist Goddess. Her interests include Sociology, Gender Studies, Social Psychology, Diaspora Studies, Qualitative Research methodology, Feminism, Feminist Science Studies and Media and Culture. We republish this article with Kanika’s permission from her blog, kanikasud21.wordpress.com.