At all the discussions on my book, almost all male participants refuse to accept that oppression of women is still a reality. A comment comes, “I never question my wife about where she’s spending and what she’s up to.” Another says, “When I have to buy a car, I do talk to my wife about it.” Although he never had an argument to support the fact that when women have to buy something they mandatorily need approval from their men whereas men could just choose to dicuss or not the prospective big purchase with their women. My book is about financial independence of women so the discussion is concentrated in the beginning but takes the shape of a general gender debate as it proceeds.
In fact, this is the case at every discussion we have on the subject whether it’s a discussion on my book or my talk sessions at colleges or corporate houses. At one discussion in Delhi, a twenty-something said, “When I told my parents about spending a night out, my father objected while my brother was not questioned at all about a night out.” She is working and hence “financially independent” as we would perceive.
A male participant reverted aggressively, “So how does that affect independence of women? I am a father and I go to drop my daughter to the bus stop every morning and in the afternoon check with my wife if she has picked her up and she’s safe home. That’s because I care about her safety. But I am a liberal father! Yet I would do things to protect my daughter.”
At this point I intervened and asked him, “Who are you protecting your daughter from? Men! There!”
I don’t deny that there is change. Of course, more women are objecting to atrocities against them. They are not intimidated by the fear of ostracism or hostility from the society. This is happening because more women are earning and also aware of their rights. This change is not happening because men have crusaded for it and not at all because patriarchy gave in under the pressures of old age. Patriarchy is ageless. It’s still young enough to flex its muscles and keep its might and main intact.
We still live in a world where women move around with a constant fear of being attacked by men at home or outside. Khadijah, the head of Delhi government’s 181 helpline for women said during a coffee conversation with me, “Rape survivors tell me that rape was very unfortunate but their sexual encounters with their husbands have been more painful and insulting. They would call that also rape.”
I know a woman who had an abusive husband. The other other men of the family, brothers-in-law etc, made direct advances towards her for, what else, sexual favours. She is a well-educated teacher (retired) and holds a doctorate besides double MA degrees. She chose to stay put with her husband despite physical and verbal attacks because “I had two daughters and couldn’t afford to let the tongues go wagging.” Men have made the world unsafe for women and women have supported them in this endeavour by receding into their shells for some insecurity or the other.
Some women don’t know that being beaten up or being forcefully driven into sexual activity by husbands is a violation of their rights as human beings. They have always been told, “He’s your husband. If he won’t who else will?” I had visited a village near Delhi last year. After a daylong conversation with the men and women there, I was confused that no one talked about domestic violence. On my way back, I asked my tour guide. She said women don’t know that domestic violence was wrong. It’s norm for them.
Khadijah says, “One rape and we go kill! kill! kill! All insults a woman faces everyday in the form of sexually explicit comments and advances on roads, in offices, and even at home are equivalent to rape!” Of course, there is frustration among men that women are fairing better than them in every way. It is so clearly visible in the form of jealousies of men for their successful female colleagues, of brothers for their successful sisters, of husbands for their comparably more successful wives. The frustration comes out in the form of sexual and violent attacks on women, she says. Men’s hegemony is being questioned by women becoming independent. This is tough to digest.
Today, I woke up to the news of a December 16-like incident in Mumbai. The city has been my home and I still sit perched to get back there. I declare with pride at every public conversation that I have hung around in the streets of Mumbai at 3am with my female friends without a fear in our minds. The incident of last evening belies and belittles my claims immediately!
But assaults after assaults, is there no way out? What do we do? Someone said, “The only solution is that women avoid going out much.” Another said, “Women should arm themselves with some mild weapon like a spray, a catapult etc. when they go out. They should know how to handle the attackers physically. Karate is a must!”
Well, confining women to the four walls of the house will only add to the problem. Women must come out in larger numbers to scare the mentalities that are attacking them. Just like you would not stop driving or would not stop your family from driving after an accident, don’t blame your daughters or stop them from carrying on after a sexual assault case. Also, how many people have stopped marrying their daughters after cases of domestic violence? None! So why stop them from carrying on with their lives after hearing cases of assaults? It is never women’s fault. It’s the fault of mentalities and of those who survive and thrive on these mentalities. Of course, our lame laws play a major role in
I have met a lot of rape survivors who are doing very well in life. All of them are independent women having left behind the dark patch of their lives as a bad accident. This helps because in our society, for a woman, sexual activity outside marriage is considered disgraceful and a sexual attack on her makes her impure and “used” and renders her ineligible for a respectful life. This mindset made sexual assaults the most potent and fulfilling form of revenge for men. But with women standing up against it, this revenge has largely lost its erstwhile credilbility. However, unfortunately, some culptrits are living free and good lives too. And this is the reason why sexual crimes against women go on unbridled. A fast track court was set up for the December 16 Delhi case but we are still waiting for the verdict. After 20 hours of the Mumbai incident now, only one rapist has been arrested.
So even as our laws and mentalities continue to let us down, women have to make a beginning by coming out in larger numbers and aggressively claiming their space. It’s time! In saying so, let your girl be born to begin with else the ‘large number theory’ will be breached at birth!
And that thing about sprays, catapults, karate etc, these are mandatory accessories for every woman! Remember, this world is no place for the meak!
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If you, or a woman or women around you, are subject to domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other atrocities at home or anywhere else, here is what you can do.Know more