DNA Column – No Country for women

My column in today’s DNA

In the vast ocean that is the World Wide Web, is a site called Maps4aid.com. It is a crowdsourcing project that meticulously documents violence against women and children in India. Spending a fraction of an hour on this site is enough to send one into the pits of deep lasting depression. The site tells you what most women have known for ever – India is a deeply misogynistic nation where violence against women is the norm not the exception; where violence is sudden and casual; where demand for sex is considered a right; where forcing a woman is considered normal; and where more often than not, the rapist gets away with it.
The Delhi rape case would have been just one more rape case, but for the other brutality exhibited by the rapists. A woman travelling back with a male escort (therefore not alone), in public transportation (albeit privately owned and run); around 9 at night (therefore not late) with people in it (therefore not empty), was gang raped, sodomised, brutalised with an iron rod and discarded on the streets like a piece of used garbage. The girl is still critical. She was more than a sexual vessel for a bunch of depraved men out on a joy ride. She had dreams, hopes and aspirations; a desire to go beyond basic education and to study to be a professional worthy of respect. She was studying to be a physiotherapist. Her parents backed her ambition, instead of providing dowry, they sold a part of their fields to educate her and make her a professional. The kind of behaviour, one hopes, that most parents exhibit towards their daughters.
The Delhi gang rape case has shocked the nation. But, it is neither the first rape that India has seen, nor will it be the last. About six years ago, the state of Maharashtra was shocked out of its collective wits by the brutal gang rape and murder of Priyanka Bhotmange and her mother by a village baying for blood. She was a 12th standard student who hoped to be a policewoman. People tried hushing up the case, but there are events that are too brutal to be hushed up. However, neither the graphic descriptions of the case, nor the sentences to the guilty have stopped rape or violence against women.
If you glance through any news website, any TV channel, any newspaper, it is impossible to avoid stories of rape, especially gang rape. English media doesn’t pick up too many stories from small town or rural India, but when you glance through regional newspapers you will come across horrific crimes against women. Most of these are also linked to class and caste. Women were anyway at risk thrice over – on account of gender, on account of caste and on account of class. And now there is an added factor – rage. A deep visceral rage against women doing well, being independent, and considering themselves to be equal to men. That rage is seen manifesting itself in the number of acid attacks, murders, rapes, and violence against women who dare say no. An independent woman outside ‘male protection’ is seen as ‘fair game’ – available for hunting.
This gang rape case, more than anything else, exemplifies the chasm between the two Indias. A modern India where women are equal, have the right to dream and hope for a better tomorrow as an individual in their own right, far removed from the demands of patriarchy and societal obligations; and an India that is deeply feudal, that believes that women are chattel, that might is right, that the rule of law is about might. India lives in multiple time frames simultaneously. There is the aspirational India which talks of equality; there is an India of the caste panchayats & religious diktats that is deeply feudal and there is the India that lives between these two extremes trying to ensure that its children can see a better tomorrow at the same time as tolerating and condoning the excesses of social repressiveness in the name of culture.
There is something terribly wrong with Indian society and the way it treats women. It starts at the womb and discarding the girl-child like garbage. It goes on to her second class status in society, in general. It continues with her being the last priority throughout her lifetime. And unless these change, unless they are made to change by the iron will of the state, there is no hope for women kind. This will continue to remain no country for women


  1. Author

    Women are at risk on account of gender. Isn’t one of the observations from the spate of sexual crimes against women that these crimes are not restricted to any one strata of society – socio-economic or otherwise? Women of all class levels are targeted irrespective of their religion or caste. The theory that rape is about power and not (just?) libido is also supported by many feminists. So I don’t understand how the author states that women are at risk because of caste or class. To me, it seems that they are attacked anyway. It is probably only in the public and media reaction to the rape that caste and class factors may surface.

    1. Author

      traditionally class and caste – very simply because Upper class/caste women sequestered in the home – where as lower caste/class women went out to work – fields, markets, other people’s homes. Also in feudal set ups – and much of India is still feudal – it was/is considered the right of the landowner to have control over the body of the women in that region. Including the ‘suhaag’ raat. 🙁
      In urban centres it is just gender – and also independence. there is a lot of rapes that don’t get reported. Friends who work in women’s rights organisations tell me that in shanties and slums – it is so prevalent that it is considered ‘normal’ :(. and it is because the woman stands up and says no. Also, a lot more random attacks on women. like the one in Delhi.

  2. Author

    well-written (disclosure – cousin). awful case. My 2 cents are that attitudes toward women require a sea-change, and the revolts in ND may be India’s answer to the Arab Springs.

    1. Author

      😀 thank you
      i don’t think the problem is only external – the State can definitely have better policing and a faster criminal justice system. But what do you do with men who think it is their right to rape 🙁

  3. Author

    India is enraged! Brutalizing of one woman has finally shaken it up. Disgust gave way to anger to protest to chaos. Some patchwork responses are in. And the talking India is still boiling. Metropolitan women are not buying it. Educated men are shocked a bit. And the institutions are responding with their characteristic inertia.

    But in India, it’s not just about women! Its never been! India does not respect its weaker, whether women or men; young or old. Its elites are happy with page 3 and the rest of the “educated” continue to play with the toys the rest of the world throws at them. Amidst all this, the biggest pass-time of the powerful, no matter how powerless they may be, is to subjugate the weaker and toss around their ranks where they can.

    The rest of the 90% who are subjugated are considered “idiots”, who live centuries behind, in the times before democracy was invented! Its leaders have sold themselves in search for power, their soul, their progeny, their future in search of a little extra power or money or joy they may probably be tossed!

    Just the way a young adult, 23 year old woman, with ambition to stand on her own and support her family “like a son”, confident enough to take a public transport one late evening, with a male friend to keep company and protect, just in case she had to come face to face with the realities of Delhi, was made to face the unspeakable brutality of half a dozen men who ganged up to ravish her, thrashed her male friend unconscious, and, when denied their right to subjugate any woman they could, brutalised her in unspeakable ways.

    Then dumped like garbage, she was left in a condition that shocked the doctors attending on her. She was brutalized badly enough for her intestines to be taken out for ever, a week of being on a ventilator and a few surgeries later, her health bulletin given to the nation periodically, she is still not out of danger.

    This was brutal enough to shock a nation that has been so busy playing with its new found toys from cars to cell phones that were handed down to it by the rest of the humanity that thinks ahead, imagines the future and tries to extend the frontiers of knowledge and human comfort by the day.

    What has transpired since has exposed virtually every aspect of India’s social order. The way its police, judiciary, polity, administration, media, common folks think about India has all come unravelling.

    The trinity of power, sex and money (PSM) drive every aspect of India’s social organization. Each of its organs responds only to incentives of PSM. It was not until the story of the unfortunate woman somehow caught attention of some media folks that the police showed some movement. Media also helped judiciary wake up to monitor the case as the police investigated and rounded up the culprits. But as the stories of the woman’s suffering reached more and more people, initial disgust turned into anger and finally boiled down to spill over across the streets and a few cities and culminated in the capital of capital, the Vijay Chowk, within yards of the hills from where India governs itself.

    Social networks were busy twittering. Knee-jerk reactions wanted to hang the culprits, have a summary trial, make it an exception and show how ready to lynch we can be.

    The key political parties stayed out of the melee. When they did they did not cover themselves with glory. If one party stage-managed a meeting of fake protesters it was afraid to name, the others had little to say, not even any thoughtful comment seemed necessary.

    Media has its fair share of moles from all parties. those siding with the Government spread rumours that will quell the protest or make it disappear. The Govt is believed to have played the Sachin Tendulkar card to distract the attention by announcing his partial resignation from one day cricket. Some of the members of media were busy declaring a cop dead and scuffled with the police and some others took an activist role and were preaching rather than reporting. Consider a judge educating the accused before the trial sets in!

    And what have we achieved? Anger, a promise to fast track the trial, some fun at India Gate under water cannons, tear gas and batons being swung, some 150 people injured and probably a court for speedy trials of woman victims!

    Will that change the way India looks at its women? Any more than capital punishment stops murder? Or any more than the laws stop crime?

    Reminds me of a long conversation I had with Shankaracharya, one of the five that India has traditionally deferred to. What he said was revealing. He preferred not to expose a woman with even father, brother or son in a private space just as he did not recommend a man share privacy with his sister, daughter or mother. Because the primal instincts are way too powerful for humans to control and in the situations its all about power play.

    I do not know how many men will come forward to acknowledge their harassment by their physical superior friends or foes in the school days and subjugate them in ways that will qualify to be called rape. India takes that almost naturally as a part of the evolution and it does not get reported. The behaviour is rampant and yet invisible just as the groping of women by friends and strangers alike has been an integral part of their growing up.

    Good news is that values help us create that boundary that keeps us from falling prey to our primal instincts. Education, of the right kind and not the rote that India offers its 90%, greatly helps. Education that allows minds to get engaged with interesting ideas takes us away from the temptations of the hormones. The western society has been fine tuning what is aggression against women for now and Julian Assange’s case is something most Indians may not be able to appreciate and though I side with Assange, I still see the merit of the law where a No in the middle is as much as a No as in the beginning.

    From brutalising, if denied, to stopping at a No in the middle is a very long journey in gender relations. And that is the gap Indian society faces vis a vis its more productive and imaginative counterparts across the oceans. Gender relations also follow the path of human progress. More imaginative and creative and intellectually engaged we get, fewer are the possibilities of rage. They do not get eliminated, however. But good governance with sensitivity to respect every individual fine times the way we deal with each other.

    Crimes do not go away. They become rare. Women are advised to be ready to deal with exceptional situations just as much in societies that are affluent and have laws with kind of transparent governance. That seldom eliminates crimes. America’s CSI show is a reminder that nature is not easy to tame. And if our expectations are as idealistic as they must be, we have to do a lot more to change our values from very early on. Not having patience will hardly change the results. The evolution over thousands of years will not be concluded to our satisfaction over night. But if we educate our young to be creative and sensitive from childhood, from primary schooling, we may have a far more tolerant society by the time they grow up. 15 years of thoughtful patience can help accomplish a lot more than any knee-jerk, patch-work response may!

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