On the International Day for the Girl Child we speak of violence against women. Women who have been known to birth their own attackers, more fool they. Women who hold families together, who build homes and communities. Women, who are the respected as the first teacher and sought as the first doctor on call. Educating a woman increases the income of entire communities and families – proven fact.
And yet she is is brutalised. The violence against her starts before birth – female foeticide is not restricted to India alone. Female infanticide. Rape when she is a minor. Major. Pregnant. Old. Attacked for being rich. Attacked for being poor. Attacked for dressing well. Attacked for not dressing well. Attacked for drinking. Maybe attacked for breathing. Just being there seems to offend, to bring forth the need to overpower.
Could it be fear? Do they fear the power of women? Is there something about a graceful, competent, intelligent, giving animal that makes people feel inadequate? And want to control it? I begin to wonder what drives this aggression towards women – as if they were the enemy. Could young Malala have been the enemy at 14? All she wanted was to go to school like children all over the world. But an educated girl child was surely seen as too powerful. Such strength bedazzles, brings fear surely, why else did grown men draw weapons against her?
Of course not all people hate or hurt women, but it is surprising how many do – in small or big ways. There are those who merely dominate, those who inflict emotional violence and think nothing of it, those who cause suffering due to financial violence. Yet we do not have the bandwidth to even discuss those – because brutal physical violence dominates our news and our neighbourhoods.
The violence is individual and institutional – the husband, the mother in law, the panchayat. Stamping down on self determination, on choice, on speech. Khaps and ministers say women should be married off early to protect them – let them be subjects rather than free, for that is the social contract in a marriage. Mobile phones banned for women under 40 in one village, woman stripped and paraded naked in another for the crime of falling in love. Gang rape for the crime of being pretty and trusting of neighbours, uncles and mates. This distaste you feel when you read this is mild compared to what the sorority suffers. Suffers, and then goes back to cook the next meal, bear the next child.
Much happens in the name of discipline and training – she is seen as a lower class of person that needs to be cast in the form of a productive machine, and must be beaten into shape – beaten like metal. It brings out the shine, you see. While young girls seek to change their own world, there are many millions of people who believe that the submissive puppet is the only way for women to be. Any thing different would upset society. Yes, it would. Just as abolishing apartheid upset a society. Just as the removal of slave trade changed things. These things must change. Our children, the girls of today must grow up in a world that belongs to them as much as to their brothers and lovers.
And then, much happens in the name of lust – that too is blamed on women. If men cannot keep their body parts to themselves, attached though they are, they seek to externalise the blame. Women provoke them – hide the women away. The men cannot know respect for boundaries, can they? Women’s bodies are attractive to men – cover the women up, or the men will turn into beasts – and who can control the beast?! Their beautiful hair? Cover it up! Men never learnt to look away. Eyes? Eye contact is permission to rape – did you not get the memo? Sent centuries ago – who foresaw civilisation coming anyway?
In India rapes went up by a massive 873% since 1971 according to Arnab Goswami on Television (Oct 10, 2012). Almost thousand times more. Rape. Brutal intrusive bloody power. When the woman says no. No means NO.
But some ears were not made for listening, brains not put to work. And those who know boundaries, self restraint and self control are tarred along with the under-bred.
It is so ingrained that even now, while writing, I seek to blame the woman. We should have stopped the little things, we should have not allowed things to go this far. When movies with cute heroes were evolving their idiom, we should have realised that they were building attitudes too. Stalking was not romantic, it should have been called out then, when it was just a flickering image on a screen. When they dinned into us that a girl’s no really means yes, we should have said something. When those behaviours crept into our lives, we coyly joined in. When the man in the bus touched us as we should never have been touched, crossing boundaries with cool deliberation, we should have brought the sharp instruments out sooner, so that they would never dare insult a woman again. Girl’s colleges had guards to protect them from boys – the predator and victim were institutionalised in our education systems. Girls needed to be protected, else they would be violated – that was accepted as a fact.
We got the equal vote, but never equal right to safety. Did we need to step up and claim it? Should it not automatically be part of being a person? The fact that this needs to be said shames our society.
We may not be able to reach out to all the uncouth who laugh when they molest women on the Metro. We may not be able to teach all to control their thoughts, their eyes, their hands. But we can teach our children. A duty to our future, as we grapple with the present.
So, what are you telling your children about lines that must not be crossed?
This one for the Girl Child. Make her tomorrow safe.