Break this silence

Following the Delhi gang rape of December 2012, which hogged the media limelight for a few weeks, many people expected that there would be a marked improvement in the condition of women in India. The candlelight marches, the sit-ins, scuffles with the police and even bearing the brunt of tear gas and police ‘’lathi’’ charge, the protestors in Delhi that winter, for a moment, brought some hope. The sentiment resonated across all cities and towns in India and people were seemingly angry against a callous State. The State almost seemed incapable of handling the crisis and then, under intense media and public pressure, Justice Verma Committee was constituted to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women.  The Committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013.

From day one of that ghastly incident, the discourse was largely focused on, what many commentators, protestors and common people thought were inadequacies in the policing and the legal system. No one can deny the fact that policing in India, especially when it comes to dealing with cases of any violence related to women is not only callous, but the police resorts to sexism, threats and works largely against the victim. Judiciary too seems inadequate and insensitive in handling such cases. Infact both these institutions, which should be seen helping the victim, often end up supporting the perpetrators and therefore act as an extension of the patriarchal society that we live in,  rather than being liberal institutions which they are supposed to be.

In this cacophony, the real issues were brushed aside and one would think, perhaps deliberately so. Policing and stricter laws are only one part of dealing with violence against women. The larger and more important part lies in how society at large treats women. Since we are uncomfortable with introspection, we often find convenient punching bags to lay blame on, which in this case happened to be the police and judiciary. We conveniently ignore our own complicity in these crimes. The discourse was somehow masking our own ugly reality.

Read these disturbing statistics about rapes, released by National Crime Records Bureau, NCRB: “Offenders were known to the victims in as many as 94.2 % (of all cases reported in India in 2011). Parents / close family members were involved in 1.2% of these cases, neighbors were involved in 34.7% cases and relatives were involved in 6.9% of cases.” There were a total of 22549 reported cases that year. The statistics have almost been consistent and represent no aberration. It can be clearly established that more than 90% of cases of rape and violence against women in India are perpetrated by people who are known to the victim. It can be her neighbour, uncle, friend or some other close relative. In some cases, it can even be her father or father-in-law as well.

Then there is marital rape which isn’t even considered a crime in India. In a patriarchal society like India, married women, who should ideally have a right over their own body and indulge in physical relations with their husband only when they are comfortable with it, are often treated like slaves by their husbands. They are merely treated as possession by their husbands who cannot refuse their demands. Rape is not the only violence that women have to contend with within the four walls of their homes. It can take various forms, sometimes at the hands of the husband, at other times by his other family members.

In such cases, married women often find it extremely difficult to come out of these abusive and violent relationships. Marriage is seen as a means of social respectability and acceptability in our society. Any woman, who wants to come out of an abusive relationship, finds it extremely difficult and at times impossible since the entire social set up seems to work against her decision to quit the marriage. As expected, in a patriarchal system, she is slandered immediately at the first mention of trying to assert herself or when she tries to walk out of a marriage. Marriage is also seen as a means of upholding family ‘honor’ and any woman who decides to quit, is often labeled as going against family ‘honor’ and bringing a bad name and disrepute to her father’s family. Parents of women often find it difficult to accept and reconcile with their daughter’s decision to seek separation from their husband. Their brothers are no different. Given this context, where a woman’s own family –her parents and brothers don’t accept her back in the family, most women are forced to suffer silently in these abusive relationships. Also the fact that many women are not financially independent, given a lot of them are not a part of the workforce, makes leaving such a hell almost impossible. There is also the lack of social security to contend with. Even those women, who somehow find enough courage to leave such relationships, owing mainly to their ability to being financially independent, don’t find much social acceptability. Such women in our society are often treated with contempt and without dignity.

Given the nature of violence against women in our society, one can easily decipher that it is not the visible violence ---the one which we see on the streets--that is the bigger problem. Such violence gets noticed and reported and many a times the perpetrators are even punished. Though the legal process is painfully slow and often breaks the resolve of many victims, one still sees such crimes being dealt with. The real problem lies within the four walls of our homes, which are supposed to be a safe sanctuary for women. Unfortunately major part of violence against women is committed where they should be the safest. It is this deliberately unseen violence which we need to talk about. It is this violence against which women are more vulnerable and also find difficult to report. The family members often brush aside such allegations, even when they fully well know the veracity of a woman’s claims.

Why is it that we all are a part of this conspiracy of silence? What kind of thought process allows us to be complicit in this violence against women? It seems there are shackles that guide our behaviour; shackles of social pressure and conformity which lead to this culture of violence. We often see these stories of violence against women playing outs in our midst on a daily basis: in our neighbor’s homes, our acquaintances, our friends and many a times even in our own homes. This silence helps all those who disempower and dehumanize women. It perpetuates a society which is completely patriarchal, where people have callous, indifferent and cruel attitudes towards women. This conspiracy and callousness feeds and strengthens a system that devalues women to the level of a pure commodity. This violence dehumanizes a woman by showing dominance over them and by refusing them to make their own choices and to have any control on their own life

It is extremely difficult for men to give up the power and privilege that a patriarchal society bestows on them. This power comes by denying women their due rights and dignity. Given how this patriarchy is ingrained in our society, most women also find it difficult to rebel against their own powerlessness.

We want violence against women to stop. We want them to grow without the fear of being stalked or to face any kind of violence. We want them to live with freedom, dignity and safety. This fight about women’s safety is not only related to their workplace or when they are out on the street. This fight about women’s safety should focus more about our homes, where many women face a perpetual living hell which they have to silently bear all their life. Without realizing this, we cannot dream of a safer work place or a safer street for women.

No amount of laws and policing can set right this anomaly in our society. When violence enjoys social sanction, there is hardly anything the law and law enforcing agencies can do. The violence against women that we see outside on the streets or market place is a very small fraction of what they face within their homes. The courts and police cannot micromanage people’s lives. For our society to come out of this pathetic situation, the only redemption is in changing our own attitudes and mindset. It lies in being more humane and caring. This horrible mindset is a bye product of how we raise our children. All parents need to feel responsible in knowing what kind of message they give their children about this. We need to stop the discrimination against the female children in our homes. Our society works on the basis of an unfair system, which many a times, gives people the chance to abuse their power. Today’s boys, who will grow up to be tomorrows men need to be made aware that they should not misuse their power to trample on a fellow human being’s dignity and self respect. They need to be taught that women should be treated as equal human beings. They need to be taught that showing their ‘manliness’ does not depend on depriving a woman of her dignity. No amount of sermonizing and law making would set this right. The only redemption lies in setting the right examples ourselves .It lies in demonstrating proper behaviour towards women in our own homes. It is here that the basis of a society which treats women as equal and dignified human beings can be laid.

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