Only Suffering for Women? 

SHOULD people be concerned about what others do on a moral plane and is there anything that legitimises people to infringe upon and criticise the choices that others make? A straightforward and a rationally sound answer to this question should have sounded like “No, People should rather mind their own business”. But that answer, no matter how sound and healthy it sounds, doesn’t sound musical to all ears and there are people who will oppose this position tooth and nail and claim for themselves the position to criticise and condemn others, their choices and preferences. While this tendency to judge others and to question their choices cuts across the spectrum, but it too has been observed that it is mostly the girls and women who are preyed upon in this sport. On the one hand, the instances of domestic violence, sexual harassment at workplaces, in public transport and elsewhere go unabated.

On the other hand, a section of people are looking for reasons, no matter how trifling and instances no matter how insignificant to troll, abuse, stalk and even assault girls – be it in virtual social space or mundane physical world. What girls wear, how they carry themselves around, what choices they make and what aspirations they choose to follow, everything is subjected to public and social scrutiny and this exercise is undertaken by those who don’t share even the remotest link/connection to the girl subject to criticism. Social media warriors seem to derive a sort of strange masochistic pleasure by trolling and bullying girls and making unwelcome entries into their lives.

The portrayal of people and society as such is not an attempt at demonization or misrepresentation of society wholesale but it is indeed an attempt to awaken ourselves to the malicious elements dwelling our society, hijacking the lives and  liberties of people in general and women in particular.

The incidents of violence against women – both virtually and physically have been a recurring phenomenon. Experts have opined that mostly these incidents of violence and abuse go unnoticed and women keep suffering exploitation, of different magnitudes and natures. The closest of relatives have been now and then reported harassing girls and these incidents have been time and again brushed under the carpet. But two stark and gore examples from previous days have established the gravity of the problem and signalled the scale and spectrum of abuse and trolling faced by women. In the first instance of this despicable attack was the acid attack on a girl, shock waves were sent across the board as news of this incident spread like a wildfire.

The girl is presently fighting for her eye-sight and carrying the scars – physical and mental — that might stay with her for her entire life. Previously too there have been isolated incidents like these, but their isolated nature doesn’t mean that one turns a blind eye to these devastating incidents. These incidents are to be evaluated and plugged based on the intensity of destruction they cause in a singular event and the criminal precedent they set for others to imitate and follow. With this incident surfaced the quantum of vulnerability that girls/women are susceptible and the audacity with which perverted minds can run into their lives and destroy it the way they want to. The spectres of acid attack that took place at Hyderpora a few years ago haven’t faded from our memories, but the tragedy we face is that these incidents aren’t stopping and now and then crop up here and there. What compounds human anguish and hatred to this magnitude that doing away with all marks of civility and humanity, one stoops down to the level of animals and commits horrendous violence against fellow humans? This is a question to be addressed jointly by parents, the education system and the society if we want to steer our youth in a constructive direction.

In a more recent and still more shocking incident, a storm took over social media when the twelfth standard topper appeared in an interview without a head cover or what is termed as Hijab in religious parlance. Those deeming the unveiled appearance of the girl for the interview trespassed all codes of ethical and moral conduct. Abuses were hurled, religious commitment of girls was called into question and all boundaries of privacy, freedom of will and conscience obliterated. As if the ordeal wasn’t enough, the girl had to separately appear in an interview clarifying her position on her dress code, ideology and non-observance of Hijab. This is a radical position bordering insanity, fuelled by the pseudo-scholarly understanding of religion. To operate behind the veneer of religion, lends impunity to these perpetrators who misconstrue religion and derive pleasure of sorts while criticising others behind the facade of ethics and morality.

When one contemplates the prerequisites of human existence as a social creature, one is driven to the concepts of liberty, equality and dignity. In absence of these guarantees, human life becomes, like the lives of other animals, one driven by biological necessities and also constrained by the same. It is only in presence of these essential values of liberty and equality that man attains the limits of his possibilities, potentials and becomes a creature of benefit for himself and the world at large. But it is here that one encounters a disturbing and penetrating question and that is the issue of guaranteeing these rights both to men and women. What is often seen is that in any discourse of liberty and emancipation, it is men who have occupied the centre stage and around whom the discourse has revolved. Narratives, paradigms and worldviews were formulated and promulgated taking man as the referent and standard. Women have been historically left on the margins and peripheries and their social construction has always been undertaken under the presumption of treating them as others.

What has been more tragic is that women were subjected to subalternity and deprived of their agency. They were even deprived of their right to speak for themselves and inevitably it were men who defined them, their agency and their identity. Marginalised and pushed to peripheries as women were, so their agency and presence couldn’t but show marginal presence in history and the discourse emerging there from. It is true that myriad forms of violence and abuse stemming against women derive their legitimacy from the social-construction of women and the manner in which society perceives their agency. In an attempt to eliminate the malice of violence and abuse against women, it is essential to conceptualize their existence as social agents. It is also important to call upon legislation the promulgation of women specific ordinances to further their rights and to provide them a shield against the abuse and violence they are subjected to.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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