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It is 2019, but we’re still grappling with this reality in our country. Girls are subject to immeasurable violence of various sort purely because they’re female. When will this change?
Trigger warning: This article has graphic descriptions of violence against women.
Every morning as I make my way to work, I go on my phone and check news items for the day, as that is the only time I have on a regular day for this. Today, when I went there, I was faced with this horrific bit of news.
Spurned ‘lover’ sets girl ablaze in Kochi, both die of burns
She was just 17, in her 12th. He was 24. They met through family connections, got into a relationship. It was when he insisted on getting married right away that she resisted. Said she wanted to focus on her studies. Her parents talked to him, told him that their daughter wanted to focus on her education, and that marriage was out of question at this time.
He became a stalker, intruding to the extent that the family decided to approach the police. They stopped short of filing an FIR. Why didn’t they? She would have been alive today. She WANTED TO STUDY.
Instead, she died after being set ablaze by him, just outside her house, a blaze in which the stalker too, in an ironical twist, died.
The first thing we need to call out in the news item is this narrative of the perpetrator being called a ‘spurned lover’.
No. They might have been in a relationship, but if a girl says NO, for whatever reason, it means NO. And yes, even younger girls, and I don’t really care what the law says in this.
And the man is not any kind of ‘lover’, but a stalker.
This has been the script for many such horrific crimes. One such incident that happened in April 1990 in Ulhasnagar, Mumbai, deeply affected me as an impressionable college student. I would actually ascribe this particular incident as a turning point in my life, when my innate, optimistic, rose-coloured glasses came off.
The girl who was killed in that incident was a 16 year old called Rinku Patil, giving her 10th boards, when the perpetrator went in with a few cronies, doused her with petrol, and set her alight. And this in the examination hall, where they frightened the teachers and other students with their threats, getting them out, and trapping her alone. A 10th grader!
It was, at the time, equivalent to the 2012 Nirbhaya incident, after which the practice of selling petrol in bottles and cans became highly regulated.
While 17 year olds (even 15-16 year olds) do get into relationships, getting carried away on hormones and emotions, the perpetrator’s trying to enforce the relationship was at the least child abuse, by the law. And at the most, fatal, as it happened.
I would squarely dump the blame on a few big heads.
Girls/ women are looked at as some ‘thing’ that men can ‘own’. No matter the noises made for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao.
Newsflash – we’re full human beings, and you’d better get your head out of your privileged cloud. I’ve been told by a few that I shouldn’t “bring feminism into everything I say or do”. But that unwarranted piece of advice can come only from someone who has never stepped outside of their privilege, so they don’t really need to factor in feminism in their lives. So what if a few girls are killed/ mained/ suffering for life, in the process?
Yes, I’m going to make this personal. Feminism IS personal to most women, except for a few delusional souls who insist on not being ‘labelled as feminists’. Because guess what, they can’t see beyond their privilege too, which, by the way, they’ve got as a result of many who spoke up for feminism before them.
This is what our Bollywood movies glorify. Right from our early movies to the newest gems in this category like Kabir Singh have underlined just this. Super entitled, violent men, who think that this makes for a good definition of masculinity.
And the girl/ woman they ‘want’ should just fall in line – who cares about what she wants? And who cares if delusional men all over the country who haven’t learned better growing up (I’ll come to that in a bit) think they’re all kinds of cool for emulating their ‘heroes’?
Girl child? What girl child? Who cares about the daughters? After all, they’re just ‘paraya dhan’ who will one day go to their ‘real homes’ a.k.a. marital homes. So what if they have their own dreams? So what if they have as much of a right in this world as the boys, the sons.
Kiran Rao called out this attitude parents have of giving out subliminal disciminatory messages that make the sons feel they are kings of their domain, in her very short, 10 second films. We need more of these – more of crisp, short messages like these that are rooted in our so called ‘culture’, calling out these practices being normalised, including the message that we send our girls (and then blame them for having internalised it) that they don’t really count. No matter what we say in words, our actions speak louder.
Of course – the root cause. It is patriarchy that pits women against women, leading to the myth of ‘women are women’s worst enemies’. The unarticulated but internalised competition for even the relative power that a woman can have on being aligned with a powerful man, or any man for the matter.
Mother-in-law against daughter-in-law is the most obvious example of this struggle, in which the older woman, who gets her power because of having a son, is unable to come to terms with a younger woman possibly competing with her for a place in the same household. Do we recognise this in these terms? No. It is camouflaged as ‘tradition’.
But the more relevant one for this article is the pitting of a mother against a daughter – yes. You read that right.
The obsession we have with sons leads to even mothers often discriminating against their daughters, especially if the mothers have suffered as women, stripped of any identity or power. These then find their power in being wives of powerful men, or even better, as mothers of sons, probably the only male they have any control over. And this leads to the point I made about parenting, above.
This change may not come in a big churn, especially not with a population as huge and diverse as ours, with so many subtexts to every narrative. The change, if it does come about, will only come in salami tactics, in every little bit we can do to move towards a better life for our girl children. Yes, even ‘intellectual armchair activists’ like me writing this. Let’s not diss any positive step.
In the short term, of course, we need to have better implementation of the law – we have plenty of good laws, but who has yet cared if they have been carried out in the spirit as well as in the letter?
And every one of us women (and feminist men) who have a voice, any kind of voice at all, should do our bit, and stop declaring that, “Oh, I don’t think I’m a feminist!”
Image source: Pixabay
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In her role as the Senior Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya
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