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Where There Is No Violence Against Women, Into That Heaven Of Freedom, Let Our Country Awake!

In India, the words women and violence are so closely interlinked, that we might need to make a superhuman effort to better the condition of our women.

It is sad, that today the terms women and violence have somehow become synonymous with each other, especially when seen within the context of the recent lathi charge on the women students of an esteemed university or a woman being raped in broad daylight on the streets of Vizag where the passer’s by decided to click videos instead of raising an alarm or helping the victim.

Over a period of time violence against women has acquired several different forms. Rape, molestation, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work place, dowry deaths, acid attacks, killing of female foetuses, character assassination, and cyber bullying/trolling are some of the most common forms of violence that are perpetrated against women.

Owing to the subordinate role of women in our society with its own dynamics of caste and class, it is important to note that women still form one of the most vulnerable sections to bear the brunt of gender based violence. Time and again we have witnessed women who have tried their best to assert their own identity as well as voice, but then they have been subjected to violence which happens to be a cruel reminder of the historically subordinate position that women have been assigned by patriarchy.

Women confront the shackles of violence almost every day, right from her home, to the streets, to spaces of learning; be it any school, college or even for that matter her workplace. Such violence may be as subtle as an inappropriate gaze or if I may say as violent as a perverted one while walking or jogging in a park or just sitting or chatting at a public place unaware!

Violence and human rights

How do we define violence? Violence is defined as the use of physical form to kill, damage or hurt someone. Here I chose to term a perverted gaze equally violent because it infringes the very personal space of a human being/woman hence it is equally forceful in causing mental and psychological injury, causing massive violation of a woman’s human rights.

What exactly are these human rights? To put it in very simple terms human rights are those rights which are essential for ensuring the dignity of any individual, these are inalienable rights, entitled to a person purely by virtue of being a human.

Now going by the definition of human rights can we say that dignity of women is safe from any kind of infringement? What possibly might be the reason that every day a woman’s modesty is outraged in some way or the other? One possible reason is the way boys/men are raised and how their grooming is done.

Do women have a right to dreams?

In many families since the birth, a girl is given set of rules and regulations to follow in her daily life from how to talk to how to sit, where to go, whom to meet, not to forget to teach her culinary skills, and finally which career to pursue and whom to get married to. Women have lived and carried forward impositions of patriarchy, but sadly I haven’t seen a single family which is interested in teaching their boys/men some values that will help them become sensitive citizens, humane individuals who are equally sensitive husbands for their respective wives, and responsible individuals with a sense of respect for women and their role in society.

From our daily lives we can take the example of several working women who toil day and night in the office and also take up the responsibility of household chores with little or no help from their male counterparts. With an increasing number of nuclear families where both husband and wife are working, a large amount of household responsibilities still lay on the shoulders of the wife. Looking after children and cooking in the kitchen is looked at more in terms of a woman’s job. In fact you would agree no less with me on this issue that certain woman of some families propagates this division of labour by becoming agents in the patriarchal system.

Indian women are facing a tricky situation when it comes to their aspirations and realisation of their dreams; more and more women are becoming educated as well as career oriented. Yet when it comes to the ground reality one would realise that women’s education has broadened their horizon as well as aspirations, but the society’s outlook towards women is still the same. Hence we can say that empowered and educated women are facing a very peculiar situation where they have opportunity to grow and nourish their dreams, but on the terms of patriarchy that society has imposed on them. Whereas there is another section of women who don’t know what dreams are and what women empowerment stands for.

Thus on one hand we have highly educated, empowered women who are somehow trapped within the societal shackles, even though these women have a mind of their own and a sense of rationality which they can use to question and consequently bring in changes in the age old stereotypical gender roles. On the other hand we have veiled women who have to follow the diktat of what to wear, what to eat, where to go, where to sit, and how to behave in personal or public sphere. For these women even the right to breathe and the right to ‘be’ is a privileged one, “bestowed” on them by the members of our patriarchal societies.

Quite interestingly there is also another set of women who tend to impose certain unreasonable, age-old norms in the weirdest ways. For this they are not to be blamed alone because this is what they have witnessed, and a lack of education goes a long way in re-imposing fetters of darkness. This darkness prevails with regard to establishing some regressive norms for the woman of the household. In the long run this darkness intensifies in areas of health, nutrition, which then tends to affect the family, children’s upbringing, and more so of the girl child.

What can we expect of a mother who has lived all her life following the unreasonable diktats of the society? Will she ever be able to raise a girl child who is physically as well as mentally strong, and is empowered enough to take important decisions of her life?

Lack of basic health and hygiene facilities

It is noteworthy that in India where on one hand there are some women who have the liberty to pick and choose amongst several brands of sanitary napkins, on the other hand we have women who use dirty, re-used cloth napkins sometimes stuffed with ashes, and sometimes mother & daughter, sisters & other women members of the family use them alternatively. Now think about the state of health & hygiene these women must be subjected to? Certainly minimal, making them vulnerable to several health hazards.

In most of the villages women, young as well as old suffering from urinary tract infection often choose to keep mum about their own plight. Despite bleeding and often in pain due to infection, women feel shy to discuss their problems with family members, forget about going to the doctor and finding a proper cure for it.

Yes we do have women in many villages and remote areas of India where women are nothing less than cattle within their own family. During my village visits I witnessed a family of four people, husband, wife, infant of 6 months & the father in law. In this family the two men worked at the brick-kiln whereas the woman looked after the house, the daily chores along with cooking and looking after the infant. I would often witness this skinny woman sitting and feeding her little girl, with dark circles around her eyes and prominent collar bones. The two males of the family would come and eat food to their heart’s content, whereas after all the hard day’s work the woman who was breastfeeding her baby got leftovers. Hence you can very well understand what value she held for the members of her family? The question thus arises — what kind of life will she be able to give to her child when she herself is deprived of the bare minimum necessities and basic human rights?

‘Paraya Dhan’ – where do women really belong?

Women/girls have often been considered as ‘Paraya Dhan’ and are often ‘given away’ through the wedding ritual of kanyadaan. Now the question arises as where do the women belong? In Indian society when a woman gets married she leaves her home where she has grown up all these years, and suddenly she is expected to accept as well as adjust to a whole new set of rules in the new household. In most families the question of integration arises as a daughter in law is quite often looked at as an outsider, whereas in the house where the daughter has grown up she is considered as paraya dhan! So the question arises — where do the women belong?

Traditionally caregivers, but who cares for them?

Traditionally women tend to play the role of the caregivers for their families, most of the times neglecting their own health at the cost of family’s happiness and sometimes to the insensitivity of the members of the family — like in the practice of eating food after all the family members have eaten.

This neglect of the women within certain families is not only limited to food but also other areas where the woman’s wishes & needs come at the last of the priority list, adversely affecting areas like physical as well as mental health, and above all adversely affecting a woman’s/girl’s access to education.

What the numbers say

The World Economic Forum’s recently released report The Global Gender Gap Index, 2017 shows India’s poor showing on gender equity which has hit the rock bottom. It has been ranked 108 out of 144 countries, a fall of 21 places from last year’s 87 and its lowest since the index was developed in 2006. This is due to India’s falling sex ratio at birth & lack of access to health care.

The second aspect which has been adversely affected is with regard to economic participation & opportunities for women. Despite gains in education, women’s work participation rate stands at 27%. According to World Bank report, about 19.6 million women have dropped out of workforce between 2004-5, 20011-12. The WEF report states that even when women earn, they are paid 60% less than men for the similar work done. Most of the work they do is unpaid labour which is at home, in the fields, and in childcare. Thus Indian women are precariously placed when it comes to basic healthcare or other opportunities available to women important for survival or for that matter ensure a life of dignity.

Now what exactly are the rights of women in India?

Various rights are available to women in India, and exist in the form of constitutional & legal rights.

The constitution of India establishes the principle of equality when it says that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen of India on the ground of sex.

The state is also empowered to make special provisions with regard to women:

  • equal pay for equal work,
  • no discrimination in terms of employment on the ground of sex,
  • provisions of just & humane conditions of work,
  • adequate maternity benefit,
  • and prohibition of traffic in human beings & forced labour hence ensuring the dignity of women.

The constitution of India also enshrines the principle of right to life in Article 21 of the Indian constitution. It thus enshrines a right to life which is free from any kind of violence or threat of violence. Thus we have adequate space within the constitution of India which guarantees us freedom from pervasive restrictions, violence, or imbalance of power between men & women. It is commendable that the architects of the constitution had foreseen the challenges that the women in general could have confronted; hence laid down various provisions for the safeguard of women.

However can we very clearly & affirmatively say that women are safe from violence? Is the dignity of women protected? Are the women protected from any kind of deprivation? If women in India stood protected then we would have not witnessed what happened on the streets of Vizag, that too in broad daylight.

It is one of the biggest ironies that we have innumerable laws that enshrine equality, safety & dignity of women in India yet almost every hour a woman’s dignity is compromised, and several such cases go unreported. How many women have knowledge about their own rights that protect them & their basic human rights?

The enemy within

Globally women tend to suffer from more gruesome forms of violence, and one such aspect happens to be that of Domestic Abuse & Violence, where violence on women especially the wife remains more or less of an acceptable practice. Though we have laws that restrict domestic violence yet often cases of abuse occur within the four walls of the household, where women cry behind closed doors, and many of the cases go unreported due to stigma attached. According to the National Crime record bureau between 2011-2015 crime against women inside their homes has increased by 34%. According to Sankalp Women Empowerment NGO 96% women suffer emotional violence, 82% women physical violence, 71% women economic violence, 42% women sexual violence.

The curse of being a girl child

Till today birth of a girl child is considered more of a curse, and so on-going schemes by the centre and the state government for women empowerment will only be able to achieve its desired goals when there is an attitudinal change amongst men & women. We need to have  an apparatus of safety nets for women, especially married women at the level of society & the community they are living in, where happiness as well as wellbeing of women is monitored, their grievances & burdens are heard of on a regular basis.

This is more crucial because women have been historically seen as a weaker sex, and society re-imposes some regressive norms which further subjugates women under the burden of expectations. Laws should be such that before raising hands, harsh voice or hurling abuses on women, a man/person would think 100 times about the consequences.

But the laws would only work when there is equality within families where boys would be raised as sensitive men respecting equality. Where parents would still feel responsible for their daughters even after they are married, and where dowry would not be a condition for marriage & prestige for the groom’s family.

Let’s stop treating our girls as Paraya Dhan; let’s stop giving daughters as a daan/gift. Let women have education & property rights then see how things will change! Let’s dream for a day where every single woman of this country is educated. A day where a girl can pursue her dreams without any insecurity or burden of patriarchy. A day where the birth of a girl child is celebrated. This would be empowerment & freedom in true sense of the term.

Image source: pixabay

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