Recently, India won the dubious distinction of being the most unsafe country in the world for women in a survey conducted by an international agency. For anyone who is following news, this result cannot be of any surprise. Newspapers are filled with incidents of rapes and molestations of infants and children. Gang rapes are used as a tool of oppression against weaker sections of the society or as an easy means of revenge.
A few months ago, the Malayalam film industry was rocked by a crime of a most despicable nature. A leading actress was sexually molested by hired goons and the police arrested one of the super stars in the case. However, the film actors’ association, which goes by the moniker AMMA, meaning mother, showed step-motherly treatment towards its women members. Other superstars who oversee administration of this association proved to be men of straw when they were required to take an ethical stand. These ‘super heroes’, who twirl their moustaches or mouth meaty dialogues and beat up two dozen goons for the sake of their sister’s honour on the silver screen, conspired to get back the accused star into their fraternity.
The church is rocked with allegations of rape and sexual misconduct, where a man has accused that five priests had blackmailed his wife with her confessional secrets and raped her. A nun has filed rape charges against her Bishop. Many Muslim clerics are being arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. There are many self-proclaimed gurus, babas and godmen who are cooling their heels in prison for rape or sexual assault. There is no shortage of legislators and members of Parliament with similar criminal charges.
If real world is scary, virtual world is scarier. The wilderness of Indian social mediascape is populated with dangerous trolls. They threaten any woman who comments adversely about anything they do not like with rape and violence. Many of these trolls are in the payrolls of political parties who have cultivated them. Extreme prejudices, excessive pride about the imaginary glory of ancestors or religious or political dogmas, xenophobia, inferiority complex, victimisation complex, insecurity, male chauvinism and the naivety to believe whatever fellow trolls are circulating are the marks of such barbarians.
India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was victim of male chauvinism and religious bigotry. Her crime was that she helped an inter-faith couple get a passport. Her social media was filled with hate comments of the most reprehensible nature. Fed up with their vitriolic; she conducted a poll to seek public opinion on whether such virtual lynching is justified. Forty-three percent felt that the 67-year-old foreign minister deserved the sexual shaming and abuse. It must be noted that none of her male colleagues came out supporting her or condemning the trolls. Perhaps they too are intimidated by such thugs. When such things happen, we have no need of some agency to tell us how safe India is for women.
In short, it does not matter whether you are rich and powerful or poor and insignificant. It is irrelevant whether you are beautiful or plain or whether you are an octogenarian or a toddler. It hardly matters whether you confine yourselves to home and cover yourself in a burkha or you frequent bars. If you are a woman, you are a potential victim, at home, in the street, in office, in the place of worship or in cyberspace.
Four years ago, the entire nation came to the streets to protest the brutal gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya in Delhi. We had some conscience left. Now, our protests are based on religion and caste of the victim and the accused. There could be nothing more telling about our lack of humanity than this.The irony is that we all mouth empty sermons about how we respect our women. We boast that Indian culture treats women as mothers and accuse western culture of objectifying women. We enthusiastically appreciate films in which the hero stalks girls until she succumbs to his harassment, yet we have no qualms in commenting about decadent morality of other cultures. Indians are obsessed with sex, but the restrictive society has suppressed every possible avenue for this human need.
Moral police roam around, beating couples in the name of protecting an ancient culture that celebrates sensuality and love. These protectors of culture have no issue with open defecation or women getting beaten up by their ‘owner’ husbands. The heavily understaffed police somehow find time and manpower to conduct raids in hotels to name and shame couples. The land of Kamasutra, Khajuraho, Nagaravadhus and sensual Tamil poetry of Kuruntokai is now the last bastion of Victorian-era conservatism with none of the Victorian-era virtues. Most of the inhuman behaviour towards our women have roots in the suppressed sexual desires of our men.
It is high time we stopped the patronising practice of deifying women as mothers to be worshipped or sisters to be protected. Veneration is just an empty oral exercise and an easy way out. A woman who is equal or superior in capability and intellect is a scary concept for most men. Until this fear is addressed, the insecure men would continue to make the lives of our women dangerous.