Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nirbhaya… And Us!

It has been a year since we observed one of the most heinous crimes of the mankind… A brutal gang rape that culminated in the death of its victim, Nirbhaya. Everybody, right from the media to the most common citizen of India, has been discussing the incident for the last entire year in newsrooms, living rooms, classrooms, kitty parties, students' organization meetings, women's organizations, smoking areas of corporates, local trains, bus stops and at every place where two sensible persons meet. We have had debates, discussions, committees, schemes, and many other things as a result of the outrage of Nirbhaya case.

And yet… we have rape cases doubled and molestation cases risen by 6 times in the last year. One may say that rape cases have doubled, while some may opine that reporting of rape cases have doubled, which might be looked at as a positive sign. However, we are certain that if rape cases have indeed doubled, it is an alarming situation. Increase in reporting will mean that the subject has received much more recognition in comparison to a year ago. It will also mean that victims are not scared of being stigmatized as they were a year ago. It will also mean that maybe people have started vesting their faith in the system (police, law, judiciary all put together), thinking that they have a chance of getting justice. This may lead to more complaints being lodged. Same goes with molestation cases too. All these figures are always open for interpretation…
What is not open for interpretation is the fact that women, young and old, urban and rural, traditional and modern, professional women and housewives, are still being raped and/or molested in homes, offices, buses, dark alleys, hotel rooms, cars, beaches, toilets… everywhere!
What we must understand is that rapes are not only numbers, but real life traumas experienced by women which leave them scarred for the rest of their lives. Rapes are irreversible facts of every woman who has experienced that brutality. Rapes are a brutal reality threatening our everyday lives. Rapes are a mentality that is hampering our lives as individuals and as a society. It is hampering our interpersonal relations in a way that is making every day worse than the previous one.

We have already reached a state where every girl is taught, either directly or indirectly, to look upon any man or boy as a probable molester and to keep distance from every man or boy. It is not hard to imagine where this is going to lead us. And this is not going to change, even if incidence of rape cases goes down… And as long as one woman is being raped somewhere, the fear of being the next one will lurk in the minds of all other women. Because as we all know, none of us is safe till all of us are safe! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Killing is killing… Honour or not!

On 20th September 2013, there was this news of honour killing from Haryana, where the father, after stabbing his own daughter to death and beheading her lover in front of his own house said that ‘he had done no wrong’ and that ‘he had done it for the honour of the family’.

The sequence of events shows that it was not some impulsive reaction because his daughter eloped with a so called unsuitable boy. Such act can plead no excuse even being impulsive, but this was way worse. It was a planned cold blooded murder.The family of the girl followed the couple to Delhi, brought them back to the village and murdered them.
When we get past the initial shock and repulsion, the first question that comes to our mind is what must the father, or in this case the father, mother and the uncle have though? What emotions must have crossed their minds? They were talking about killing their own daughter.
A girl who took her first step before their eyes… Her parents must have been the ones to catch her before she fell!
A girl who spoke her first word of life to them… That might have been ‘Maa’ or ‘Bapu’ or ‘Chacha’!
A girl who went to school in front of them… They must have dropped and picked her up from school so many times!
She was a part of their everyday life. What must they have thought when they decided to kill her? Were they so angry that their anger overpowered their love? Or was there never enough love to pull through a situation like this? Was she always the secondary sex?
If they were so angry that they could murder their own daughter in cold blood, what might have prompted that level of fury? They said that the act of their daughter had insulted them in the society. What might have made them think that marrying someone of her choice was an insult to the family? What kind of social pressures must exist there? What reaction would the society have given, had they supported their daughter?
This act is heinous to say the least and the father, mother and uncle have already been arrested. The law will take it’s own course and we can hope that they will get the punishment they deserve. But are they the only criminals?
What about the society that convinced them that a daughter was better dead rather than married to an unsuitable boy? What about the social dynamics that have prompted a complete silence from the family of the boy? What about the social norms those deny personal space? And most importantly what about the mindset of the society at large that thinks that a man can have so much control over a woman that he thinks he is within his rights to kill her?

Click for the news that inspired the blog  Here

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Murder or social evil?

The panel discussion at the launch of the Our Girls and Our Pride campaign had me thinking of clarifying a few points. We all know killing any one is a criminal act and should be treated as murder. Therefore, burning a daughter - in- law is a  murder. But is it the same as killing the son? How does the family, police and judiciary react to the two deaths? To begin with few deaths of daughters-in-law are reported as murders. They are reported as accidents or suicides. It is pre-meditated murder where often more than one family member is involved.  Why is it that the woman always dies in a fire accident in the kitchen or hangs herself? The death is planned to look like an accident or suicide. Why is she not shot or stabbed?

There is always an attempt to tamper evidence and influence the police to see that the case is not registered as murder. So who is going to treat it as murder? Similarly parents are also not willing to press for murder charges because of intimidation, fear that other daughters may not get married, economic constraints etc. The police also feel "hadsa hogaya hai" let's not make an issue of it to protect the honor of the family.  The criminal investigation is so poor that the case does not stand in the court.  The community remains a mute witness as it is seen as "ghar ka mamla" . I do not think the scene would be the same if a man kills his son whatever may be the provocation.

The question is why do we want to kill our daughter-in-law? We want to kill her because she has not brought in or bringing in more dowry which is seen as an entitlement of a man. Or because we got a better dowry deal from someone and want to bump off the girl to get a new bride.

A woman who seeks support from her family when  faced with violence and abuse from her husband and in-laws is often sent back by her parents saying her place is in her husband's house. Half- way homes, Legal aid  and other support mechanisms are almost non-existent. The laws which  are there to protect her, like all other laws  are ineffective, because of poor institutional mechanisms - budgets, human resources etc.

When we say dowry deaths are social evils we are addressing these issues which make us under play the gravity of the issue and the collusion of the social values, gender discrimination, institutionalized gender violence which make it so easy to kill our daughters-in-law.

By saying it is a social evil we are not undermining the criminality of the act. In fact we are saying that it is not being seen as a criminal act because of the social factors which need to be addressed. In spite of the Dowry act, DV act and 498 A , women continue to be killed with impunity and the system is not responding adequately because of the deep seated mindsets which trivialize the value of a woman's life.

Similarly, we all know that son preference has been an endemic problem in India. But with new technology, families have found a way to eliminate unwanted daughters. Sex-determination is a crime under the PCPNDT Act.  Yet so few convictions have taken place so far! Why? I agree that strict implementation of the law is the key. But who is going  to implement it? The doctors, the government, the judiciary? How sensitive are they to the issue?
What are the economic interests involved - of the family, the service providers, and the monitoring agencies? Can we address the problem of Pre-birth sex selection  without addressing the above issues.

I wonder why we think only of common citizens when we think of mind set change. Why do we think of advertisement campaigns, pamphlets and banners as the only means of mind set change? If we want to ensure that the 47000 ultra sound  clinics in the country are monitored strictly to stop pre-birth sex selection completely then we need to focus on those who are responsible for it. It has been proved that focused, intense interventions with specific stakeholders often results in desirable change. For instance in Maharashtra, the judicial colloquiums, sensitization programs for appropriate authorities and public prosecutors has ensured that close to 50 convictions have taken place under the PCPNDT act in the state.  This is just the tip of the  ice berg considering the scale of the issue. We have a long way to go as the latest census figures of Mumbai's sex ratio show. But I would say it is a good beginning.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why this callousness di?

Twenty innocent lives were lost because of  our callousness. It is true that the school administration is primarily responsible for preparing and distributing the food. But it is not true that the school is wholly and solely responsible for it. Structurally a number of checks and balances are built in to the system. But they do not work because of the apathy of the people, their inability to fight for their rights and entitlements. I agree children are not the vote banks but parents are. When did you last hear of a village voting in the panchayat elections  making quality education, nutrition, health care, and employment as election issues? If the village community wants, it can pass a resolution to suspend the Sarpanch, it can audit the gram panchayat accounts and file RTIs to get information. There is so much power vested in the people. Then, why don't they exercise the power? Why the apathy? If an outside contractor comes and builds a sub-standard building we can understand the feeling of helplessness, but how do we explain when their own panchayat and community members build substandard buildings?

Working in 66 villages in Shahapur, we  see the functioning of the system very closely. Every village has at least 5-6 service providers - school teacher, Anganwadi Worker and Helper, pada worker for sanitation and surveillance, ANM and ASHA for  health services and gram sevak. Funds are disbursed and  utilized by the panchayat under the various schemes. Village level committees are constituted to ensure that the schemes are implemented efficiently and effectively by the service providers and the funds are utilized appropriately by the gram panchayat

However, it is frustrating to see that at every level the system is subverted. For instance, often the gram Panchayat members misappropriate the money with the connivance of the gram sevak, of course maintaining perfect records. Wells are cleaned, building are repaired, roads are laid and employment provided... all on paper. Accounts and records are maintained perfectly. The service providers are either hand in glove with the panchayat members are bulldozed and threatened to tow the line.

In most cases we found that the Village level committees for education and nutrition, water and sanitation etc are not functional. Many members are not aware that they are members, those who are members do not know what their roles and responsibilities are and finally those who are active are active for lining their pockets with little concern for the children,their own community members or their village. A few oonscientious  members are silenced by the powerful and are mute witnesses to the pilferage and misappropriation. In short, no body has a vision or dream for their village and lack pride in their village. There is total apathy, self serving leadership and large scale subversion of the system.

Let me narrate a case to highlight the issue. In one of the villages in Shahapur we found during public weighing of children that 24 of them were in the 3rd and 4th grade of malnutrition requiring immediate attention. However, in the records only 4 were shown as so. The AWW and ANM did not want to show so many cases in their records as it would reflect badly on them. Analyzing the situation we found:

Parents and other adults in the village were not aware of the significance of weight monitoring and did not pay attention to the children. Being a poor community, parents were daily wage laborers who had no time to seek medical help for their children.

The self help group which was providing food was only giving rice cooked with turmeric. No pulses, lentils,oil or vegetables were being given. The reason being, the group was to use their money and receive reimbursement later. Since reimbursements often did not come for more than 6 months they were reluctant to spend their money on procuring the appropriate rations.

The AWW and Helper were not actively working to convince parents to send the children to the Anganwadi

Parents were not keen on admitting the children in the hospitals as they could not afford to forego their daily wages on which the entire family survived
They were supposed to receive compensation for lost wages but the Primary Health Centres (PHCs) were not able to disburse the money on a daily basis for many reasons, which defeats the very purpose of having the provision.

The number of malnourished children was brought down to 4 within six months by plugging all the gaps. Adolescent girls were roped into counsel parents and accompany children to Anganwadi. SHG members were counseled about importance of nutrition and were convinced to provide food as per the nutrition chart, a camp was organized in the PHC with parents getting wage compensation on a daily basis.

The community understood the gravity of the problem and arranged through a donor to distribute one egg to each child as additional food supplement.

More importantly both ANM and AWW worker were motivated to take care of these children, of course with a warning that if they do not then the cases would be reported to their seniors.

Our delivery structures are good and our paper work is excellent. If we go only by the reports we would have nothing to worry about, but the reality is so different.

Do we shrug our shoulders and say that "we are like that only"! Would shifting the monitoring indicators from the quantity of services to quality of services improve service delivery? Who should measure the qualitative impact- third party researchers? Village community? So far the service providers are the providers, monitors as well as evaluators of the programme. Time we make the system work through people's participation.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Being Human

A few days back, after a session on gender sensitization a young colleague asked  me " if patriarchy is all pervasive and every institution supports it, is it ever possible to bring about gender equality?"

Recently there was a little tweeting on an advertisement of Delhi Police, where a daughter of a policeman says" I will follow the footsteps of my father" the question raised was why not show daughter of a police woman saying" I  will follow the footsteps of my mother"

Imagine how refreshing it would be if a son of a police woman was shown saying " I want to follow the footsteps of my mother" !

Patriarchy manifests differently and to varying extent in different contexts. What is important is for men and women to be conscious of it's existence and challenge it at every opportunity.

Look at our equations with our spouses. Are they equal? Are we making decisions consciously? Let me share with you a small study done by Sophia college students. Girls were asked to choose qualities and qualifications that they seek in their future husbands. Most girls chose better economic status, higher educational qualifications and assets over qualities such as understanding,sensitivity, liberal thinking etc. Thus marriage is aspirational for many women, get married into a wealthy family or to an IAS officer or what have you and your life is made. When marriage is based on such a requirement, how can we stop the practice of dowry and under valuing of women? Don't you think the equations would change when women start looking inward for fulfillment and achievement than gloating in reflected glory of the achievements of their husbands?

I cannot talk about gender equality to students if the equations between the male and female teachers is a reflection of the power equations at home. Male teachers being authoritative and female teachers being submissive. Female teachers engaged in cleaning and decoration work and men handling mikes and sound systems when there is an event. If a child never sees a man cooking or caring at home it would be very difficult for her/him to even imagine that it is possible. I have seen idiosyncrasies of male professors at the university level being ignored but those of the woman professors being exaggerated and stigmatized. And we ignore and often participate in it, because we are not using our critical thinking or wearing our gender lens.

Often people say that you are reading too much into an incident or a remark. If a sexist remark is passed do we just ignore it or show that  we have noted and not approved of it? I always feel we should be conscious of where to draw the line. It is your call and the other party has to respect it.

Gender is not about women. It is about the power equations between men and women. Just as we women fight for our right to be in the public places and work places, it is also important that we make space for men in kitchens and creches. I see women going into a frenzy when a male guest enters the kitchen to help, they do not mind my doing it, even if I am meeting them for the first time.

I also , particularly in middle and upper income families, that girls are being brought up to make them independent , confident and assertive. But at the same time there is no attempt to make the sons caring, nurturing and sensitive. They continue to be what they always have been   Dependent on women for all their daily needs,aggressive and violent.

When each one of us looks at oneself as a human being, and not as a man or a woman and are able to realize our full potential we would have a better society. Just imagine how beautiful life would be if only we could be rid of the burden of living up to the expectations of ourselves and others from us as a man or women.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wake up India!

Once again there is justifiable anger at the molestation of a woman  by a pizza delivery boy. News anchors are hyper ventilating asking the question, Are women not safe at home anymore? They were never safe at home anyway as the domestic violence and rape statistics show.

There was also a discussion on it as a failure of our police and judiciary with a focus on whether we need to redefine the age of a "Juvenile"

There are also write ups in editorial pages saying that we need to address the issue of falling sex ratio if we want to address increasing crimes against women.

While I fully understand the need for better criminal investigation and quick justice and agree  about the possible escalation in violence against women due to shortage of women, to put the current incidents in that context is highly misplaced.

These are not frustrated middle aged men  who failed to get a wife. These are children, 15,16,17 years old who should be in high school dreaming of a bright future, may be having a girl friend, and some recreation.

Instead they are working in least remunerative and exploitative work conditions in jobs as delivery boys, courier boys, cable tv and other mechanics. They are paid less, are not respected for their work. They often face violence and humiliation at work. Most of them have run away from homes or live alone in slums. They see the rich and beautiful and are constantly exposed to the glitz and glamour. They have dreams of riding that beautiful bike with a girl they desire or love. All of which are not possible given their circumstances. The pent up anger and frustration leads to criminal activities or explodes into acts of violence particularly when the provocation comes from a woman who is in a much better position than they are, denting his macho image. These incidents are sexual crimes which are having strong socio-economic underpinnings.

A boy who delivers pizzas in US goes to school, goes back to a home which is comfortable and can afford to buy a pizza if he wants. The pizza boys in India see boys and girls of his age ordering pizzas which may be more than his salary for a month and represent everything that he wants but cannot afford. Imagine what goes in their mind?

The writing on the wall is very clear. We need more inclusive growth. We need more child friendly environment, where bad schools do not force children to run away from homes, where education builds the vocational skills of the students, where housing is decent, and food is adequate.

If the government and all other stakeholder groups do not take note of this as a symptom but as the disease, the incidents are only going to grow. Not just in number,may be in brutality as well.

Time to invest in our youth, otherwise our demographic dividend may turn out to be a demographic disaster.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A lost opportunity?

 It was Nirbhya's birthday on 10th May. I am sure she would have celebrated it with her friends,  hanging out in a Mall, having dinner at some place and catching up a movie. Small pleasures of young people. But it was not to be because of the  bestial and inhuman behavior of some men who raped and left her to die. She died but only after she made each one of us conscious of the cruelty, the unfairness and the brazenness of the act.

I am sure many parents after the incident may have hugged their daughters and thought" thank god! It is not my daughter" and many others may have heaved a sigh of relief and thought " thank  God! I do not have a daughter". While both the sentiments are understandable given the gory details discussed endlessly in media and the mass reaction to the incident, they are problematic in their own way. On the one hand it may force parents to restrict the freedom of their daughters fearing for their safety and on the other hand it may help justify the decision of many parents not to have daughters. More important is for every parent of a boy to  ensure that he respects the rights of girls and women. That is possible only when we as adults have more equitable gender relationships in the family.

In retrospect, the whole debate somehow got restricted to policing and death penalty to the offenders. The anger at the candle light vigils and protest marches was also against the administration and the police. Many important factors which are widening the gender gap in aspirations,  values and needs of men and women, the cultural lag between the urban and rural perceptions about women and the modern and  patriarchal gender frameworks are not discussed to the extent required.

For instance, the insensitive sentiments from politicians and religious leaders only elicited condemnation, and jeering from the media with a highly defensive reaction from the offenders and their supporters. And,  after a few hours or days of media attention, the issue is forgotten.

 I would have loved to see a hour long discussion of Asaram Bapu with a cross section of young men and women regarding what his position is on the role of women, their status in families and society and his stand on violence against women .  It would have definitely helped us understand why religious leaders think the way they do and may be we could have sensitized him to what the young generation thinks about gender issues. It may have also opened up discussions between parents and children at homes.

Instead what we had was aggressive anchors/reporters trying to corner him, make him confess that what he said was wrong and extract an apology. We lost a golden opportunity to have a meaningful exchange of ideas.

Similarly, I would have loved to know about the background of the MPs who made such ridiculous statements, what was their stand on gender or development issue in the Parliament or Assembly, what was their level of participation in decision making etc. It would have helped the viewers understand the diverse perspectives and could have promoted a dialogue to bring about mindset change. But it requires research, investment of time and resources. Is it that in the 24 HR format of breaking news we do not have the luxury of such engagement on issues? Is the tried and tested formula of a panel discussion the only option? I fail to understand the purpose of a defensive ruling party representative, the heckling opposition party members with civil society and media representatives chipping into add to the noise in TV discussions. The audience can predict what each one of them is going to say and after a while switch channels.

The popular response to Nirbhaya incident was also more driven by anger and frustration. After watching hours and hours of TV I failed to understand whether we are protesting the treatment of women in India in general or venting our anger against the corrupt police force and self seeking and apathetic political class? What were the concerns of the protestors, who looked so bothered , so anguished and so angry? Did we try to understand their real concerns? Don't you think it would have been great to have a cross section of them particularly young men,  8 to 10 of them,speaking about why they are bothered, anguished and angry.

What are their perceptions regarding women? Do they think that a woman -  his sister, mother, girl friend, friend or wife has a right to choose her career and her life partner,  right to freedom to go out in the night, watch late night movies, be with a male companion alone, resist the advances of a man,  go to a pub and have a drink and dress up the way she wants. We could have had an audience poll, a social media event on the opinions expressed by the participants, thus drawing the viewers into a discussion. This could have been followed with a panel discussion to frame it in a larger perspective.

Even in the current scenario of 24/7 news channels, breaking news and cut throat competition for TRPs there is scope for improving the programming. We only need to think out of the box and give our viewers the respect that they deserve.

Till we do that Gudias and Nirbhayas keep coming and going on the national scene with not much difference to the way we treat our women in our homes, on the streets and at work places.

Friday, May 3, 2013

MARD for redefining gender?

There is an expression in Telugu´Karana  Janmuralu’ one who is born for a cause. I think, Nirbhaya is one. The brutal violence that she faced, her suffering, courage and death has shaken us out of our stupor and forced us to shake out of our apathy. A number of people have come forward to support the campaign against gender based violence and news papers have been consistently highlighting incidents of violence against women which would otherwise be relegated to some small corner in the inside pages. While this is making reading the news paper a harrowing experience, it is keeping us focused on the issue.

The most important fall out of this is the churning that has been brought about in the film fraternity with Bollywood stars coming out to support the cause in a big way. Farhan Akhtar’s MARD (men against rape and domestic violence) is a laudable effort. And, the discussion on item songs for once is being initiated by the film fraternity itself with candid expression of opinions on male gaze and objectification of women’s body. The thin line between freedom to express and celebrate sexuality and sensuality as against yielding to male gaze and objectification is being acknowledged. It was pleasure watching Shabana Azmi and Zoya Akhtar speaking on various channels/fora on the issue with seriousness and insight.

Just see the impact of MARD. It is being promoted by sports stars in IPL. Media is lapping it up; there are promotional events, icons from film industry lending their support and the social media buzzing.

But my concern is only with the packaging of the issue. The word “MARD”is highly gendered unlike purush or Aadmi. Whenever, we refer to men in a positive light we often use these words, Maryada Purushottam for deity Ram, aadmi achcha hai, aadmi ho ya janwar etc. We do not use MARD. We use Mard in contexts which are violent, aggressive, war like situations. It is actually used as a counter to the feminine stereo type. We say “mard hai to kar ke dikha”, “kya mard hai yaar, biwi ko control kar nahi sakta” etc.  The emotions evoked by MARD are those of power, authority, control and violence particularly against women.

The twirling moustache indicates once again pride, arrogance and control. A MARD is expected to protect a woman because she is his property and if he is mard enough he should not let anyone attack his property. So he insists that she need not work because he earns enough, she should not provoke others to attack her by going alone or going out in the nights, she should not challenge the boundaries set for her by getting involved in relationships beyond what is dictated by the Mard in her family. 

A Mard with or without twirling moustache would feel compromised if he cannot control the woman’s freedom and sexuality. He is not Mard enough, if for the sake of family honour he is not able to eliminate her, if the situation demands. A Mard is a demi God, no woman dare resist or reject him to pursue her own dreams and aspirations. If she does, he is ready with the most potent weapons, a bottle of acid, a can of kerosene or a sharp knife to disfigure her for life and of course his MARDANGI to rape and humiliate her for life. Umpteen films have been successful solely based on this theme of Mardangi - violation of women, macho response, revenge and retribution.

Will Farhan’s MARD be able to change the cultural and gender definitions of Mardangi/Masculinity? We will have to wait and watch.   

Monday, April 22, 2013

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind

I have recieved responses on my facebook and also on phone from people arguing passionaltely that the men raping women should be castrated, have their limbs amputated and tortured to put the fear of law in them. While I understand the anger and helplessness (these are precisely the thoughts that come to my mind when I read about these atrocities first thing in the morning) I feel we can not yield to mass histeria and turn into a barbaric country. The more severe the punishment, the more cautious are the courts in giving the punishment and such cases will always remain as rarest of rare cases with regular violence going on unabated. Do we wait for a molester to turn in to a rapist to act?

It is not the severity of the punishment but the immediacy, promptness and efficiency of meting out punishment that is important. Recently, I had two experiences of dealing with police. First was when I lost my wallet and wanted to lodge a complaint in the police station. I was asked the exact location where I lost the wallet as the complaint had to be lodged in the police station which has jurisdiction over that area.

The second is a sexual harrassment case in a college where a boy has been sending obscene messages to a girl. When the college complained to the police, the police put the fear of law in the mind of the ..... girl, presenting her a bleak picture of having to run around police stations and courts if she filed an FIR against her tormentor. Predicatably, the girl refused to file the complaint and the boy was let off by the college with a warning and an apology to the girl. And it was not his first offence. He was a repeat offender. Who is responsible if he indulges in a bigger crime?

If we want to stop violence against women we should have prompt action against violators and a social  dissaproval from the community. The man who raped the little girl, married the girl he raped under the orders from the Panchayat an he is also suspected in the rape and murder of his sister-in law. If only action was taken at the first instance, we would not have had to live with the image of the girl so brutalized by him.

But why do police not want to register cases? I think it has got to do a lot with performance appraisals which are based on absence of crimes in their area. Therefore. they would like to keep the figures low. I think it is time that police are evaluated on more qualitative indicators like the process of investigation, number of cases standing judicial scrutiny, number of cases where they worked with the community to address gender violence issues  etc. Incentivising these not just interms of money but also interms of awards and recognition may also help.

Once the community members are confident that the police will act and the offenders will be punished, there will be more people coming forward to file cases as well as support the police in investigations. Professionalizing the police force is the need of the hour along with addressing the larger social development issues that underpin the violence.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dehumanizing Society

One more bestial rape. This time that of a 5 year old girl. The scene is a repeat of December 16. Police wanting to hush up the case because they do not want to show the government and their department in a poor light, public outrage, sloganeering, expression of deep sense of despair by the Prime Minister, demands for resignation of ministers, police misbehavior with women protesters and media going over board covering it.  I fully support the efforts of activists to bring in more accountability on the part of politicians, demand more professional and efficient policing, and of course the long standing demand for more sensitive and stringent laws against violence against women. 

However,  in all this frenzy, are we not missing out an important aspect of our society? The dehumanization of our youth? I acknowledge that sexual crimes are committed by men across classes and rural urban contexts. But I am worried about a large segment of the population which is  growing at an alarming rate - the out of school, migrant or home less young people who are completely left out of the pale of development. Just think about this: a boy drops out of school, runs  away to a big city at the age of 11, lives on the street, works  in a tea stall facing violence on a day to day basis just to fill his stomach, exposed to drugs, liquor, commercial sex, underworld dealings, and may be brutalization in the hands of adults he deals with.  

He is so thoroughly dehumanized that brutal violence becomes second nature to him. Add to this, the sense of deprivation when he is constantly bombarded with images of luxury, plenty and celebration of unhindered consumption. He is constantly exposed to sleaze and meaningless violenceon TV, in  films and on mobile. Remember, all this while he has no opportunity to question or redefine his patriarchal values. No way to understand his own sexual needs and express them in a  healthy manner. If a sixteen year old boy could brutalize a woman so badly , if a 24 year old could inflict such brutal sexual violence on a five year old and if young men do not think twice before disfiguring women with acid we need to look at what kind of a society we are building.

Police reforms, laws etc are important in their own way but what is important is heavy investment in our youth - on their education, employment and rehabilitation. We need to make counseling centers available in each and ever locality where youth could come and get professional help as well as find a place to forge more healthy relationships. We have a dearth of trained counsellors who could provide free services to youth. We need to invest in building a cadre of trained counselors not just software engineers.  We need to invest in providing support to home less and people living on streets so that they live in a safe environment. We need to focus on sexual health programmes both for school and out of school youth. 

We can not ignore these issues anymore, not in a world where information,aspirations and dreams are being freely peddled through media and advertising. If we do not respond, it would lead to the frustration of rising aspirations. It should not surprise us if such incidents become more and more common in future. 

How about  each one of us, starting a dialogue and striking a conversation with the young men on gender and sexual health issues in our families, neighborhoods and work places?

It is time to stop the dehumanization of youth and build a world that is equal and safe for all.

(if I get comments on this blog saying that I am justifying and rationalizing rape, I see no hope for this country