Protection for women should not be seen separate from protecting individual rights and liberties
My colleague Karthik tweeted today that the
fundamental problem about rape in India is people think it’s about “loss of marriageability”. ignore it’s fundamentally assault and invasion
— karthik (@karthiks) August 26, 2013
I do agree that the idea of binding together marriage, honor and rape ignores the brutality of rape and makes the individual invisible. There is a need to extend the argument though. To confine it to the idea of loss of marriageability, risks not acknowledging marital rape, rape within the family, by in-laws, the act of sharing wives without consent, and fails to acknowledge homosexual rape.
It is not about rape before marriage. The problem is the heavy burden on the women to prevent herself from being harassed, abused or cornered in any way. It is in the idea of an imagined honour that a woman is supposed to carry, no matter what her situation in life. Any small deviation from a set path results in a incessant chatter of how the girl should have known better, dressed better or been in a better profession. A married woman sometimes has it worse. Given our cultural importance to the idea of husband and in-laws and the burden of another “kaandaan” resting on her shoulders, even a random public harassment often becomes a case for severe ostracism.
Part of the media focus after this Mumbai rape has been on questioning the idea of how safe a city Mumbai was. Statistics, random surverys are being examined in greater detail and the idea of a safe haven reconsidered. The rape has as many moan brought down the image of a city. Problem is this, a rape is not an indication of how low a city or a society has fallen. Sexual harassment is. Rape is an indication of how much worse it has become. A person who is being sexually harassed, groped, cat called and teased in public without any help or interference from the public whatsoever, that is an indication of how unsafe a city is. Complaints on sexual harassment being pushed under the rug should be a measure of how safe a city is. A rape in broad daylight is an indication of the further descent of the city into savagery. By these standards, I doubt if Mumbai or any city for that matter could have measured up to being a safe city.
More esteemed commentators have called for educating students, about rape and gender equality. They forget that quite a few of kids barely get a regular education and are often treated to a childhood that even adults would flinch at. They also forget that for the most part it is not children, but adults who require an education on gender equality. These adults are the ones who continue to pass laws that seek to protect “their” women and to add addendum’s to court ruling on a alleged rape, abduction and marriage case involving a 16 year old girl and 22 year old boy by saying “that it would not be good for the girl’s health if her husband is sent to jail.”
We still see women as part of a species that needs to be protected, as part of a standard for a society, as someone who carries honour in her family and a symbol of sacrifice and virtue in a marriage. We have left very little for the woman to be treated as an individual with equal stake and vote and as an individual whose actions are hers alone.
The point is not about stronger laws, we have them. The point is about implementing them and citizens taking the onus of being aware and taking upon themselves a degree of responsibility to prevent crimes like these. If a person in a public place witnessing sexual harassment cannot stop it from happening or support a girl struggling to deflect unwanted attention, what are the chances of that person reporting rape! To tell a girl she should have taken the next bus, or should have worn a dupatta or should not be walking around at that time is not the answer. People who do that are the ones apologizing on public forums for a rape they have no connection with. Democracy, and individual safety and liberty rests as much on a responsible, aware citizen as it does with a government entrusted with a job.
Rape and sexual harassment are at its most basic an attack on individual liberty and violence against an individual citizen. Once we work on that and prevent violation of that liberty, gender quality and better rights for women will follow.
P.S Do read my colleague Pavan’s take on Indian Marriages, Rape and Law here