It was 9: 30 PM — a time when half of Bangalore ventures out on the streets, busy talking, shopping, partying and dining — safe and secure one would assume.
So did an innocent 22-year-old woman who was waiting for an auto-rickshaw near her workplace with her friend to return home. She waited and waited, but to no avail.
Soon her patience surrendered and just then a mini cab arrived. She hopped in without giving a second thought. Her friend tried dissuading her as the cab had very few passengers. But the girl had already made her mind.
After five hours, she was dropped off, after being mercilessly gang-raped by two men at Madiwala, where she stays.
This is the dismal state of a country that celebrates Goddesses with pomp and fervent devotion, while women — their earthly incarnations are unsafe. The pain they go through each day, on roads, buses and even their own homes is beyond a sane mind’s comprehension.
If one goes by the latest statistics of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), every day 93 women are raped in the country. Not surprising that of all the rich G20 nations, India has been labelled the worst place for women. Is this the same country that once lauded itself for sighting women in high esteem?
Back in the Vedic ages women were not subjected to such inhuman atrocities. They were, instead, treated with respect and considered supremely pure. The following is a line from the Rig Veda.
“The right is equal in the fathers property for both son and daughter” (3.31.1)
Quite clearly Indian culture had better standards for women back in the day. Even if we go by certain moral and ethical representations that we’ve been following from the ancient times, most of them are associated with female deities — Lakshmi for wealth, Saraswati for knowledge, Sita for faithfulness, Parvati for kindness.
Then why such a startling contradiction in reality?
Save the Children India created this powerful campaign depicting this startling contradiction.
The country simply can’t disguise this harsh reality with extravagant acts of devotion. Women are raped, molested, abused, beaten, tortured and traumatized every single day. They can’t take a walk alone at night without feeling unsafe. They can’t wear the clothes they like. They can’t choose the partners they love. Essentially, they can’t be who they really want to be.
See the contradiction?
Enter any home in India and you see Gods and Goddesses in a special, sacred haven. The place is decked up with beautiful flowers, diyas and aromatic incense sticks. People only enter the holy place after cleansing themselves and leaving their footwear behind. So much respect for Goddesses, but zero for women in real life.
“Don’t behave #LikeAGirl”
Not an alien phrase for anyone. Most of us use it, knowingly or unknowingly, if not intentionally.
“Don’t talk like a girl”
“Don’t run like a girl”
“Don’t play like a girl”
This is common public usage if one tends to act, talk or play weak. Go back to your school days and you might probably remember being humiliated for ‘acting like a girl’ when you cried.
Why is it that we inherently believe women are fragile and incompetent?
The Patriarchal System
This mindset dates back to a time when patriarchy was a popular phenomenon in our country. Men dominated the families, so obviously, most norms were in their favour. Women were not allowed to study or work and were only restricted to household duties. As a result, they acquired no special skills, were illiterate and over-dependent on men. Naturally, it affected our mindset and we evolved to think of women as the incompetent sex.
As if this wasn’t enough, Bollywood played its part too in stereotyping and objectifying women.
The Influence of Bollywood
Films have a great influence on us Indians. We breathe Bollywood songs and films and adopt everything that’s portrayed on the huge silver screens. If Bollywood, for instance, stereotypes women, we follow suit.
In the films of the ’60s and the ’70s, Bollywood had already defined the ‘Sanskari Ladki’ — a woman who wakes up early, sings bhajans, worships her husband and cooks for the family.
On the flip side, a woman wearing a sleeveless blouse and sipping alcohol on screen is blatantly labelled as bad or loose. Nadira, who played the scheming temptress in many a film including Shree 420, was typecast as the quintessential vamp of that era.
The “Sanskari” Amrita Rao in the movie Vivah
Isn’t the influence clearly visible in people’s mindset even today? A girl wearing a mini-skirt is judged. A woman who speaks up against her husband is deemed uncouth. Cut to Bollywood today and it seems like we’ve invented a new way of objectifying women — item numbers. Ever tried hearing their lyrics? Not only are they unbearable, but unacceptable in every sense of the word. The lyrics below belongs to a song from the super-hit flick Dabangg 2:
Main to tanduri main to tanduri murgi hoon yaar
Gatkale saiyan alcohol se oh yeah.
Mere photo ko seene se yaar
Chipka le saiyan Fevicol se
The song objectifies women by calling them Tandoori Chicken. And you obviously know how much respect a hungry person has for a plate of Tandoori Chicken on any given day. Couple this with Kareena Kapoor in the lead flaunting her sexy legs. How can people not be influenced? How can they not objectify women in their daily lives? How?
This acute incivility trickles down to the way we treat women every single day.
The Cuss Words are Women-Centric
What are the first words that pop in your mind when your boss rejects the leave request and in turn orders you to work on the weekend? You know exactly know what I’m talking about. The cuss words.
See how even the cuss words we use are women-centric? We never realize while we’re using them. But every time we swear at someone by deriding their mother, daughter or sister, we somewhere etch in our minds that women are the ones who must suffer, not men. But are men the only ones responsible for lowering the opinion of women?
When Women Don’t Stand Up For Themselves
The system of patriarchy often succeeds when women choose to suffer, instead of fighting back. Why do you think the dowry tradition is still prevalent? Because people stay quiet and women choose to agree to the custom. Why do you think some women stop working after marriage? Because they choose to sacrifice their career in order to become “good” wives to their husbands.
By not fighting back, they let such misogynistic ideals prevail and grow stronger.
Imagine what would have happened if Mary Kom — a world champion woman boxer — had surrendered to her family’s views. Her parents firmly believed that boxing was not a “woman’s game” and didn’t offer support in the pursuit of her dream.
But did that stop her? Thankfully, no.
If she had agreed, gotten demotivated and resigned to her fate, today she would have been just another woman toiling away in a conservative society.
What made all the difference was that she chose to fight, instead of suffering in silence.
When Masculinity Is Threatened
“When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after doing her, and only hit the boy.”
The quote above comes from one of the culprits of Nirbhaya’s rape incident in Delhi. The man believed that women shouldn’t fight back against men. According to him, the girl was raped because she reacted angrily to their opposition of roaming at night, which the rapists took as a threat to their masculinity, and to teach her a lesson, they raped her.
If not to this extent, in small levels, most men do feel that their masculinity is threatened when women dare to speak up or fight back. “How can you lose to a girl?” is the common phrase used against those who fail against a woman. Instead of appreciating the woman’s competence, men question their own manliness.
Even studies reveal that men overcompensate in gross ways when their masculinity is threatened. Men with baby faces, for example, are more likely to have assertive and hostile personalities and commit crimes than their more chiseled counterparts.
Will The Living Goddesses Ever Be Safe In India?
The Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi said this in Delhi once:
“What moral argument one can give that we are worshiping our Goddesses, while girls who are our living Goddesses are not safe?”
He asked a valid question.
This callous hypocrisy needs to stop first. We pray to Goddesses every morning, while we look down upon women in reality. Why? Do we think of women as the inferior sex? Do we feel that women who speak up are a threat to masculinity?
If yes, this mindset needs to change. From there on, we can go about pointing fingers at the government. We can make the roads at night more safe. We can make the laws more strict. We can imprison or castrate the ones who violate women. But before all that it’s crucial to identify and reform our beliefs, ideas and opinions, which have been shaped by years of conditioning.
We have to eliminate every damned concept that demeans the status of women in our society. We have to educate kids about gender equality, bias and inclusion. We have to raise awareness and sensitize people against the stereotyping of women through debates, discussions and campaigns. We’ve to stand up for women whenever possible. In other words, we have to give them the same dignity and respect that we give to our Goddesses.