Cobwebs of the mind

Note to readers: This post is slightly explicit in nature and might affect the sensibilities of some people.

A girl walking along a corridor stares back at a group of boys insolently staring at her.After she passes them, they snigger calling her a ‘randi’,which means a whore in Hindi.This is not an incident from some remote hinterland and neither are the boys some illiterate lumpen elements. These are youngsters in an engineering college in north India.

Curtsey :
Royalty Free Photos

Denigration of women,by terming her a whore,is commonly done for a variety of reasons.Reasons could vary from something as innocent as a girl looking a man directly in the eyes to the way she walks, the dresses she wears or the company she keeps.Sexual exploits of men are often seen as reinforcing commonly held perceptions of manhood but a woman’s even perceived transgressions can be termed sluttish.It can be shocking to note the sexually degrading terms very commonly used for women even in the so called ‘educated’ masses.This degradation also justifies the assault on such women in the minds of such people. One can stop a person from speaking words like ‘dented and painted’ but does that purge the thought from the minds of such people and from many others, who would in their minds, condone it. The spoken creates ripples but the unspoken remains buried in the depths ticking like a time bomb.

While sexual frustration is a reality for most Indian men brought up in a conservative society shackled with a rigid set of moral codes, the potpourri of a misogynistic attitude fostered by a healthy dose of a patriarchal upbringing revering a male child and stifling moral codes for a women are enough to develop an exceedingly regressive mentality.

While there would hardly be a man who might look away from a scantily dressed woman, the difference between a man with a normal sex drive versus a man who is capable of transgressing the boundaries lies in the filters through which a base impulse has to pass through. These filters are societal filters, education filters,family values and cultural upbringing, respect for individual and personal integrity filters. When these filters are missing, the impulse comes through as a base carnal instinct which is devoid of any other emotion.

In a society, where a woman oscillates from being a Goddess to a slut, it becomes trying to maintain a balance. As one observes the different behavioral patterns, one can easily differentiate three distinct classes –

1.People who are conservative imbibing a strict sense of gender specific moralities but are respectful towards women and intrinsically have strong family values and personal integrity
2.People who are conservative and have a misogynistic mindset
3.People who are liberal in views and truly view women as equals.

People in the second category are the most likely to transgress to crimes against women.But if we really want our country to progress and provide a common platform for women to be really ‘equal’, then the transformation needs to happen even for the first category of people.

When we talk about people’s regressive mindsets with women’s crimes serving as the context, we invariably direct it at men. But society doesn’t comprise of men alone, it comprises of women too. And regressive mindsets don’t just exist in the male population. As women, we too need to free ourselves from old adages and expectations or falling prey to commonly accepted gender stereotyping. These are questions that a woman needs to ask of herself.How equal is ‘equal’? Why do women still need knights in shining armor to rescue them ? Why do women still look for husbands who are more qualified and having better jobs than them ? Are we responsible for the choices we make or do we voluntarily shy away from making choices ? Do we stand up for what we think is right ? Yes, biologically men are stronger but we are not involved in hand-to-hand combat on a daily basis, so its time to stop thinking of ourselves as the weaker sex.Stop being sidelined or being victimized. As women, we need to stop appearing helpless and instead find solutions to solve practical problems.

The transformation is needed at multiple levels and needs to be tailored to address the different strata of society. Strategies for the grass root level would typically need to differ from the others.Gender sensitivity needs to be inculcated through awareness campaigns by the government and corporates. Rigid control needs to be followed in how women are represented in public media. Advertisements and films need to be monitored and corrected for skewed depictions of women. Films and popular public idols can play a huge role in driving home key messages,especially to people,at the grass root level. Strengthening judiciary and police to enable support systems for women and faster trials for cases. All women should mandatorily train in basic self-defence.Our education system should introduce value based education and a scientific temper.They should enable men and women to come together and interact in forums at an intellectual and emotional level.Inculcate sensitization and appreciation of a human being separate from the gender of the person.

A life time of conditioning cannot be undone in a day, but the liberation needs to happen from within and somewhere we all have to sit down and clear out some of those cobwebs from our minds.

Happy New Year 2013 to all my readers !

The Beast Within

Newspapers these days are crammed with innumerable cases of murders, rapes, extortion and child abuse. Hardly a day goes by, when one doesn’t read about the murky details of one crime or the other. But why do certain cases stand imprinted in our memory. These cases either stand out due to acts of extreme depravity or due to the nature of the crime itself. But the crimes that really shake us to our core are the ones that are depraved and ones, which could happen to any one of us. These are crimes committed against ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. These could happen to you or me while doing any of the normal routine chores that we go about doing, during our day.

Delhi’s rape incident was one such case, extremely brutal and depraved, it happened to a woman who could be any one of us, in an extremely ordinary turn of events. What could be more ordinary than boarding a public bus after a movie at a not-so-late hour, with a companion?

If we take the case of the rape or of the recent shootings in Connecticut, they clearly point to the handiwork of some depraved individuals. One school of thought propagates that terming the perpetrator of a crime as ‘depraved’ creates a divide by which the larger populace alienates itself from the perpetrator, thereby providing not much leeway for the community to rectify itself as a whole.

The person doesn’t become depraved after committing an act of crime. There is no metamorphosis that suddenly happens and transforms an apparently normal individual to a deviant personality. The individual had these traits in him even before anything happens. It is just that a crime brings it to the spotlight. These are passive tendencies, which come to the fore when the opportunity presents itself. Tomorrow, it could be the friendly neighborhood grocer, the milkman, colleague at office or any of the people we meet in our day-to-day lives. They are ‘normal’ people and in one sudden shocking instance, they become ‘abnormal’ and are ostracized from the society and categorized as being ‘depraved’. The point here is that the ‘depravity mindset’ exists in us and amidst us.

Painting by William Blake
Curtsey: Wikipedia

While there is no denying the need to impose much harsher and stricter punishments coupled with a swifter judicial system, I would liken it to a leash restraining a rabid dog. The leash will restrain the dog but the dog will attack at the slightest chance if the opportunity presents itself. The leash doesn’t cure the dog.
Even assuming that the perpetrator was actually ‘depraved’ and mentally unstable, the question which begs an answer is why the society is producing more and more of these kinds of ‘depraved’ individuals. As a society are we an accomplice to producing individuals with personalities more tuned to committing violence on women?

In a country, where women routinely face physical and mental torture in the hands of their own family, cases of rapes might just be extensions of the mindset that has already conditioned itself to adhere to subjugation of women.
Even an apparently innocent statement saying ‘This is not a girl’s job’ , will provide the foundation in the mind of a child who will later grow up with preconditioned notions of what women should or should not do. When conditioning like these are provided to a growing child on a routine basis through different channels, the message gets re-affirmed over and over again. The problem of objectifying /sexualizing women or treating them as a commodity then just becomes a continuation of their already established beliefs.
Every instance of a dowry being given/taken, a girl being denied education, stereotyping a woman’s roles, establishing male dominated control structures, lends to the overall psyche of a society which is geared to produce the so called ‘deviant’ individuals.

The crimes should not be viewed as isolated incidents committed by people who are not part of the society but viewed as offshoots or grotesque manifestations of a wound that is festering within us. It is this malaise that needs to be cured.