Being a woman in India

By Shreya

16 December 2012 has been marked as black day in Indian history, when a 23 year old paramedical student, Jyoti Singh was gangraped in a moving bus by 6 men in New Delhi, not only was she gangraped, but was also brutalised; she displayed immense strength and courage but unfortunately could not sustain the injuries and lost the battle and died on 29 December 2012 in a Singapore hospital. But the questions that were raised by the attack and her death still linger on people’s mind.

There is a widespread perception within and outside of India that – as put by Rashmee Roshan Lall in an article for Foreign Policy magazine – the country has ‘a woman problem.’

On September 13, 2013, a Delhi court sentenced to death four of the six men accused of the gang-rape and murder of Jyoti. While this verdict was greeted with joy by her family and many sympathizers around the country, Dr. Aisha Gill, writing on the feminist website ‘thefword.org.uk’, described it as a short-cut way to quiet public anger that does not deal with the complex socio-political factors driving violence against women.

BEING A WOMAN IN INDIA

India’s image and its development is often tied to its GDP growth, CAD, budget deficit , unemployment rate and other economic factors, the social structure of the country is another factor that is often considered but the fact remains that, there is no conclusion and zilch definite steps taken by the concerned authorities in order to address the issue. In November 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama described the country as ‘not just a rising power’ but one that has ‘already risen.’ This optimism was clouded by the findings of a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters in 2011, according to which India is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women. Women are threatened by multiple forms of violence including burnings, acid attacks, beatings and rape.

LET’S TRY AND ANALYSE THE CAUSE

Many people argue that it is the mentality of men that leads to all crimes against women but by placing the entire blame on men we are actually underestimating the problem. Our deep rooted beliefs are a major cause. Traditional Hindu beliefs hold that girls should be brought up to be good daughters and later obedient wives. In Islam, women are required to wear burka and cover themselves suggesting the view that it is indeed women who provoke men. My intention is not to point out at any particular religion, but just to convey the point that each religion imposes different restrictions on women. Why are no restrictions imposed on how men should dress up, how they should behave…why are there no precedents set for men for them to act in consonance with social norms!!??

Author and activist Arundhati Roy observed that violence against women- particularly rape- is a means of asserting power, particularly from the perspective of men who feel that they lack power in other dimensions of their life, such as their socio-economic situation.

In an article for the Hindu newspaper written in January 2013, Praveen Swami makes a similar point. India’s economic transformation is producing ‘’a mass of young, prospect-less men’,” under enormous pressure to succeed in an economic sense but finding few opportunities to do so. This, in combination with sexist popular culture plastered all around them, has led to a situation where women’s bodies have become ‘’the principal terrain on which male rage is venting itself,’’ and the sexually independent woman in particular is perceived as an implicit threat and insult.

I have even heard many grandparents and parents pointing out the fact that it’s the ‘western culture’ that has lead to an upsurge in the number of crimes against women. I would like to question them all, that the majestic Khajuraho temples were built between 950 and 1150 in Madhya Pradesh, when there was no impact of western culture on the Indian society! Yaa…some alien sculpted those temples from the ‘West’ right!

Many people say that women should not wander on streets after 8pm or should not go to night clubs and should not wear short clothes, this all arouses men, is that true? So if a man sees chairperson of UPA Sonia Gandhi at 11pm on a lonely street in short clothes, will that man take turns to rape her? No, he won’t, because he would be afraid about the consequences. So the fact is it is not about clothes or the place or the time, it is about lack of action against the culprit, it is about the attitude of police force, it is about the weak implementation of laws governing the protection of women and the loopholes that exist in our system.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

What is needed now is a ‘social revolution’ for empowering women, which must seek to reform “the mind-set and old thoughts of our society.” Such a change cannot be achieved in a courtroom or through mass protest. It requires instilling particular values to boys and girls, at home, at school and in the public sphere. Conceptions of masculinity and femininity must be readjusted to place emphasis upon respect for the self and for others.

This change in mind-set must be accompanied by institutional reform, so that the victims of violent crimes who are brutalized not just by their attacker but thereafter by the system they appeal to or live with can seek some help.

Despite these deep-rooted structures of patriarchy, there is plenty within the rich and historical culture of India that not only affirms the value and dignity of women but portrays them as leaders and warriors. Women can be found at the highest levels of almost every area of public life in India, from politics to academia to cinema.

However, the fact remains unaltered that many women are still victims of battery all over the world. These women may be western, eastern, white, black, rich, poor, or with any characteristics or backgrounds. They all share one thing; they all are victims of violence.

Now that those accused of the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey have been tried, and the protesters and their placards have left the streets, the difficult journey towards identifying and changing the inherited prejudices of a collective conscience must continue.

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