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Years of being attacked on the streets, in homes, in buses and in offices with little or no recourse to the law in practice had scarred the women of India. Stories are pouring in from everywhere of women who learnt to cope, to cower, to cover up and the rare few who fought back. Most women were told to shut up and put up, it was pervasive and there was nothing to be done. The assault could be lewd comments, a gherao, stalking or even rape. This was the chance every woman took for just being alive, she was not safe even in the house. Something snapped after the news spread of the brutal sexual assault of a young woman in a Delhi bus. People poured out to express their sorrow and solidarity. The Government reacted slowly, not recognising the need to share the sorrow. And when it did, it was harsh. The delay was damaging, the harsh lathi-charge and tear gas shells even more so.

The weekend revealed many gaps and schisms in the fabric of the country. And then some rare blessings too, where unexpected support was found. In the middle of the protest there were those who sought to disrupt peaceful demonstrations, and then there were those who protected others from the lathis. People thought this would be a woman’s issue, but there were men standing for safer streets too. People thought that the Government would see their concerns, would share in their sorrows. But the law took another course. It was time for ministers, MPs and MLAs to step up and speak, but the winter cold kept them in. Not so the protestors, some of whom stayed out after the candlelight vigil. Cycling past the next morning, the Government bandobast was clearly in place. The day served the morning’s plan and by afternoon the protests had degenerated into a fracas. People were hurt and arrested. Much of this could have been avoided with timely action and caring conversation. The authorities needed to reach out, perhaps to console but certainly to acknowledge and to take responsibility for change.

The tale of the weekend is a tale of sorry gaps — the gaps between men and women in this country. Men have traditionally seen women as property, or a source of property. The woman brings her bride price to pay for her keep for the rest of her life. She is a liability, seen as such at birth, where tears are shed, female foeticide rates are high. Men, on the other hand can command, often not even getting a glass of water for themselves ever. Those attacked and those who are supposed to protect them, both feel ashamed. This was an outpouring against shame, a fightback for dignity and safety. Of course there were those who went to this gathering to grope women — more shame on them.

The gaps between needs and manners. In a nation where there is no shame in spitting on the streets, or urinating in public for men, there is little expectation of any other lines being drawn for their ‘needs’. Manners and self discipline are not expected. In any other society, even where men dominate, men do not walk around holding, touching, groping, feeling, poking. It is simple, you have an itch, you hold it. Don’t dig your nose in public, don’t poke your body parts on to others. It’s only good manners, child.

Then, there are the gaps in analysis. Facts and conclusions drawn seem to have no connection with each other. Rapes happen at any time of day or night, yet a 1 am curfew is imposed by the State. There are groups of people that believe that eating chow-mein (chinese noodles) and meat incite rapes. There are many who say young, attractive women are natural targets — but statistics show that age is no bar, one can be attacked at any age. Old women of 70 and above have been assaulted. Clothes are no barrier either — women need not be skimpily dressed to be targets. Statistics show that neither tents nor traditional motherly dresses seem to stop the attacks. Yet, one of the first questions that gets asked after a rape is reported is ‘What was she wearing?’. Firstly, it does not matter, she will be attacked anyway! Secondly, it does not matter as she has the right to wear what she likes. As I write this, reports come in of an RSS chief exhorting people to raise cows to inculcate values that will help them respect women. Logic takes a beating when there are such gaps of reason where beliefs defy logic.

With the gap between the average age of those who occupy ministries and the average age of the population widening, this may be a clash of the generations — the demographic disconnect. Those who believe that women must be subjugated, and others who genuinely believe that a woman has the same rights as men. When women are asked why they were out at night, the question makes no sense to the younger generation — a woman has every right to be where she wants to be at any time of day or night. She has the right not to be assaulted, period.

And finally, the toughest — the gaps between the protestors and the protectors. When the latter turned their lathis on those they should have been protecting, a new divide was born. Mind that Gap.

 

 

 

This was published in NitiCentral on December 26, 2012. And is linked here and link pasted here: http://www.niticentral.com/2012/12/uneven-gender-discourse-forces-us-to-mind-the-gap.html

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One thought on “Mind the Gap

  1. There are two kind of people who tell a woman to dress up for their own good.(You can substitute almost all behavior of women in this category.) One is the parents,family and friends of an individual woman. You may say dress does not deter Men from raping a woman. old age does not and so on. But you have not brought out comparative statistics, no body does. India is a large country,so… Men will find women with ‘sexy’ or skimpy clothes as provocative and such women are more likely to be targeted. Even if we believe that overall on a societal basis as many women will be molested and raped as before whatever type of clothes women wear as the desire to do so remains constant and is not changed by change of clothes. Still it makes particular women more or less vulnerable. So well wishers have every right to advise women to do so for their own good. Now take the well wishers attitude towards unrelated women. They will naturally advise other women to do the same. This far I see no moral objection to such Men’s behavior. It becomes problematic when someone says a woman brought it upon themselves(rape,molestation etc.) Here blaming the moral of a woman is wrong but from a pragmatic behavioral standpoint sure women may be at fault. After all no individual is supposed to behave in a way that fits his/her ideal model of the society. They are supposed to do the best for themselves. So condemning outright any such views is wrong. Then take the case of men treating women as their ‘property’. That is a very tricky thing to say. No one has the right to tell someone how to or not to feel. There should be equal rights for both and equal recourse to law but beyond that it must be left on individuals and families. Otherwise it creates more moral problems without making a serious dent on anyone’s welfare. Then you take on Indian men for public urination and like. Are women superior to these urges? No definitely not, apart from being the weaker sex it is their basic anatomy which make them react differently. What we need is good public urinals and with good amount of these people will start using them. And with less people remaining out of it they will feel more societal shame. Both as a result of shifting of general behavior among most people and lack of a good reason to continue the old ways.
    I am giving a few suggestions to improve women safety below:
    It is a natural tendency for Men to want to satiate their sexual desires in any way they can. This is evolutionary and cannot be ignored. There are two ways to tackle this. First make tougher laws and like. But many express fear tougher laws will only make conviction rate go down or we will start hanging a lot of innocent persons. So improving the judicial system is a must and tougher laws can be explored without being inhumane. Second side of the solution is to work on the satiation of society. Men and Women in India are a frustrated lot. We have social moorings that prohibit any sex before or after marriage to a third person. A change in the culture will go a long way in turning away people from rape and molestation. Women too need to become less inhibited, families need to become more permissive, men need to be more liberal towards their daughters and wives. Then we will see the inevitable evil wolves who cannot control themselves will feel less need to violate women bodies. Also legalization of prostitution must be explored. It will bring in much better working conditions for these women, make them less vulnerable to their agents and most importantly not deny them fundamental right to work. As a side effect that will make the frustrated Men more satiated and hence less need to commit crimes against women. It is sometimes argued sexual crimes is more about power than about sexual needs. Maybe to some extent but we should not forget Male sexuality and violence,dominance is so entangled there can hardly be a meaningful separation of the two. And in any case just the urge to dominate will be unlikely to be enough to put oneself at grave risk of imprisonment,societal shame if such men have an easy and cost effective means to satiate their hunger through paid women. If you are still reading my last point- Why is rape or molestation seen as so severe and horrible crime? I am assuming no serious physical injury takes place here.Is rape not comparable to just beating a person very hard or like? Is the soul wrenching hurt a woman feels at getting sexually violated itself not a patriarchal tendency? Is she not acting out the script of being the property of her family and husband? If she was reacting as a free agent I would think she will feel a great loss of dignity at being physically dominated and hurt by another human being as we all would. but then move on in a week or so. So to that extent rape is actually a male dominated,societal crime. it is horror what others will say and react if and when they find out about the horror. Or it may be to some extent a biologically ingrained disgust as we of course had no birth control pills most of our history.But overall society needs to become much more tolerant of such ‘violated’ women and learn to shrug it off. Women will find it easier to move on from that environment. Until then we must treat rape as almost as horrible a crime as murder.

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