Friday, March 8, 2013

One Billion Falling

Another International Women's day is around the corner. And my inbox is clogged with e-mails, of discount vouchers and free gifts and Women's day contests aspiring to make a difference. This history has repeated itself over the years. Every year the celebration gets bigger and better. There are more discount sales and free giveaways to take home. So also, if you have written a book on women there is no better day for its launch than this. In the midst of these celebrations, many of which I give a miss, have I often wondered as to what is this elation about? And why one day marked in the calendar is important to remind us of womanhood.

In this part of the world, when rape stories are the hot cakes, served with the cup of morning tea everyday, can we afford to wear a smile on our faces and go for free lunches to glorify womanhood? In a cold winter night in December last year, a twenty something was brutally bantered to death. Against all odds she tried to survive but to no avail. On December 29th she breathed her last and a few days ago the US government honored her posthumously, while her culprits are still awaiting the noose. A few months before that incident a woman was molested by a mob in Guwahati, Both caused a national outcry bringing the people on the streets. Spiteful slogans could be seen on placards, with malice being mouthed for the leaders. Braving a winter chill that had sent even the notorious street dogs of the city to hibernation, Delhites and people from all over the country staged a protest and tried sending their message across to politicians who are plowed to play politics and can never be leaders. Barring water cannons, tear gasses and lathicharges, the protesters  got a false assurance in hope. When the Anti-rape ordinance bill came, it was a slap on the faces of each of those who had finally had seen a silver lining in the dark cloud for India.
Thereafter, every day a woman was raped. In every nook and corner of the streets of a country where stone  goddesses are worshiped for nine days, but humans in flesh and blood are raped, molested, trafficked and  killed. A country like ours, that is one of the worst countries in the world for being a woman, along with Afghanistan and Somalia needs to do a reality check before proclaiming itself as a potential super power.

Where are we heading as a society? Where fathers rape their own daughters and brothers kicked by lust make their sisters pregnant. Are these the traditional core values we take pride in? A society that cannot protect its women and grant them equal rights and status as its men is leading to doom, the kind of damage that is irreparable. Corporal reprisal won't correct a society if  its citizens stay defiant to change.
Secondly to press for stronger rape laws for a future, where the rich and the old would be flogged with the same rod for sexually outraging a woman. Taking off the carte blanche that the institution of marriages enjoys is also the need of the hour. Including martial rape and dowry as punishable offences will be a giant leap for the womankind of India. For dowry is the evil eye with which the Indian society looks down upon its women. As a woman on International Women's day my responsibility is to say a no to practices like Dowry that puts me on a scale and weighs my worth for a few rupees and to stay vigilant for myself and the rest of the women I know. As women it is our duty to not be scapegoats to a cycle of violence by letting  time curfews and dressing diktats to be imposed on us. After the recent spate of gruesome incidents against women, it is important to claim our spaces, either NOW or NEVER. 
The Capital city witnessed a total of 181 rapes between January one and February 15, Minister of State for Home Affairs Mullappally Ramachandran told in Parliament.

Across the nation, a woman is raped every 20 minutes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. These frightening figures have risen steadily in recent years: in 2010, 24,206 rapes were reported, an almost 10% increase over 2001.

Is this a time to congratulate and celebrate, these figures bare the sorry state of affairs, that the politicians of the country try to brush under the carpet  and the policemen turn a blind eye to. Washington Post underlines the 10 Reasons why India has a sexual violence problem.

1. Few female police: Studies show that women are more likely to report sex crimes if female police officers are available. India has historically had a much lower percentage of female police officers than other Asian countries. In New Delhi, just 7 percent of police officers are women, and they are frequently given inconsequential posts that don’t involve patrol duty, according to the Times of India. Of the 161 district police stations in Delhi, only one has a female station house officer.

When women do report rape charges to male police, they are frequently demeaned:

“The police refused to file a complaint. Instead, they asked my sister such vulgar details, it was as if she was being raped all over again,” Charanjit Kaur, the sister of another recent rape victim who committed suicide, told The Washington Post. “There was no lady police officer, they were all men. My sister cried in front of them and kept asking, ‘Would you still ask such questions if I were your daughter?’

As a result of the gang-rape incident, Delhi Police said they will launch a special effort to recruit more women.

2. Not enough police in general: There aren’t enough police dedicated to protecting ordinary citizens, rather than elites, a Brookings article argues, and the officers that are available often lack basic evidence-gathering and investigative training and equipment:

Delhi, for example, is home to one of the largest metropolitan police forces in the world with some 84,000 officers. But only one-third are involved in any kind of actual “policing” at any given time, while the rest provide protection services to various politicians, senior bureaucrats, diplomats and other elites. According to the Times of India there is one officer for every 200 citizens and about 20 officers for every VIP. Many of those who do perform police duties can be found shaking down motorists, participating in protection rackets and simply looking the other way as crimes take place.

3. Blaming provocative clothing: There’s a tendency to assume the victims of sexual violence somehow brought it on themselves. In a 1996 survey of judges in India, 68 percent of the respondents said that provocative clothing is an invitation to rape. In response to the recent gang-rape incident, a legislator in Rajasthan suggested banning skirts as a uniform for girls in private schools, citing it as the reason for increased cases of sexual harassment.

4. Acceptance of domestic violence: The Reuters TrustLaw group named India one of the worst countries in the world for women this year, in part because domestic violence there is often seen as deserved. A 2012 report by UNICEF found that 57 percent of Indian boys and 53 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 think wife-beating is justified. A recent national family-health survey also reported that a sizable percentage of women blame themselves for beatings by their husbands.

“When a boy grows up seeing his father assault his mother, he starts to accept such a behavior and repeats it,” Anuradha Gupta, mission director for India’s National Rural Health Mission, was quoted as saying.

5. A lack of public safety: Women generally aren’t protected outside their homes. The gang rape occurred on a bus, and even Indian authorities say that the country’s public places can be unsafe for women. Many streets are poorly lit, and there’s a lack of women’s toilets, a Women and Child Development Ministry report said recently.

Women who drink, smoke or go to pubs are widely seen in Indian socirty as morally loose, and village clan councils have blamed a rise in women talking on cellphones and going to the bazaar for an increase in the incidence of rape.

6. Stigmatizing the victim: When verbal harassment or groping do occur in public areas, bystanders frequently look the other way rather than intervene, both to avoid a conflict and because they — on some level — blame the victim, observers say. Male politicians contribute to the problem, making statements that make light of rape or vilify rape victims’ supporters.

One regional policymaker, Anisur Rahman, recently asked a female minister what “her fee” would be for getting raped. The son of India’s president also recently apologized after calling those protesting against the Delhi gang rape “highly dented and painted” women, who go “from discos to demonstrations,” the AP reported.

7. Encouraging rape victims to compromise: In a recent separate rape case, a 17-year-old Indian girl who was allegedly gang-raped killed herself after police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers.

Rape victims are often encouraged by village elders and clan councils to “compromise” with the family of accused and drop charges — or even to  marry the attacker. Such compromises are aimed at keeping the peace between families or clan groups. What’s more, a girl’s eventual prospects of marriage are thought to be more important than bringing a rapist to justice.

8. A sluggish court system: India’s court system is painfully slow, in part because of a shortage of judges. The country has about 15 judges for every 1 million people, while China has 159. A Delhi high court judge once estimated it would take 466 years to get through the backlog in the capital alone.

9. Few convictions: For rapes that do get reported, India’s conviction rate is no more than 26 percent. There is also no law on the books covering routine daily sexual harassment, which is euphemistically called “eve-teasing.” The passing of a proposed new sexual assault law has been delayed for seven years.

10. Low status of women: Perhaps the biggest issue, though, is women’s overall lower status in Indian society. For poor families, the need to pay a marriage dowry can make daughters a burden. India has one of the lowest female-to-male population ratios in the world because of sex-selective abortion and female infanticide. Throughout their lives, sons are fed better than their sisters, are more likely to be sent to school and have brighter career prospects.

In recent days, Indian politicians have put forward a slew of potential remedies for India’s sexual violence problem. But it’s worth noting that it will be hard to end discrimination against women at police stations when it starts in the crib.

Everytime, every year when the International Women's day arrives, I am invited to write articles and essays on freedom with attractive prices thrown at my disposal. Ofttimes, I have wondered how has writing my anger down helped in any way when the Indian woman's freedom is worse than what it used to be in the medieval age. I really do not know why I decided to do this post, and what good will it be? Will any of the higher authorities take note of all this pain that we women are wearing on our sleeves or will be just be another post pinned to my facebook wall and tweeted to my Twitter followers.
Or should Women's day  be another cycle of commercialism where in a free lunch or a discount at the favourite label of my choice will make my day. 

I don't want this Women's day to be just another of those days when I can go and enjoy with my female friends or get a discount at my favourite designer label. I don't want this Women's day to be another day, when we are told that Indian culture is to dress down and not have a social life like the superior sex of this country enjoy. I do not want this to be another Women's day when patriarchal strictures continue to bind my hands and feet in deadlines.

I want this to be a day from where on, I won't have to think ten times before going out for a walk on my own, in the evening. A day that will mark an era of emancipation where in we will be able to breathe without a shudder in our lungs. I truly want this women's day to be the movement of a ONE BILLION RISING AND NOT ONE BILLION FALLING. 

This wait seems to be endless, until then it is not a Happy Women's day for me. It is just another day when hundreds of nameless female foetuses will be tossed into dustbins and  girls barely into their puberty will be celebrating their marriages without an inkling of what is happening to them. . It is just another day when a woman will be raped by her husband endlessly and she wouldn’t know where to knock to seek justice.It is just another day when rapes will continue to happen and I'll go to work stigmatized by fear and will come home before eight pm, thanking my stars that it wasn't me, one of those hundreds who are still awaiting to be heard. Only if I am that lucky.


Hrishikesh Bawa said...

I hear you. For everything that happens to women, people blame women.

A woman gets whistled, ogled or groped and people tell that she must have been wearing provocative clothes for that.

If she is raped, she asked for it.

If she asks questions, she should mind her own business. If she doesn't talk much then she is chup chaap and reserved.

If she hangs out with male friends then she is a slut. If she keeps to her self then she is antisocial.

I have a friend, who is the youngest brother after 4 sisters. All his sisters (youngest sis is older by 4 years) call him bhaiya while he calls them all by names.

People aren't ready to believe that women are equal humans

Anonymous said...

What you have written is very well put forth. It's sad how this day has been commercialized and asked to be 'celebrated' when the situation is totally the opposite. The statistics speak loud and clear. Was so shocked to read the appalling numbers you have shared.

You are making a difference - drop-by-drop in this vast ocean - by writing and spreading awareness. The fight for equality should not be forgotten. Also, your words will affect readers' subconscious and unknowingly but surely influence their thoughts and actions for the better.

rinzu rajan said...

Thank you Bawajee, for your kind visit! Being a woman in a country like India is a challenge that we live with everyday!

Thank you Dfsk, Happy that you liked it! :)