Rasheeda Bhagat

The meaninglessness of March 8

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on March 16, 2015

Freedom song Still going horribly off-key for women in India K Murali Kumar

Gender discrimination, and worse, is pervasive. Power brutally expresses itself in abuse of a woman’s body

Another token day to sensitise the world on all things related to women has come and gone. Tens of thousands of Indian women who relived the trauma of the raped physiotherapy student in Delhi two years ago, through the BBC documentary, India’s Daughter, must have felt a deep sense of circumspection, if not total depression after watching the film.

And of course anger that the rapist, Mukesh Singh, expresses no sense of remorse; instead he coolly blames the woman for being out there at night, wearing the clothes she wore and more such nonsense.

That anger turns to revulsion as the two defence lawyers (in the documentary) belt out gyaan on how “decent” women should behave, such as not step out of the house after dark. It was petrifying to listen to them because you could not dismiss what they were saying as the views of a criminal with a warped mind.

Twisted mindset

These are educated men. But the sick and twisted mindset they put on show proved beyond doubt that just because you award a professional degree and put a lawyer’s coat on somebody, you don’t change their mindset. While one boasted that he would burn alive his sister or daughter if she went out like this with a man, the other compared a woman to a “flower, a diamond... which if you put on the road, a dog will come and take it”, and similar ‘unadulterated gibberish’.

As there was a furore on the social media, with a predictably large, outraged group wanting to shoot the messenger , the documentary was promptly banned. The home minister has told us why, but thousands of Indian women feel, and say on social media, that the real reason for the ban is that this exposes the mindset of a section of Indian men. It would be stupid to claim that this reflects the Indian male mindset. Of course it doesn’t.

Man’s accusing finger

But don’t we hear all the time what was said by the rapist and the lawyers so crudely, being mouthed by our religious leaders and other self-appointed guardians of morality? The mullahs who advise the men: “Put your women behind the purdah; don’t let them go around town freely without being accompanied by male relatives.” Their counterparts in Hinduism — the babas, the gurus and the rest of the gang — say the same using a different lingo which talks about the traditional bh aratiya nari.

And then of course we have scores of politicians, mostly but not all, male, who conveniently and oh-so-flippantly put the onus on the woman for being raped: you see she is “dented and painted” (still wondering what it means!); why provoke men as boys will be boys; and the entire related collective wisdom that finds all kinds of reasons to put the onus on the woman for getting raped.

Khaled Hosseini got it so right in his heart-wrenching novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, where Mariam’s mother tells her little girl: “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”

There is no dearth of negative news when it comes to gender matters in the world. Whether it is the scary Los Angeles Times report titled ‘Women are leaving the tech industry in droves’, which talks about women hitting the glass ceiling within 10-15 years in their career and quitting, or the recent UN report which says that the income of female workers will lag behind those of men for another 70 years if the gender pay gap continues to diminish at “the present painfully slow rate”, there doesn’t seem much to celebrate.

Celebration time too

Until you walk into a room filled with over 500 women managers and other professionals from different fields, at a women managers’ convention organised by the Madras Management Association in Chennai last week to celebrate Women’s Day. The room was charged with energy, dynamism, and pride of achievement. Women shared their stories — stories of courage, grit, determination, overcoming odds and challenges to spread their wings and fly.

One who did literally so was Wing Cdr Pooja Thakur, a sky diver and the first female officer to head the inter-services guard of honour during US President Barack Obama’s visit to India.

Women entrepreneurs talked of the difficulty they have in getting venture capital — it’s the same story across the world. Young women who stood up and said they had been sexually molested or raped, but refusing to be cowed down, had fought the odds and excelled in their professions. Chhavi Rajawat, the first woman MBA sarpanch of Soda village in Rajasthan, who resolutely fought to get the 100-acre village reservoir dug afresh, and strengthened its walls to ensure the village got water. There were many such stories.

But, as the retired judge of the Madras High Court Prabha Sridevan said so eloquently, “The voices of women are not heard as loudly and as clearly they should. Most Indian women remain invisible.” Women’s work at home should be documented, recognised and considered part of the GDP, she said, adding wryly: “If men were to pay for the work women do at home they will go out of pocket. Let us not undervalue ourselves, let us celebrate ourselves.”

But each time you have such a celebration, there comes some news to remind us that sexual violence against women remains unabated. Now a 71-year-old nun, the principal of a school, is gangraped in Kolkata. Not because she was dressed provocatively, or out in the streets after sundown. She was raped because a group of men decided to take revenge for her audacity in expelling a male student who was harassing girls on social media. The school was ransacked, money looted, and the “seniormost” nun was chosen for punishment.

The police was approached but nothing was done. Once again an ugly statement of power, control, was made by abusing a woman’s body. As though all this is not depressing enough, we have the Janata Dal (U) chief Sharad Yadav talking about the “dusky complexion” and “beautiful bodies” of South Indian women in a discussion on the insurance Bill in the Rajya Sabha. How this is relevant, we have no clue. 

Published on March 16, 2015
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