Whatever little rights the women of the Indian subcontinent have gained till now, most of it has been because of men. Men have fought with the misogyny-laden society in favor of abolishing the abhorrent practice of Sati, and facilitating the acquisition of suffrage, the ability to walk beyond the household boundaries, the rights to education and jobs by the women. That said, the number of good men are still very limited. Although some men have time and again assisted the women in their quest for progress by parting the wall of hindrances, most men have shoved women backwards. In fact, the number of men trying to force women into retreat has always been rather large.
I have been living in India for a while, because my right to reside anywhere in this subcontinent, other than in India, has been severely violated by a so-called democratic government, which doesn’t believe in democracy. By virtue of living in India for a few years, I have watched closely this country – the oldest democracy in the subcontinent, far ahead of its neighbors in education, and equality. It comes as a great shock and surprise to me when, every morning, the newspapers bring reports of rape; rape of minors, cold-blooded murders following sexual abuse – men are slaughtering women by strangling, shooting, hacking, burning and stoning them to death. What surprises me the most is the resounding lack of protests against such horrors. Thousands take to the streets in protest if the price of onions or petrol vary a little bit, but the rape and abuse of hundreds of women doesn’t motivate a single man or woman to protest. People have become desensitized to rape after hearing about and encountering such heinous incidents on a regular basis; no longer is someone shocked by the news of rape. Even the news media are no longer interested in reporting about rape. It is not considered newsworthy unless a gang-rape occurs.
A young woman in Delhi was gang-raped in a moving bus by some men just this other day. Not just a gang-rape, something even more horrific. Hurting her with their penises didn’t adequately satisfy their blood-lust; inserting an iron rod into her genital organ, they ruptured her uterus and ripped out her intestines. But they didn’t stop there. Their rapacious merriment over, they threw the almost dead woman out of the moving bus. One could not expect her to survive; indeed, the young woman, after valiantly battling death for a few days in hospitals, finally succumbed to her irreparable injuries today.
For the very first time, folks were angry. Or did it wake them up? Does wakefulness appear so easily? It is true that for the first time, thousands of men and women of all ages took to the streets demanding from their government the safety and security for the womenfolk. It has also been demanded that the perpetrators should be hanged by the neck till death. Capital punishment by hanging is not a major issue to this government – it is a rather easy, hassle-free solution. But it is a lot more difficult to take measures so that men cease to see women as sex objects, so that from a tender age, human beings learn to recognize and treat other human beings as human beings. The responsibility for this tough task should devolve upon the government, surely.
Of course, parroting lofty lines such as “men and women have equal rights; don’t treat women as subhuman beings; don’t hurt them, don’t rape them;” from an early childhood is no guarantee that the message would reach the brains. Even if it does, when children, adolescents and young adults continuously witness at home or elsewhere that men are vocal, men take charge, while women play the second fiddle and lurk in the background, that experience fills their brains to the exclusion of everything else. Experience at brothels in the youth also teaches them that anything can be done with women’s bodies, no matter if the woman is a child; that it is not largely considered an offence in the contemporary society. The same goes for one’s wife. Sexual abuse of the wife, also known as marital rape, may now well be a criminal act by law, but it’s not a culpable infraction in the eyes of the patriarchal society. This is similar to the way in which the dowry system – illegal and prohibited by law – still flourishes in the society, proving every day that women are rather inferior, powerless, voiceless, lower-order beings – that the entire lives of women are to be dedicated to bribing the menfolk into accepting them as slaves.
Married women bear various marks on their bodies to advertise their marital status. Just as lifeless photo-frames are sometimes marked with a red mark as ‘sold’, the application of the red vermilion mark on the forehead and the parting of hair suffices as a veritable purchase notice for married women; for them, from the hair on the scalp to toenails are considered property of their husbands. Married men, however, are never properties of their wives. If protests against the rape of women carry on while leaving such patriarchal traditions intact, would rapes ever stop? On one hand, ninety-nine percent of Bollywood movies portray women as sex-objects, television carries the same message, newspapers splash images of barely-clad women; everywhere the women are merely bodies – smooth, soft skin; only breasts, only genitalia; their brains are not brains – women philosophers are not philosophers, scientists are not scientists, intellectuals are not intellectuals, professionals are not professionals. Once they are within reach, are men going to discuss science and philosophy, or are they going to be more inclined towards rape? I don’t think men don’t know that whatever a woman might wear, be it a short skirt or nothing, no one has the right to rape her. I think men know it well. At the same time, they also know that they are the decision makers! Men have more muscles, more brains, more courage; they can take greater risks, and they are beyond shame and fear; men are brave, fearless, powerful, stronger both physically and mentally – there is nothing they cannot do. This is what they have learnt, this is what they have been taught every moment of every day since their birth. The act of rape, to these men, is an evidence of their virility. The truth is, however patriarchy has raped women’s bodies, it has raped women’s minds even more; it has raped their vitality, their lives and liveliness, their limitless possibilities, dreams and freedoms. A physical injury often heals, an emotional injury doesn’t.
This has been transpiring for centuries. All living organisms evolve. The human species has sustained for so long because it has adapted to evolving conditions and situations, from good to better, from better to still better. Within the same species, if one group continues to persecute another simply on the basis of different genitalia, that time may not be far when the entire species would become extinct. If men cannot control their proclivity to rape, if enjoyment continue to come from forcing oneself upon another, then the evolution of human beings would progress only towards destruction. Very few species consciously oppress or torment the female of the species. Gang-rape? No other species, barring humans, show such loathsome inclinations.
Humans are intelligent, as evidenced from their various endeavors. They have sent machines to Mars, but cannot create an equitable environment on their own planet for men and women to live together in equality, equal rights, empathy, understanding, peace and harmony – is it because they lack intelligence, wherewithal or a desire to do the right thing? I suspect the latter. Even if I accept that men rape because they are stronger, but society, state or the nation doesn’t run on merely strength. They run on intellect. Have the menfolk raped their own intelligence, conscience, and hearts to a comatose state? Ripping apart their consciousness, they are raping their own future!
Who will change the society, then? The powers-that-be. Those who made up the patriarchal society. Those who are powerless, oppressed, raped, and tortured, what can they do? The presence of the tormentor, oppressor groups at the anti-rape protests on the streets of Delhi are far more important than the presence of the tormented and oppressed. The torments shall cease when the tormentors cease operations and withdraw. If they stop for fear of retribution, the cessation may not last as much as it would if they stop because they understand, because their eyes have opened. That would certainly be a longer-term solution.
That India is the largest democracy in the world is true from the perspective of its population count. However, democracy is not restricted to mere arrangement of elections. Democracy encompasses equal rights and equal freedom of expression for men and women, rich and poor, everyone. Contemporary India has neither, let alone the entire subcontinent. In a true democracy, people live in safety and security. Would the expressed outrage of a subsection of the Middle Class be at all effective in bringing true democracy? Only solution, perhaps, is a mass uprising. Political maneuvers keep such mass uprisings in abeyance in the subcontinent. Watching and living with inequities and injustices day in and day out, human beings get used to these social evils. A majority of folks don’t know or understand what equality or equal rights means. Unfortunately, most of the deprived don’t realize they are deprived; most of the distressed can’t recognize their harassment.
Let them know, let them realize, and then wake up.
(My sincere thanks to Kausik Datta @kausikdatta22 for translating my Bengali write up)