The new year has dawned with some disturbing visuals, bringing back the dreaded debate on women safety. I call it dreaded because it’s not exactly a subject that is debatable. Yet, every time a crime against a woman is reported, the opinion comes out divided. A trail of predictable questions follow: Why was she out so late? What was she wearing? Was she drunk? Why was she alone? If not alone, who was she with? The Ws don’t end. As much as we want to ignore the victim blaming section of our population, it is in fact too large to ignore.
Why do people find it so difficult to blame, uniquely and completely, the perpetrator of the crime? This question however has very few takers because the answers are too uncomfortable for a society as complacent as ours. The answers take us back to the evils of patriarchy, rooted in our culture so deep, that any hopes of getting rid of it, is currently, at best an utopia. I wonder why patriarchy refuses to die, even when it’s expiry date is long over and it’s relevance has long ceased. Now there’s a “why” I would like to debate on.
Let’s begin by understanding that the idea of curbing violence after it manifests, is flawed. Like everything else, violence originates as a thought, and as long as we don’t succeed in curbing that thought, little will change. Unfortunately, we have social systems in place, that don’t just accept the idea of violence against women in thought, but even nurture them.
It all starts with the birth of a female child. For an Indian parent, a male child is an insurance for old age but daughters are assets to be given off. Even today, they are conditioned to grow up as “Paraya Dhan” The violence originates right there – as a consequence of the gender discrimination that classifies girls as assets and boys as insurance.
If you google the word asset (dhan), it throws up a simplistic definition – “an item of property owned by a person or company, regarded as having value and available to meet debts, commitments, or legacies. Now you know why Yudhishthira gambled his wife and why contemporary men size us up, assess our worth with preying eyes, or grab us without consent. It is but natural for them, to hold us in contempt if we do anything more than just sit pretty, as that is not what the definition says in the syllabus of Indian culture.
To make matters worse, this dhan does not belong to the family that created it, which brings me to my second question. Where’s a woman’s space? The family that she is born into has reared her up only to “give her off” in an elaborately expensive wedding ceremony, often risking bankruptcy. It doesn’t help if today women go to B schools, earn degrees and have their own income, the final agenda for the parents remain unchanged: Yeah, she can pay her own rent, but beti to beti hoti hai.
So after the grand punya of the pious kanyadaan, when a woman moves into a new family, is that her space? Definitely not. It’s a challenge imposed on her, by the virtue of being a woman, to keep trying to find her place in a limited space with already established stakeholders. That’s why all this debate about reclaiming space seems rather incongruous, when she is not accorded any space to begin with.
Indian men are inherently violent towards women in their minds, often without realising it, because they are raised proudly as entitled sons. Against the law of nature, in our society, we don’t ask them to leave their nests when it’s time to build their own family. Instead we serve them with a life partner on platter, who is already conditioned for a lifelong struggle to “adjust & find a place for herself” in his home. Is it any surprise that they feel strongly entitled to all the struggles of the opposite sex?
Our country is fond of patting its own back with reference to flattering numbers in terms of lesser divorce rates and successful joint families, but conveniently ignores that the burden of this moral high ground is almost solely dumped on women. When some complain, we shut them with the goddess analogy. Idealistic claims are made in world wide forums: In India,we treat women like goddesses and they deserve a pedestal for all the sacrifices they make for upholding our cultural values.
To the men and women who are holding on the aging pillar of patriarchy with all their might in fear of losing their privileges, the fall is impending. The goddesses are getting angry and they don’t want the pedestal anymore. They want to climb down and walk the streets, when they want , wearing what they want. They are tired of offering sacrifices on your alter of entitlement. And yes, among other things, they want to go out and party, in the middle of the night, in very short dresses. They want what you have encroached upon for ages- their exclusive space. But then, it is because of all the violence in your mind that this concept disturbs you. That’s why even when self inquiry is the need of the hour, your psyche is invaded by only one all-pervasive ridiculous question: How safe is your dhan , if not inside the four walls?