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No country for women? Sadly, yes!
Embracing spiritual feminism is the way to gradually develop a gender-neutral society, says Deana Uppal
The Chandigarh stalking incident viciously repeats the same grim tale of women security among the cosmopolitans of our country. It shows us that we have learnt nothing from our disastrous past and we are yet to challenge the concept of toxic masculinity that flourishes under muscle, money and political power. Four-and-a-half years have passed since the gruesome rape and murder of young Nirbhaya, a barbaric incident that shook the foundations of this country. A wave of protests spread across the nation, catapulting the civil society into action from its slumber. But has the scene of women security really changed in India? The answer is in a grim negative. In fact, it has abjectly worsened. The number of rapes reported each year in Delhi has catastrophically increased post the protests and the Justice Verma reforms, registering a diabolic increase of 277 per cent from 572 in 2011 to 2,155 in 2016, as per the data released recently by the Delhi Police.
Molestations and incidents of groping have risen too meteorically, which was borne out by 1,387 women being interviewed across the capital. About 40 per cent of the surveyed confessed to having been sexually harassed in a public place, with most crimes occurring during daytime. Further 33 per cent had quit venturing out at night, while 17 per cent had gone to the extent of quitting their jobs rather than face harassment in the public.
When it comes to women’s security, the country follows a lacuna-filled linear approach which has divided women into two extremes. One that arises from the cultural perspective, in which the feminine is overtly glorified as “Mother,” “Goddess,” “Shakti” and so on. This side advocates an absurd solution — one which scuttles the freedom of women, preaching medieval methods of restrictions on her conduct, behaviour, lifestyle and even on what she wears or who she chooses to accompany. This approach has been pivotal in causing life-long social trauma to victims, further victimisation of the already oppressed and marginalised, and stigmatisation of gender discourses.
On the contrary, there is another so called modern perspective which apes the West for most of its curative solutions. They advocate similar lifestyle for the fair sex as in Western nations, completely turning a blind eye to the predicament encountered there. These same people though also advocate a point of view that differs completely from the West — among them are those who campaign for stringent laws, harsher punishments and state-of-the-art security and surveillance. In fact, the punishments for rape, molestations and other crimes against women lack teeth in the West. For example, in UK a rapist can be let out in 2.5 years from the correctional facility with good behaviour.
What this side completely ignores is that when it comes to women’s security, the West has failed miserably too. As per a report of YouGov.uk, a third of British women have been groped and the situation is worse in other European nations. A survey by End of Violence Against Women Coalition in 2016 showed that 64 per cent of women of all ages have experienced sexual harassment in the public, which increased to a threatening 85 per cent when the age group was between 18 and 25. In 2016 there were two million female victims of domestic violence, while shockingly two women every week were being murdered by ex-partners or relatives.
The solution here cannot be only legal but cultural — in a systematic and relentless crusade against patriarchy, insecurity, commoditification of women and domination. What we need is a paradigm shift in our patriarchal mindset responsible for breeding and brewing such diabolic demons. A migration from a man-centred society to an equitable environment where empowerment sensitisation and awareness go hand in hand. A patriarchal society can never be a gender-just society.
We need to teach the young men of our nation that patriarchy has no gender. It has in fact oppressed as many men as women. The power of patriarchy has been to make maleness feared and to make men feel that it is better to be feared than to be loved. Emotional neglect lays the groundwork for the emotional numbing that helps boys feel better about being cut off. Eruptions of rage in boys are most often deemed normal, sometimes even glorified and it this rage that is then manifested as not only in acts of violence against women, but in violence of all kinds. This cultural patriarchy has to be condemned and crusaded against at all levels within our society, with intense focus on our family and educational systems.
Also, the “imperialist White supremacist” patriarchal culture needs to be critiqued. For too long the cultural patriarchy has been embedded in our society and normalised by mass media which has rendered it unproblematic. The only way forward is adopting the ethos and values of “spiritual-feminism” which is a wise and loving way of life. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys.
We need to assert in the young minds that “love” will never exist in a relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Men cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. And only when they embrace true feminist thinking and practice, which emphasises the value of mutual growth and self-actualisation in all relationships, will their own emotional well-being be enhanced.
Second, instead of merely concentrating on barbaric and exemplary punishments — which too undoubtedly act as a deterrent by putting fear in the oppressors’ mind — we should also focus on reforming our police and administration, who, currently mired by their social stigmas, increase the trauma of the victims. The police system especially needs an overhauling with mass gender sensitisation drives. Due to the insensitivity in the police system, several cases of gender violence aren’t even reported, which further emboldens the perpetrators. And that is where we must take cue from a city like Mumbai, which has become a beacon of modernisation and women’s security due to its attitude. It is a city which is used to seeing women on streets and in public transport for a long time and that is what causes this attitudinal shift. Exposure and not expulsion of women in the public spaces is the answer.
(The writer is an Indo-British model and entrepreneur)
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