Can’t the Indian male ego accept rejection?
Published: 28th February 2013 07:47 AM |
Without doubt, the recent spate of acid attacks in the State has demonstrated the strong connection between easy availability and violence against women. Step into any hardware store in the city, you will find bottles of the highly-corrosive liquid lining the shelves, and they come cheap. They are used in households, hotels, workshops and by goldsmiths for cleaning purposes. Other businesses too use them. No wonder, the dangerous chemical has an ubiquitous presence because of the total absence of procedures on licensing, storage, distribution or sale now.
And, the lack of regulations becomes a matter of deep concern when the chemical often turns into a killer agent in the hands of a spurned Indian male lover. “They are cheap, easily available and transportable in containers and can be thrown from a distance at the woman,” a government doctor points out.
In a recent case in Adambakkam, the assailant had picked up a 500 ml bottle of acid from a shop in Parrys. In fact, it was the public hue and cry following the death of the victim – Vidya – and another young woman – Vinodhini, in a similar attack – that prompted the State Government to announce a bill to contain and regulate the sale of acid.
The move, predictably, has evoked mixed reactions. “My heart goes out to the victims of the crime and their families,” says lawyer and noted media personality Sanjay Pinto. His take: Acid must be treated on a par with firearms. “Just like you need an arms licence and account for every cartridge used, acid must be a highly restricted and monitored commodity,” Pinto suggests.
“We will sell it in black market. What will they do then?” says a ‘comment’ on a Facebook wall post in Tamil on the Chief Minister’s announcement on Tuesday. The remark, apparently made in jest, is a grim pointer to the underlying problems. Another comment exclaims: “How are we going to clean our toilets then?”
It is not surprising, therefore, that Madras High Court lawyer and rights activist Sudha Ramalingam views the proposed legislation as only an immediate gesture and not the real panacea to the problem. Others like her strongly feel that acid violence is not an ordinary crime, but a social phenomenon born out of deeply embedded gender-based notions in Indian society. Like dowry deaths, acid attacks are gender-based violence, they say.
In fact, a 2011 study by a Cornell Law School faculty member shows that that at least 153 acid attacks occurred in India between 2002 and 2010; 3,000 in Bangladesh between 1999 and 2010; and 271 in Cambodia between 1985 and 2010, raising questions whether the violence – prohibited by the U N Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women – are an Asian phenomenon.
Women as objects of beauty
At the core of the problem is the male mindset, say police officials, advocates, medical professionals and psychological counsellors in the city. Sudha Ramalingam blames Indian society for seeing women as representatives of beauty. Mocking the Indian obsession with “beautiful, tall and fair women,” she said the motive of the male acid attacker is, therefore, to hit the victim below the belt by making her lose her beauty. “The intention is to disfigure her, leave her scarred, so that nobody will find her attractive.”
The attack is also prompted by a feeling of revenge to spoil her very facial features which, the offended male psyche feels, gave her courage to reject him, she adds.
Blaming the incidents on the “general intolerance” prevailing in society, Dr R Jaganmohan, professor and head of the Department of Burns, Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital, echoed that the intention of the scorned man is not to kill, but to disfigure the woman and make her suffer. The experienced medical professional knows what he is saying because he has attended to three such cases in the last 12 months at KMCH. “In a fight between two men, other weapons are used to kill,” he points out. “But in using acid against a woman, the intention is to disfigure her permanently.”
Result: It is a living hell for the victim. Besides causing gruelling physical pain, the acid penetrates deep into the skin, damaging the eyes and nose, leaving the victim looking grotesque. “The soft tissues are eaten away and the nerves below get exposed, making the patient highly vulnerable to bacterial infection,” Jaganmohan says.
Add to that the intense mental depression that sets in. The agonising pain and sudden blindness turns the victims’ world upside down and they stop eating, lose their fighting spirit and, eventually, the will to live, he rues.
All this suffering because some men cannot take ‘no’ for an answer? A high-ranking police official said that “extreme possessiveness” led to such kind of attacks. “The attitude in such assailants is ‘what I did not get, others too should not get’,” he points out.
Concurring with the view, another senior police official added that such men turn into psychopaths and become addicted to alcohol and drugs. “In their alcohol or ganja-induced stupor, they do not realise what they are doing,” he said.
Sudha Ramalingam sees the problem as more fundamental. “Women are considered as property here, to be owned and suppressed,” she says. This, in her opinion, is in sharp contrast to the liberalised Western society, where “a woman can have four boyfriends and rejection is not a problem”.
Stating that men and women reacted differently to rejection, Mohana Narayanan, a leading counsellor, said the male psyche is offended by the thought of ‘How am I not good enough for her.’ And instead of working on the violent feeling inside, the anger is directed outwards. “They are persons who cannot take ‘No’ for an answer, probably due to permissive parents,” she stressed. “By nature, they could also be people with low self-esteem.”
While she brushed aside the proposed bill as a knee-jerk reaction, a senior medical professional welcomed the move and called for strict licensing and sale only on prescription.
According to Sudha Ramalingam, the only solution is sowing the seeds of equality in the mind of every male child. Co-education must be introduced in all schools, colleges and other educational institutions for free mingling of both sexes to show that “women are not different from men”.
Says Sanjay Pinto: “Ego and love don’t go together. Taking ‘no’ for an answer reflects not just maturity, but also respect for the other person and proper grooming.”