The Indian Woman…

Today, a dam broke within me.

Like the spectator of every recurring tragedy, I have resigned to the cyclical emotions that surround every unfortunate occurrence. Shock, immense sadness, a creeping sense of reality that it could have been someone I knew and cared about, mental turmoil…but, why??? and then, the new normal.

I am an Indian. Born and raised in a country whose spirit I continue to lovingly tend to in my heart.

I am an Indian, starting another iteration of this cycle of emotions that surrounds the news of a rape incident. You know things get truly tragic when you know, that you will go through these emotions…you will feel a blow to your gut for the victim- a girl, more like yourself than you might think, and that eventually you, like every other Indian woman, will have to set the deeply disturbing thoughts aside to move on.

It is not resilience, if you don’t have a choice.

This is the point in history at which generations of taboo about sex and poor treatment of women has come to bear. And if we continue any further, we will not have the excuse of not knowing the consequences to cloak our willful disregard of the patently obvious.

India is a culture that is ambivalent in its attitude to women. On the one hand, the mother figure is widely romanticized to the point of worship. We are the faith that considers daughters the Lakshmi (Goddess of prosperity) for a household. The sister, the wife, the aunt…all to be treated with respect that should almost invoke awe. On the other hand, women are to have bounds.

We first create the vision of an what constitutes a respectable woman and then, force every woman in Indian society to fit that mould.

And this, is what we primarily get wrong.

We respect women for their “roles”…or rather, what their role is perceived to be. And so, a woman has to be dressed a certain way, culturally inclined, soft spoken and deferential of adults and traditional practices, she must perform her obligations, be a nurturing mother, a protective sister, adoring aunt…This is a long, long way from respecting women, as individuals.

Depart from that romanticized womanly ideal that someone has in their mind, and you stop acting like a woman. Because how women should behave, want or desire is so inclined towards the ideal…the divine, there are all sorts of moral burdens, leaving little room in the collective mind to accommodate her for who she is- a person. A person, with goals and desires that may, at times, depart from the accepted.

It is telling that one of the perpetrators in the infamous “Nirbhaya” case was quoted as saying that since the victim was outside her home past dark, with a young man, that she deserved to be taught “a lesson”.

Why?

Because she overstepped her bounds, in his eyes. And this, is the problem of imposing bounds to what is considered respectable. Whose moral code is one to obey? The parents’? The neighbour? Relatives? Or predators in an empty bus with curtains?

And what is the penalty of overstepping? Name calling? Harassment? Being berated by family? or even rape?

We Indians have all been taught to respect that which a woman should be. Not to respect the individuals that they are. That includes respect for their life choices, their freedom to pursue goals they deem worthy and ultimately their personal autonomy and agency over themselves. This is why a “no” from a woman is so hard to take…in our primitive psyche, the subservience of a woman’s desires to a man, is so deeply imprinted that not consenting to submit, is seen as audacious.

That…is one chapter of the complex social setup that has led to the current quagmire.

Another, the more complex one, is sex.

The immense moral framework surrounding sex, the taboo surrounding it and the extent to which it is looked down upon is directly responsible for where we find ourselves today.

Parents of the yesteryears, have for long prioritized personal squeamishness over what I consider a cardinal duty as a parent- to discuss and educate their children about sex. Their reasons were many- some chose to resolutely close their eyes to the possibility of their very own children being sexually active before their marriages, others still were never told and managed to figure it out enough to have children, so they thought that was just how it worked, further more just could not bring themselves to address intimacy when they could barely sit through a condom advertisement as a family.

To young parents, I will say this. You do not have these excuses anymore. If you choose to ignore the fact that your children are unlikely to abstain at younger ages, then you do so not at your own risk, but at their peril. And in this, you fail them as a parent almost as much as you would fail them by not educating them.

If not equipping children with basic skills and tools they need to navigate life is a crime, then I don’t see any reason why sex education be excluded from the list of things they ought to be taught.

Consent, rejection, and respect in the emotionally turbulent climate of romantic relationships should be discussed, and cemented in young minds.

Self-protection, pepper sprays, reserved seating on public transport, discretion in personal decisions, these are the common ideas doing the rounds in India, as well intended but poorly informed ideas on solving the problem. These are mitigations, not solutions.

The answer is not lesser freedom. It is not further policing what women do, or wear or drink….If you have an issue of theft in an area, you don’t solve it by not keeping anything valuable at home. Personal discretion cannot be the ground on which this battle is fought. And make no mistake, the rape carnage in India is more than just isolated incidents. We have a safety issue for women in India. It is systemic, it is cultural and it is URGENT.

South Korea solved an issue with the state airline having too many crashes by identifying the problem as being that of immense social hierarchy. Where culture dictated that a subordinate be so deferential to superiors that they would be painfully hesitant of questioning the Captain’s judgement or asserting themselves even when an emergency demanded it.

Our behaviors are more socially engineered than we would like to believe. When we ignore cultural aspects in a discussion so deeply steeped in culture as rape, we leave a bloody trail.

Rape victims are women like every one of us. It is hard to say this, but that article in yesterday’s newspaper could have, just as easily, been us. The time has passed to be euphemistic, mild mannered or quietly resist. When the reality is brutal, our collective reaction should follow.

Stop making rape victims sound like martyrs. It is a dual insult to victims and martyrs. Martyrs bears the greatness of their cause. To what cause were the many, many rape victims martyred? To the moral bankruptcy of a man who deemed it permissible? Death from a crime must never be equated to the supreme sacrifice for a cause.

Stop talking about what time it was, when the victim was raped….that she was in a village, that she wore an off shoulder top, that she was drunk. You are just giving yourself reasons to convince yourself, it could not have been YOU.

Stop thinking of a victim as a news bit or a click. There is an actual person on the less fortunate end of every.single.one of these reports.

Stop idolizing women. They are neither goddesses to be exalted nor princesses to be tended to- they are individuals, flawed and bruised. If you have a crush, a girlfriend, a wife…let them share in your privilege as much as you can.

As the generation that has seen the toxic effects of archaic Indian values, as a savvy generation that has left no technological and material advancement un-embraced…we are obligated to, as the guiding generation to a new one, ensure we stem this bleeding vein.

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