“We have the best culture. In our culture there is no place for a woman,” says the Defendant lawyer of Nirbhaya’s case. 1 in 3 women globally is beaten, forced into sex or abused. 1 in 5 will become a victim of rape or attempted rape. Sexual violence is in some way ubiquitous. It is present in our homes, schools, colleges and is prevalent across all strata of society. It is present in times of peace as well as war. As long as women are culturally perceived as inferior beings, gender-based violence is here to stay.
In her Ted talk, Leslee Udwin, Director of ‘India’s daughter’, a documentary film on the Nirbhaya rape case that shook the nation, talks about how appalled she was at how common and ordinary the rapists were. None of them had the barbaric characteristics that were attributed to say a Jeffrey Dahmer or Josef Fritzl. Instead she witnessed just how average these men were. These men who were just brothers, neighbours, sons, husbands trying to make a decent living. The documentary and several such similar cases allude to the deep-rooted belief that women have no place in our society and that has several unfortunate repercussions.
From the time a child is conceived, the family yearns to know the gender, so much so that in India as the first line of defence against female foeticide, sex determination tests on pregnant women have been illegal since 1994. It doesn’t stop there – the agony for that girl is just beginning. The stream of messages sent out when sweets are distributed at the birth of a male child. The overburdened parents under constant stress of protecting the reputation of the daughter, underpinning the dichotomy of how unimportant the girl child is, yet so much resting on her virginity or the lack of it. This skewed view of human rights due to patriarchal influence is detrimental to the rights of women and even to society at large. According to this belief, women do not have control over their own bodies. Marital rape and domestic abuse are relegated to the “private sphere” rather than the “public sphere” and until the private realm is acknowledged as a place in which the rights of women are violated, little can be done to protect victims. Perpetrators are never held accountable for these crimes. All these single handedly promote rape culture. These are nothing but a set of beliefs that normalise sexual aggression of men and violence against women. They range from lewd remarks to molestation to rape.
To make matters worse, women are often blamed for the assault and viewed as bringing it upon themselves. In the movie Article 15, inspired by a true incident, the Dalit girls were raped as punishment for demanding an increase of Rs.3 in daily wages. In the Hathras case, the four men tried to strangle her as she resisted, and in defence the Brahmin and Thakur women of the village stated, “The men are innocent. They come from such good families. Also, is it always the man’s fault? Maybe she wanted it.”
Patriarchy asserts that women are not human and crimes against women, specifically rape, are not violations of human rights.
In addition to ongoing challenges, media is also guilty of objectifying women in shows and advertisements. A study found that women were sexually objectified about six times per hour during popular television shows. Women are viewed as objects for the sexual use of men rather than human beings. Rape is trivialized by media. Movies such as the blockbuster hit Pushpa normalises the men in power raping every virgin in the said village, sending out messages which make power tantamount to abusing “vulnerable, voiceless women”, where impunity is high and accountability non-existent. In popular culture, whether movies or music, harassment is normalised and the presentation carefully crafted to make it appear that women enjoy eve teasing, harassment, catcalling and coercion.
Historically, the onus of safeguarding a woman’s reputation and dignity lies with her and her family. There was a time when pepper sprays became the norm and girls were encouraged to carry them at all times in case of an unforeseen eventuality. Instead of dealing with the root of the problem and encouraging and incentivizing gender equality or mainstreaming a movement for the safety for women, the discourse has constantly been dealing with the outcome.
PC: Getty Images
So how does one go about uprooting that which underpins societal norms? If violence against women is the repercussion and symptom of a deep-rooted perspective, how do we treat the disease itself rather than the symptom? Can there be preventive measures? Lifestyle changes may benefit in the long run, as do exercising daily acts of gender equality. Balancing acts of power undo the stubborn fat of the patriarchal system. While looking through the lens of the victims in myriad ways, one needs to look beyond the margins of prevailing collective action, and into the realms of new waves of citizen and people’s action. Women to be accorded the value which equals that given to men. Just laws enacted that recognise women as autonomous and worthy of respect. Daughters looked at the same way sons are.
It is our shared society and our collective attitudes towards women which are responsible for men and their actions, and indeed that change begins at home.
By Deena Rodrigues
Deena is a communications professional who loves to travel. She enjoys exploring regions and cuisines. A certified Scuba diver and dancer, she believes that concerted actions and serendipity, both can leave this planet a better place.