Much has been said about the ills that ail our country and rightfully so, especially now given that we have been privy to a barrage of horrifying crimes against women. I honestly believe that our problems stem from gender inequity, which forms such an inherent part of Indian society. The Justice Verma commission in its report “Amendments to Criminal Law” has acknowledged the failure of good governance, but more importantly has pointed out that ‘attitudinal changes to correct the aberration of gender bias’ have to be brought about. This in my opinion should be the point of focus. Laws can be written and laws can be enforced, but instead of merely attempting to find a cure for this disease that plagues us perhaps it is time we worked on eliminating the root cause of the sickness. Correcting the gender bias prevalent in society cannot be dependent on legal sanctions alone.
“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of man, and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him. She is entitled to a supreme place in her own sphere of activity as man is in his. This ought to be the natural condition of things and not as a result only of learning to read and write. By sheer force of a vicious custom, even the most ignorant and worthless men have been enjoying a superiority over woman which they do not deserve and ought not to have. Many of our movements stop half way because of the condition of our women.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Men and women ought to be equal, and this should be how things naturally exist irrespective of the privileges of education or otherwise. Can a woman in India today, do as she wishes and if she did choose to do so, would she have the means to do these things? We have dug ourselves into such a deep hole over the years, digging ourselves out back into the light (pardon the cliché) is going to be a difficult task. It is a fact that women in India suffer every single day. An unwanted touch, a copped feel, a whispered slur, a brazen stare. We live in fear and discomfort. We seek the protection of company.
Education, we say is the answer. The unfortunate truth is that being literate does not create any change in mindset. In my personal experience, most eve-teasers skulking around on the roads and cruising in bikes are college students. These are young men, who most likely come from financially stable urban backgrounds. I wonder then, what can you point the finger at? Literacy is not the answer. The urban-rural divide doesn’t seem to feature as a cause and neither does economic status.
This form of education has to begin at home. A young child can only learn from his family and immediate surroundings. His father screaming at his mother after a long day at work, acceptable. His father hitting his mother, acceptable. His father pulling his sister out of school to get married, acceptable. Watching his mother submit to every one of her husband’s whims, acceptable. Watching his favourite actor’s stalk, chase and taunt their onscreen loves, acceptable. It is hardly surprising then that we turn out the way we do. We need to emphasize on equality right from the very beginning, or the vicious cycle will never cease. It starts at home and it needs to continue at school. Children need to be taught how to respect women, their personal space and the law. We need to introspect on how the popular culture we devour teaches young people how to objectify women.
So much of the blame really lies with ourselves. We accept the treatment meted out to us, and we choose to ignore it. Writer Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan put it in a way I think most young women can relate to.
When I was in high school, a popular local boy’s school had a fad with their car horns. Any time you heard these teenage boys, zipping across the city, they’d beep continuously, almost like a tune or a ditty: beep-beep-beep-beep-beeeeep-beep. It was a code, someone told me, laughing, but didn’t reveal the code till later. “Pakad, pakadke chod do.” I didn’t think the boys meant it, they were nice boys, my friends, and plus boys schools are dens of sexual deprivation, right? But then, later, I overheard a classmate in my co-ed school laughing about this “really cool” trick he pulled on weekends, going for a drive with a friend around M Block Market, slowing down when he saw a pretty girl and leaning out of the window, grabbing her breasts and driving away before she could react. The fact is, when the boys got to drive around in their cars, beeping, we were given notes on safety by our parents and our other girl friends. Rules of the rickshaw: never get in when there are two drivers. Rules of the teenage house party: if someone feels you up at a party, obviously it’s your fault, because you were drunk, and you mustn’t be a tease. We were very hard on each other. Girls regularly developed ‘reputations’. We never blamed the boys. It was always the outfit (so low cut!) the booze (she can’t control herself, ya!) the she-asked-for-it (well, she’s always hanging out with boys, anyway.) The boys spoke of it, if you asked, somewhat sheepishly and yet, with a certain amount of pride in their voices, and you’d have to be the Cool Girl, listening, nodding wisely, and thinking privately that you’d never be in a situation like that. We let them get away with it, and these were nice boys, boys who were educated and well brought up and probably don’t even think about that part of their lives anymore. Boys who socialized with girls, who had “rakhi-sisters” and yet.
And so it comes full circle. There is no Twelve-step Program for people recovering from gender-bias-ity. I wish there was.
- “Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law”, Justice J.S. Verma et al
- “How Do We Stop Rapes? India Looks For Answers”, http://tehelka.com/delhi-gangrape-outraged-india-reacts/