Activist Kamla Bhasin: Are WE Willing To Be The Change To Create A Less Misogynist Society?

'They' need to do something for reducing violence against women, but what about 'us'? What about the mindsets that perpetuate the covert rape culture that feeds into overt violence?

‘They’ need to do something for reducing violence against women, but what about ‘us’? What about the mindsets that perpetuate the covert rape culture that feeds into overt violence?

Until a few years ago, a rape or molestation of women brought only women from women’s groups and NGOs out on the roads to protest. After the most brutal gang rape in Delhi in 2012, it seemed that finally violence against women became everyone’s issue and concern.

It has been heartening to see people from all walks of life finally breaking their silence and giving up their apathy to the biggest and all pervasive war in the world i.e. violence against women and girls.

According to the United Nations, out of every three women, one experiences violence. This means over one billion women and girls face violence in their daily life. All times are war times for women.

Because of this all pervasive violence, equality for women is confined within the two covers of the Constitution. Equality, dignity, and respect for women are not to be seen either in our families or in our public life.

The crowds at the protests in 2012 were heartening but the main slogans and demands being raised seemed very limited and also very violent. The outcry for the death penalty was frightening.

The wrong thing to focus on?

The focus has been on laws, police and politicians. The anger has been towards OTHERS and towards the OUTSIDE. Violence seemed to have been externalized. ‘THEY’ need to do something.

Of course ‘THEY’ need to, but what about us? What about the mind-set which leads to this violence, which considers women as bodies, commodities, targets: a mindset which does not respect women, does not consider them equal.

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Changing this mind set requires no less than a cultural tsunami. To stop violence against women and girls so many of our religious, cultural, linguistic practices will have to be demolished.

Deconstructing the words we use

For example, words like pati and swami for the man a woman marries need to go. They all mean master, owner.

In free India an adult woman cannot, or should not have an owner/master.

None of the words we normally use for a husband denotes equality. Not even the English word husbandIt means manager, controller, and domesticator. Remember the word animal husbandry? All the words, expressions, idioms, slangs which demean and insult women, need to be purged from our minds and consciousness.

Religious and cultural practices related to marriage need to be looked into, for example Kanya-daanIn free India no kanya (daughter) can be given as ‘daan’ (donation).

The patriarchal saptapadi needs to go because of its pro pati bias. The sindoor on the head of the woman shouts out her suhaag’but what about the ‘suhaag’ and patni-vrata (duties towards the wife) of the man? The newlywed women touching the feet of their husbands repeat the same mind-set. Dowry, behavior of the baraaties (wedding party), the treatment of the bride’s family are all patriarchal; they all make the man superior and woman inferior. They demean women and make them in to a bojh, a burden.

The reality of the lack of privilege

We also need to reflect at the reality (not the laws) of inheritance and property. Until some years ago women owned one percent of the property in the world!

Economic disempowerment of women is a major factor for violence against women.

Role of media in upholding misogyny

Another area we need to look at is media, specially TV and films. We have enough insights of our own and also studies, to show how much media influence the way we think, dress, eat, consume, and behave. If the power of persuasion was not there, would the corporate world be spending billions on advertisements?

Feminist research has produced volumes to show the patriarchal, anti-women, even misogynistic (women hating) nature of our media.

To respond and to challenge the most harmful media some of us women in Delhi started a committee on the Portrayal of Women in the Media in the early ’80s in Delhi. We reviewed films, serials, children’s books, textbooks, and wrote about the patriarchal biases contained in ALL of them. We protested in front of cinema halls, wrote to companies about their anti-women advertisements, wrote to NCERT, Doordarshan etc.

In that not so ‘free and liberal’ world of the early 80s, we were able to influence things. In today’s globalised media world, it is much more difficult to challenge patriarchal media. The free market paradigm has made us ‘free’ of decency, responsibility, ethics, and morality.

Bollywood glorifying toxic behaviour; responsible for misogyny

The media and Bollywood stars that are showing concern about the recent rape case also need to see if they too are part of the problem, if they are guilty of glorifying Dabangs, badtameez, besharm?

They need to ask if they are not responsible for the objectification and commoditization of women on the one hand and for making boys and men aggressive and violent on the other.

Bollywood stars are promoting alcoholism, deception and immorality by advertising alcohol as soda or as music CDs. I have seen advertisements by Mr. Saif Ali Khan, Mr. Shahrukh Khan for alcohol companies. The first such immoral ad for alcohol I saw done by Mr. Shatrughan Sinha many years ago. I am disgusted by the blatant dishonesty of these ads.

Mr. Akshay Kumar and Mr. Randhir Kapur have expressed their pain at the recent rape case. It will be good if they could review some ads which they have done, and the relationship of these ads to aggressive masculinity and violence in general and violence against women in particular.

For example Mr. Randhir Kapoor has done two ads for Pepsi Cola and IPL, both of which are glorifying BAD-TAMEEZI (indecency). In one of the ads Mr. Kapoor and another man order a woman (friend or sister) to go buy Pepsi for them. In the second ad Mr. Kapoor walks into a hospital room where a man, who must be a friend or a relation, is lying with a plaster all over his body. He picks up the man, shoves him into a chair, occupies the bed, and watches IPL while enjoying his Pepsi. At the end of both these ads, Mr Kapoor declares “IPL na tameez se khela jaata hai, na tameez se dekha jaata hai” (IPL is neither played decently nor watched decently.)

Is this not total glorification of masculine badtameezi or indecency? Does it not say that for our men there are no rules, no decency! Their victims just have to lump it!

Oh, and the IPL and cricket ‘stars’ too!

IPL’s mixing of sports, Bollywood and semi nude women jumping up and down at every good shot and wicket, has also been spreading a lot of indecency and aggression.

Just look at the aggressive names of IPL teams- Delhi DARE DEVILS, Pune WARRIORS, Cochi TUSKERS, Kolkata KNIGHTRIDERS! Wow! What images and aspirations our men and their teams have! What glorification of aggression! The rest of the teams are all ROYALS and KINGS in democratic India.

Is IPL all about secret desires of reestablishing a feudal and masculine world, with rich boys having fun at the cost of nautch girls?

Mr. Virat Kohli is sharing two formulae to “fool girls” in an advertisement for some phone. Ladki pataane ke do tareeqe.

You too are a hero now Virat! You are truly VIRAT or GRAND! You now possess a phone to fool women. Such indecency and aggression seem to be coming out of our media all the time. The owners and managers of these media are not part of any Khap Panchayat in Haryana!

Violence and bad behaviour in political debates

Look also at the violence, intolerance, and indecency during the so called Parliament debates.

Look at the shouting matches, where no one listens to any one, which pass as TV talk shows, done by so many of our best, award winning anchors. One of the talk shows is called the BIG FIGHT and so often it seems the anchor simply throws a bone-like opinion into the arena and the esteemed panelists go for it! There is little meaningful debate, deepening of understanding. There is just shouting, calling names, and blame games!

In the middle of the heart wrenching reports of rape and violence, emotional people with tears in their concerns, every few minutes, the most earnest anchors take a short break, to dish out ads in which Mr. Amitabh Bacchhan is selling some pain killer, cement or tourist spots! How does one take the seriousness of such media, superstars, sportsmen, seriously? Are they any more honest, concerned and committed than the politicians, ministers, police officers they are condemning all the time?

Let’s begin with ourselves

If we wish to stop violence, establish the rule of law, create homes and societies where girls and women are accepted, respected; where they have dignity and freedom, ALL of us have to begin with OURSELVES. As feminists have been saying for decades, Personal is the Political. We are all part of the problem and all of us can and should be part of the solution.

Without this INNER change, this Cultural Revolution, from where will we get men and women who will make and implement sensitive laws; run the hundreds of schemes which are being talked about, give sensible judgments, run police stations?

About the author, Kamla Bhasin

A social scientist by training, Kamla Bhasin has been actively engaged with issues related to development, gender, education, media and others since 1970. Deeply engaged with issues related to gender, development, peace, identity politics, militarization, human rights and democracy she has also written extensively on gender, women’s empowerment, participatory and sustainable development, participatory training, media and communication, and a large number of songs and slogans for the women’s movement, and books for children.

Currently, she works with Sangat – A Feminist Network as Adviser, as well as JAGORI, a Women’s Resource and Training Centre and Jagori Rural Charitable Trust as an active member. She is the South Asia Coordinator of One Billion Rising, a global campaign to end violence against women and girls; Co-Chair of the worldwide network Peace Women Across the Globe; and member of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR). Prior to this, she worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations for 27 years.

Image source: YouTube

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