Thursday, December 27, 2012
THE RAPE BY A SOCIETY
The whole country is justifiably worked up over the brutal rape of a Delhi medical student in a bus. As one would expect, the reactions vary a great deal. But two common characteristics stand out. First, all the reactions are intense, vehement, and barring the political class, from the bottom of the heart. Or in one word, Sincere! The other is that, none of them even remotely tries to understand the root cause of the problem. In this the political class is no exception. In an ‘Ideal World’ that is their actual job. But the less said about that, the better!
That is not to say that the anger is unjustified as being out of all proportion, or the demand for Death Penalty for rapists is Unpractical/Excessive or, demanding Castration is ridiculous. But does anybody pause to think? Will this really solve the problem of sexual harassment of all sorts up to & including rape? In other words, are we saying that the main or only reason sexual crimes against women are not only continuing unabated, but are in fact, increasing is that, there is not enough deterrent punishment?
Over the years, we have perfected this sort of confusion almost to an art form! We, as a society are happy to put a quick whitewash over whatever is troubling us at the moment, satisfy our moral indignation without ‘wasting’ too much of our time and effort, feel good about having done something to ‘eradicate the evil’, then forget the whole thing and get on with our life. History has shown us repeatedly that no deep-seated evil in society responds to such quick-fix.
Let us take the example of Dowry Deaths. Do you remember a similar uproar over dowry deaths in the 80s? What did we do? Passed the Anti-Dowry legislation with stringent, draconian, anti-democratic provisions against all males and their families! I don’t have to enumerate all the provisions of that piece of legislation. Ask yourself honestly; has incidence of demanding & giving dowry and more importantly intra-marital violence against women decreased since then? The unequivocal answer is NO, IT HAS NOT!
A detailed discussion of ill effects of that law may be a topic of a separate article but I do know from personal, first-hand knowledge that at least 3 marriages amongst my acquaintances, broke down because, at the first sign of the slightest trouble between the newly-weds, the boy’s family promptly chose divorce for the simple, (and to me at least, a most convincing) argument – ‘What if she attempts suicide or something? Or accuses us of cruelty?’ All decent, god fearing people with not a whiff of dowry anywhere amongst the whole lot!
So what has that legislation achieved?
Or take the question of female foeticide. What have we done collectively at the social, legislative, and judicial levels to first understand and then combat this very real and heinous crime? Except of course, thoroughly discrediting Ultrasonography and labeling all doctors who conduct sonography as Child Murderers?
This is not to condone USG-Assisted or any other Sex Determination procedures conducted for the sole purpose of systematically getting rid of female fetuses, or defend the doctors who have run butcher shops under the guise of ‘abortion clinics’. But, in a resource starved country like India with almost zero public health infrastructure and where even private health services are hard to come by; USG, more commonly known as, Sonography, has been a boon to millions of patients and doctors alike, particularly in remote rural areas. It is safe, cheap, fast, easy to do and, in reasonably competent hands, remarkably accurate. For over a quarter of a century, it has helped save literally hundreds of thousands of lives. But because, among other things, it can also detect the sex of the foetus; we, in our collective wisdom (Media, Society, The Executive, & The Judiciary together) have branded it and the doctors who use it as the sole cause of female foeticide & the skewed sex ratios in the population.
It wasn’t the little sonography machine (or the doctors) who went around planting the idea in Indian society that a male off-spring is the ultimate and only objective of marital coupling, or that without a male progeny your Naam/Vansha/Khandan/Kaum will be decimated. And you will not find Moksa/Jannat or whatever as per your religion without a male child performing your last rites. But in our search for a quick and easy way to soothe our moral indignation over female foeticide, we have today made owning a sonography machine and doing a sonography examination a dangerous activity comparable to or even worse than, murder or terrorism! It may sound overly dramatic, but it is a fact that in today’s India, it is logistically easier and legally less risky to run an illegal “Dance Bar” than a Legal Sonography Clinic!
And, the million dollar question still remains, ‘Has this helped reduce the incidence of female foeticide and correct the sex ratio?’ And the answer again is a resounding NO.
I can quote examples from any number of fields, of legislations that entirely miss the point or executive actions that have achieved results that have been opposite of what was desired or which are ridiculous. But more about that some other time.
The reason for choosing these particular examples is that, to my mind at least, Dowry, Female Foeticide, Eve-Teasing, Honour Killings, and Rape all breed from the same subterranean cesspool in our collective social conscience, viz our attitude towards women.
If you are honest with yourself you will recognize that even the most educated, civilized, cultured, and progressive liberals among us still harbor in the deepest recesses of our subconscious the medieval attitude that females are a weaker sex. Weaker Physically, Weaker Mentally, Weaker in the sense that they cannot be relied upon to make the right decisions about ‘what is good for them’. That, females need to be protected, most of all from themselves! That, females after all are ‘an object’ of desire and pleasure! That, females whether as daughters, sisters, wives, daughters-in-law, or mothers, are the ultimate form of ‘Property’. Call it irony or tragedy but this attitude is equally deeply ingrained in the psyche of Indian female also!
To those of you who are muttering to yourself ‘Not ME’, I ask, ‘When was the last time you made morning tea for your wife? Or offered to make the bed after a hard day? Why should a working wife be ‘naturally’ expected to be responsible for running the household singlehandedly, why don’t we find it odd that after coming home together (whether from the movies, eating out, shopping or a hard day of social calls) the husband gets to put his feet up in front of the TV and the wife is expected to fetch and serve a glass of cold water?
Well one might ask ‘What has that got to do with anything?’
But, what to you may seem a harmless little idiosyncrasy, gets magnified a hundred and a thousand fold, and results in rape in those who are less fortunate than you in terms of decency, culture, upbringing, education and civic sense.
As long as we continue to discriminate among our own children simply on the basis of their sex,
As long as we tell our 5 year old daughter that she should give up her toy (or any legitimate right) to her brother who demands it; not out of brotherly love but simply because she is a girl and he is a boy,
As long as we lay down different rules for ours sons and daughters in childhood, adolescence, teen-age, or adulthood,
As long as we continue to believe and say that they are ‘Dusare Ki Amanat’ & ‘Paraya Dhan’,
As long as we expect our daughters to ‘learn to adjust, learn to sacrifice’ because they are girls and have to one day go to ‘Paraya Ghar!’
We cannot hope to provide safe streets or dignified work environment or respectful marriages for our daughters!
And No Legislations, No Laws, No Candle Marches, No Panel Discussions on TV, and no amount of hysterical chest thumping is going to change this reality!