There are multiple significant and trivial questions related to women, that need to keep being asked and answered in every corner of the country, by every citizen.
Every few months, we see a release of conscientious epiphanies in India, triggered by some incident of great shock and revulsion, in an urban centre. Beaten by the media, dragged across social networks, dissected by the public intellectuals and discussed at every social gathering, these epiphanies garner attention for a brief period before eventually fading away, until the next one arrives. The recent rape case in Mumbai re-triggered a similar epiphany with justified outrage. People demanded harsher laws towards rape, better policing, safer cities and a societal change towards women. But the problem with epiphanies such as these—for safety of women—is that they need to be sustained patiently over time. They require the same amount of passion and aggression as at the time of its trigger, for even a minimal change to happen. We need to ask multiple questions, beyond rape and the safety of women, covering all the vagaries related to gender, and keep answering them over the years in a repetitive loop.
Is gender and gender equality, a thought during the process of marriages in the country, when it comes to the expectations of one party from the other, especially with regard to the standards of physical beauty, dowry and societal adjustments? Do we freely talk to our children about sex, sexual orientation and sexual abuse? Is menstruation, a topic of education and open discussion in middle schools across rural and urban India? Do the women at work places, come out with their experiences of sexual abuse, discrimination or harassment? Are items such as sanitary napkins, tampons, birth control pills and condoms available to women across India without a social stigma attached? Do men encourage and push their wives and daughters to join the workforce for a sustained career and not just a mere job? Is female sexuality recognised as something legitimate by the Indian legal system that otherwise fails to understand the concept of marital rape? Do men in high positions of power, look at abuse against women as anything apart from a soft policy issue or a sociological problem? Are they willing to talk about these issues in the public sphere and take a stand and try to influence the public? Are we, as an audience, able to understand the sexualisation and exoticisation of the female body, in its depiction across media and entertainment—that makes women sexualised objects of male gaze and desire rather than human beings? Why is female empowerment a threat to families with talented daughters? Why are girls considered the keepers of moral order in a society and the holders of familial honour? Is ‘gender’ a topic of study, outside of qualitative analysis, at any of the top academic and research institutions and think tanks in the country?
There are multiple significant and trivial questions related to women, that need to keep being asked and answered, over and over again, in every corner of the country, by every citizen. We don’t only need safe streets and strong laws– we need to evolve into a society where women, with their biological differences, are on equal footing with men socially and economically. But there is no magic pill for this evolution and nothing can bring about a radical change. It took multiple aggressive feminist movements across the western world for the society to change and accept women as equals to men. In India too, we need to start this movement. Sustained and repetitive discussions, explicit questions and unequivocal dissection of this topic are the only way forward in the long run.