The date was December 29, 2012. Hopes were high but prayers went unanswered as the woman who was attacked on a bus, passed on. Since December 17, the Delhi gang rape incident has dominated headlines, public discourse, protests, movements, and even casual, formal, and informal conversations. The dialogue is still on, and I hope it continues.
On one hand there are people like Abhijit Mukherjee, famous for the ˜dented-painted women’ remark, Asaram Bapu, in whose world, the rape victim was responsible for what befell her, for she failed to chant the Saraswati mantra, and to make brothers out of her drunk, scheming, attackers. And on the other hand, there are popular stars like Priyanka Chopra saying that she may walk naked down the street, nobody has the right to rape her, along with commoners protesting at various landmarks, calling for the perpetrators to be meted out the same inhuman treatment their victim suffered at their hands.
Apart from these extremes, we see some beautiful, emotive, strong, clear, articles and blogs coming out, at times written by survivors of such crimes; experts and journalists have zeroed in on patriarchy, challenging the traditional notions of power inherent within its structure, and have criticized, questioned, and probed almost everything from the society’s role in the acceptance of such crimes, to relating it to ˜honour’, ˜virtue’, ˜chastity’, ˜character of women’, to blaming the government, police machinery, judiciary, etc, for not being vigilant or active enough. Also being scrutinized is the role of media in all this, and its various forms “ advertisements, TV programmes, movies, et al.
As it turns out, I realize that every angle that needs to be examined, is being examined “ if not on TV, then on social networking websites, if not in newspaper editorials then in group discussions. This one incident and the reaction to it shook everyone, some way or the other. Some say it reached a ˜tipping point’ of some sort, for such and even more gruesome incidents on a much greater scale have happened before. In fact, a particular news story ran with the information that in India, before the 1950s, rapes were rarely even recorded, while burglaries were considered a more serious offence.
I find that I am all for this ˜tipping point’. I just have a few questions I feel like asking, and some disjointed observations to make, which I hope to bring out in a string of blogs¦
˜Patriarchy’ surely has everybody riled up, and while I do believe that the present system, whatever it may be, is loaded in favour of men “ their ambition, their achievement, their status, their security, their freedom, etc – and that there is an unequivocal need for greater gender parity and equitability at every level, I also don’t think that matriarchy (or some other ˜archy’) would offer the correct alternative to it. For those advocating ˜western style’ concept of ˜equality’, there have been many pointers to the fact that the registered number of rapes per capita is lower in India than in the US. Which, of course, have been countered by those saying that 50 per cent (or more) of rapes aren’t even registered in our country.
My own observation on this is that there is no ambiguity that women have always had the raw end of the deal: society, infrastructure, businesses, developmental plans, politics, even religion have certainly pushed them into the back. The media has put them in the front, but mostly through commoditisation of women, and objectification of their bodies (I don’t think male stars have managed to avoid the phenomenon altogether, but the male-dominated storylines, paychecks, clout in the industry, do contribute to the notion ˜It’s a man’s world’).
This is not about one country, it is the history of the human society. Trace this way back to its origins and we end up with arguments such as ˜survival of the fittest’, alluding to the physical strength of the human male “ perpetrated and glorified through literature, religions, political systems, etc. In fact, all ancient cultures, and even their leading philosophers have talked about the ˜inferiority of women’ as the justification for the man to be at the forefront of the ˜outside world’, and the woman to be ˜confined’ in the safety, security, and the warmth of the home and the hearth.
I think as men hunted and gathered, or conquered (as I think later their more modern counterparts tilled the land, traded wares, manufactured commodities, built political systems, expounded on various subjects, developed religions, indulged in scientific study), they came in control of resources essential for survival. With this power, they could deprive others of it if their authority was challenged in any way. This forms a very dark core of the human condition.
It is perhaps this that spawns the seed of ego, greed, hate, and ultimately, violence as a tool to express the former. Rape is just one of the many ways it finds expression. This power is the reason why the white man maltreated the black man, the Brahmin maltreated the Shudra, one race maltreated the other, one religion persecuted those belonging to other religions, man maltreated woman. The irony lies in the fact that a man in any single category mentioned above, could go home, ill-treat the women in his household, dependent on him. The injustice of the system lies in the fact that even the man placed on the lowest rung of the societal pyramid had the power to bring a woman into submission for whatever purpose he deemed fit.
Here, might is right: one is exploited by someone more powerful, who justifies it saying the other is unworthy, lowly, incompetent, wrong¦ and in the case of women, calling them vulgar, unchaste, immoral. Traditions were built around this scheme, so were religions and systems of political thought, even philosophy, mythology, and literature.
Ironically, the essence of our discourse on social development, religion, political activism, etc is based on going against this ˜might is right’ syndrome, reflected in our concern for the downtrodden, ˜the meek shall inherit the earth’, charity, etc. And yet, we proudly partake of it only when it suits us. And, it suits us only when we have something to gain from it, another expression of ˜might is right’. A vicious cycle ensues.
What pains me is this: if, at the end of the day, might is right, how are we different from animals? This ongoing dialogue out on the streets is a reiteration of this same question. The huge stir we saw on the issue of corruption in the recent past too was an expression of the same question. It is the power-equation across the board that is being questioned.
So, when we say that the system needs to change, we have to first understand the very subtle level from which it operates. I think it is this subtle level that needs nurture and adjustment. And, I think, the present dialogue is a crucial step towards this process.