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7

What really gets my goat these days is the bull in china shop approach to women's rights, which has a male dominated state and society trying to fix everything (sexual assault) - for women. I am a woman and I agree that there is vast gender inequality in India. I believe that women need to be empowered. I don't see our methods as useful. I have started calling the gender ghetto.

There are two lobbies in conflict determining women's rights that result in actions somewhere in between - usually what is acceptable to both. The "feminist" lobby - which seeks to create sensitivity and ease of justice for women - particularly for rapes. The "patriarchy" which would prefer to control women. Most of the women of India fall into neither of these two influential groups.

The feminist lobby (as per my observation in INDIA) looks to show humanity the right path - regardless of whether change results or is immediately useful for women. In less polite words, it is an upper middle class hijack of the female gender that appreciates itself and interprets "victories" against patriarchy as empowerment of women (which isn't necessarily true).

Patriarchy is on more comfortable ground. They have control and it is about managing so that no women actually get into bastions of power. The best way is to create luxurious ghettos for women, sold to feminists as special attention to women's rights.

As a result, there is an abundance of measures taken specially for women that do very little to change the ground situation. There isn't a single place where women can claim to feel safer after all the agitation, in spite of a steady stream of laws, schemes, special facilities, forces... Unfortunately, this doesn't cause the women's rights activists to pause and wonder if more of the same would be useful either. On the other hand, the special provisions cannot be made for all women - too resource intensive. So you create nice ghettos of women's rights where the loudest voices are - and keep peddling the idea that "something is being done". Unfortunately, Indian feminists ARE gullible enough to fall for it as long as their egos are stroked well.

Human rights as a special grant for women

Safety is a fundamental right. It isn't something that is a favor granted to women. Women only banks, women's credit cards, women police forces (more on that later)... You create a new breed of men who "know how to treat women". You have morally upright people criticizing social media abuse of women "Is this how you speak with women?", as though abusing men is fine... in the ghetto. I'd call it bubble, except it is really a psychological ghetto. Not merely isolation, but marginalization peddled as women's rights, confining women to "safe" spaces with "better" rights that "appreciate" them.

So, your pub going woman getting molested is an outrage, because that space is supposed to be safe for women - indeed, less "inhibited" women are part of the appeal - besides, don't the passes say "couples entry"? On the other hand, the woman getting molested in a seedy country liquor bar should have known better than to be there. Because, the pub is an official gender ghetto. Women are supposed to be in that space. On the other hand, the seedy bar is the "real world", where no concessions will be made to women, and they must know "men will be men" while walking in.

Put your hand on your heart and tell me this is not so. That this is not how your perception works too, even though you'd like to respect "all" women?

The problem is the same. Drunk louts harassing women or worse.

Any woman who has asked a husband, male partner or male friend to escort her to a dance bar (if you're around Mumbai) or red light area will attest to reason for refusal - or at least serious caution - being "it isn't safe for women". In spite of the dancers and prostitutes being girls themselves. Think about why one kind of woman wouldn't be safe in a place where women are the star attraction otherwise.

In essence, this is a class phenomenon, mostly limited to the upper middle class. Very rich people can do what they like to women and get away with it through money power or connections. Lower middle classes hover on fringes, knowing that this protection is very unreliable if the perpetrator is from an upper class. Lower classes get routinely harmed and no one gives a damn beyond stray newspaper reports or the occasional case that has enough TRP value to elevate the victim to a more deserving category of human.

The ghetto can also be layered and existing in the same place as the "real world". In other words, your pub goer getting raped will be news. A pub employee getting raped may be news depending on job (no sweepers, please), but if the woman security guard in the mall the pub is in gets raped by patrons of the pub? Forget it. Brief mention somewhere if at all. News item, not women's rights issue. You don't want unnecessary restrictions on the patrons of the pub over a nobody. It is the same reason that in spite of alcohol being a factor in many crimes and routinely in rapes, you will never find the elites bringing this up. You do not want to create an aura of shame around alcohol if you drink yourself - as a vast majority of public figures do.

Identifying a risk factor in rape is not as important as retaining elite freedoms. Not even as a minor caution point like - "Avoid being alone with one or more men you can smell alcohol on, as alcohol is known to reduce inhibitions. Particularly if there has been the slightest unwelcome flirting or sexually crude behavior or short temper." This gender ghetto is selective about risks it protects from. Only some are to be prevented. Others can be condemned in hindsight, as preventing will be inconvenient.

It is also an age phenomenon, where this insistence on safety is largely relevant to young women, but kids get harmed routinely with little protest, as do older women. So it is basically a phenomenon of nationwide statistics of enormous inequality against women used to give select women a carte blanche - which is also an illusion. It is given only as long as it doesn't inconvenience any of those with power. Rape convictions are overwhelmingly more from lower classes. No one has a problem with the nameless louts being taken out of the equation.

Feminism in India is not into hard wars. It prefers moral elegance and the high road. Patriarchy is not going to give up controlling women and treating them as primarily existing to serve the male will. Their interests do not converge on issues like domestic violence and marital rape. So we have some talk about it, but no serious challenge. The gender ghetto is that golden area where feminism and patriarchy agree and create a special safe zone where those who belong can expect safety to be their right.

Patriarchy prefers handouts to sharing power.

Patriarchy sees power as a male domain. It may be allowed to others - within limits. Misogyny actively seeks to exclude women from power. For the misogynist mind, it is better to give women a gilded harem than let them sit among the men as equals. Creating these gender ghettos works very well for them. Political parties having women wings with duties to support but very little control on party policies. Women only banks - even if they are not economically viable. Women's credit cards - why give them male ones when we can tailor features and cashbacks to define their identity with shopping, groceries and so on?

And of course, women to provide security for women, women only police stations... pitting women police against men who are highly likely to be threats to women, rather than create an overall gender sensitive police force. Risks to women were never the problem. The problem was complaints about it. This looks like a grand gesture. See! We gave women power to bring men to justice! Now vote for us please. Yet, do women only forces find it easier to deal with criminals? Why would bringing criminals to book be a gender issue? What are male cops supposed to do if they get a complaint of crimes against women? The same thing as the women cops. Yet, rather than increase the representation of women among the police force at large, it is more misogyny compatible to give them their corner to occupy.

Laws that "protect" women.

While women are overwhelmingly more harmed by men than vice versa, creating laws that institutionalize a bias against men does not help anyone. It is the legal ghetto. That sanctuary for women where they only have to name the justice they need. Of course, there is the "real world" where cops refuse to file cases - or worse to make them go away rather than exercise their rights. This successfully fudges the idea of justice for women, turning it into something that is specially granted for them in a very dramatic and unreserved manner, whereas the reality is different. Nor is creating a special issue out of the right of women to seek justice as generous as it sounds. It is the fundamental right of anyone harmed by another to seek justice.

In our grandstanding that wants to make sure we leave no space for any crime against women to slip through (regardless of applicability in real world), we make laws so unreal, that it is easy to show how a man accused of rape cannot be innocent short of an act of God - effectively turning a rape accusation into something women do that men have no defense against - when it is not true.

Consider a woman filing a complaint that she was raped a week ago by someone when they were alone in the office. Give me any possible way the man could prove his innocence short of proving he wasn't in the place at all. The man is presumed guilty - unless he can prove his innocence - yet, how does one prove an absence? It is a logical fallacy we have enshrined through reckless law making that only aims to deal out grand punishments without a view on the larger picture.

There is a strong motive to do this. To enshrine dramatic punishments as an exhibition of "doing something" to "fight rape". What is essentially a social problem - the inability of men to court women or take no for an answer - gets dumped on the legal system where it can reside happily, out of sight of a misogynist society, which is not required to face how it treats women. Naturally, for this, the law has to sound like it really knows what it is doing. Even if what it is doing is creating the provision to amputate a decade out of a man's life and reputation on the basis of an accusation he has no real way to disprove. A provision - which like India's thousand grey areas will usually be ignored and conviction rates will remain low at the discretion of judges - who must face their varying levels of conscience on sentencing a man for ten years on the basis of the crime described. Some misogynists will let all kinds of rapists go, others will let only a select few go, but the law if implemented to the letter will let no one go unless there is evidence of innocence. This is the legal system basically reduced to the level of a service for women to do anyone in. Non gender ghetto women won't be able to pull it off, because cops will simply laugh them out of the police station.

But surely it helps women? Even if it is an unfair service that caters to a few women, at least those women get empowered, right?

In my view, it doesn't. Judges who are often notoriously misogynistic will protect rapists for "small mistakes" when 10 year sentences seem to be disproportionate for an act that leaves no trace. Number of rapes on record will go high, but conviction rates will drop so dramatically that filing an FIR for rape will be rendered a joke. This will additionally provide fodder for misogynists to trivialize the act of filing a rape complaint itself, and it will be very difficult to debunk, because they will use the impossibility of proving innocence as their argument, even though lack of convictions will prove that "impossibility" false in practical application. All in all, a whole avalanche of controversial rapes will crop up, giving great boost to the feminist industry, but will lead to increased perceptions of danger limiting women, as well as increasing hostility from men once they start looking at cases. It will do a grave wrong to women whose PROVABLE rapes will now be further competing with scarce legal resources for justice.

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It seems we identify an ideal that should be, and start acting like it is fact and simply ignore what doesn't fit. We want uncompromising punishments and we also want every single wrong to be punished and we would rather a few innocents get punished than a few victims fail to nail their abusers.

Yet, is all this hand holding resulting in more assured women? More confident, more safe, more purposeful? Or merely more reckless? What is it that we are achieving, and how long is this supposed to continue and at whose cost? Why is it that we are choosing a hyperbole laden decision making process rather than something more scientific, measured and balanced?

Who will it hurt if women stop getting special favors and instead get their rights?

 

14

More needs to be done to reduce the risk of harm to women because of the practice of dowry. A proactive approach would go a long way toward preventing dowry related crimes.

We have laws against dowry. The laws are not against dowry deaths and abuse alone, but the practice of dowry is illegal according to THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT, 1961. (Act No. 28 of 1961). Our policing of this is non-existent. It seems as though the law enforcement is apologetic and hesitant to enter people's personal space to enforce law. Personal space of course being defined as whatever people choose to define it, including illegal practices.

Shy smile of a bride in a Hindu wedding by kunjan detroja

As though "allowing" giving and taking dowry to happen is not a crime unless "crime" is committed. Conveniently forgetting that Dowry IS crime. Our police force is reactive rather than proactive, and there needs to be massive reform in terms of applying the writ of the law without waiting for complaint or worse, outrage after dowry deaths claim lives.

As a result, our main contact with dowry as a practice is through its victims. Dead women. Women in hospital. That is too little, too late. Not to mention an increasingly influential if illogical view that complaints of dowry and domestic abuse are just ways women victimize their in-laws out of greed.

Sure killers of women should be punished, but that is the punishment for murder. Where is the enforcing of the Dowry Prohibition Act unless a complaint is made?

  • If dowry happens off the public domain, then informers need to be cultivated among those where it is prevalent. Approach matrimonial services, recruit informers conduct stings and put people behind bars for accepting dowry WITHOUT the marriage happening and women and their reputations being hostage to retribution and thus silent. THAT will give any anti-dowry movement teeth.
  • Spend some money on public service ads - make heroes out of people whistle blowing dowry. Trigger more such heroes in society.
  • Publicize a helpline number for dowry people can call if they come to know of any wedding or domestic situation involving dowry.
  • Ask doctors to alert police about suspected mistreatment of women - regardless of whether the woman wants to complain or not. Even if every case cannot be investigated without specific details about abuse, enough alerts about a certain family should automatically trigger an investigation - possibly in collaboration with social workers. This will also help with domestic abuse.
  • Condemnation of dowry by religious leaders: Encourage religious leaders to openly condemn the practice of dowry and educate their followers.
  • Stop treating dowry and the abuse around it as a multiple choice answer. It is illegal. Period. If you see it happening, you don't need a victim's permission to tell the cops. Nor do cops need a victim's consent to investigate a crime. In fact, not having the victim's consent will keep her safer if she is not the one getting the family in trouble, and get the family cautious knowing that others have noticed and that they are under investigation.
  • Get into the space of the dowry doers, so that that space is no longer safe for them to operate in. THAT is how this is going to stop - not by providing a safe zone of allowed crimes and only acting when any spill over happens.
  • Drugs happen off public areas too. How do police combat drug trafficking? Same logic. Cultivate informers, infiltrate, set up stings, catch red handed, put behind bars. This MUST be done, or we might as well scrap  THE DOWRY PROHIBITION ACT, 1961, because abuse, injury and murder are covered by other regular laws too.
  • And other organizations or individuals can do it too. Inform your local police station that you will be pretending to accept/give dowry, and send them info on when they can do a sting. This kind of thinking should be encouraged in colleges.
  • There were some who called it entrapment. So? Dowry is still a crime. Do we call drug busts invalid because the undercover cop pretended to strike a deal? What kind of garbage logic is this?
  • Publicly show on national television and publicize highly a dowry bust. Let people know that the person they are making a dowry deal with could be setting them up for prison and there is no way of knowing if that person, or anyone who knows - relatives, friends, siblings.... could inform by simply calling the number you see everyday on TV. Make it known that that way lies destination prison. Highlight it. THAT is the best deterrent you will ever be able to create.
  • Be okay with being wrong - in investigating someone who isn't giving or taking dowry. That is the whole idea of investigation - finding out.
  • Make post mortems of women dead within 7 years of marriage mandatory. They are required by law. Enforce it. There should be an additional law punishing families that cremate or otherwise dispose the body before a post mortem can be conducted. Remember Naina Singh? It isn't such a rare incident. ENFORCE it.
  • Arrest cops who shield dowry crimes in India by preventing investigations as party to the crimes.
  • Many politicians are among those shielding and committing gender crimes. Allegations and suspicious coincidences must be immediately investigated. Any confirmed links should automatically disqualify that person for political space. No matter what their role or position.

This should do the trick. We have the laws. Now we need to get serious about them.

And then back it up with public service messages and in depth public debates around the practice of dowry. Blow the shroud of silence to bits and talk about this openly and take on the challenge.

Blow this practice of dowry out of the water. Finish it comprehensively. It can be done. Let us do it.

8

While domestic abuse is distressingly common, it is equally normal for the victim to receive little or no assistance in dealing with an abusive partner or member of the family. Sadly, the "mind your own business" mentality continues to triumph against all logic. It does not seem to strike people that if marriage is not supposed to include abuse, abusive behavior between married people cannot be considered the "relationship". Absurd social assumptions of privacy continue to inadvertently strengthen abuse and stack odds against the victim and allow situations to escalate to levels where the only thing remains is for the chain to break at the weakest link - whether it is a person or a relationship.

But it need not be so. It is possible for socially committed people to influence situations so that abusive people cannot leverage their silence as a consensus against the victim. It is even possible without much risk or effort. What remains is to do it.

How can domestic abuse be prevented by bystanders?

A lot is possible. I'm listing out a few ideas that can be attempted according to the situation, how well you know the victim, and how strongly you feel about the matter.

Voice what is happening

You may not object, but make it clear that you notice what is happening. Abuse thrives in the shadows. For example, one person overruling or suppressing another in a group can easily be acknowledged with something as simple as "five of us want this, 3 want that, and XYZ seemed to want this till ABC stopped her.". In essence, you are doing nothing about the actions of the abuser other than stating them. However, an unfair action being stated reflects badly on the actor and discourages further similar actions out of a wish to not be seen as an unfair person. This is among the safest choices, as you are not required to know any backgrounds of actions beyond what you see, and if it isn't abuse, but has an alternative explanation, you do not end up making any accusations.

Make your disengagement clear

Abuse typically interprets silence of third parties to taste. Your lack of disagreement can be presented as your agreement with the abuser's view even if completely false. It is important to categorically make disagreement clear. While most people hesitate to make a scene, abuse going unchallenged gives it power because it creates the illusion of social sanction. You may not necessarily confront the abuser, but you can easily say something like "I see no harm why s/he shouldn't join us." By providing an alternative perspective, you break the image that "everyone" thinks like that. More so, you never know when others in the group also don't like but remain quiet, and it provides them with a graceful reminder to make their distance known too.

Make a stand

Make your stand clear. You don't have to support the victim, in fact, it is better that you don't in that moment. What you can do is make it clear that the abuser's behavior is unacceptable. "Please don't speak with your wife/husband/child like that in my presence". In this, it is important that you do not side with the victim who could be targeted in retaliation in your absence for things you said. Your confrontation should strictly be between the abuser and you, even if the subject is the victim. This may mean not involving information confided by the victim in particular - which may be seen by the abuser as an attack by the victim to influence you against them.

Use authority

Understand this. If you are in a position of authority and you don't challenge abuse, you are sanctioning it in the environment. It is absolutely reasonable to use your role and authority to set norms of behavior. "No hitting. No intimidation." "I have asked her for her opinion. If I wanted yours, I'd ask you." Straight, non-negotiable forbidding of inappropriate behavior when you have the authority to do so.

Offer support

Make it known to the victim that s/he can reach out for help. Cliched as it sounds, offer money if you can. Offer a safe home if you can. This cannot be stressed enough. Money and accommodation are the biggest reasons victims dare not leave abusive relationships. A stash of money comes in Handy for a quick taxi out when shit hits fan. Offer contacts. Discretely collect and share information on inexpensive accommodation if you offering is not possible or otherwise unsuitable. Offer it quietly and in an easy to remember/access manner. Repeat offer periodically, so that it remains in mind as a constant resource that can be trusted not to vanish. You may not be able to offer an option to get out of the abusive environment, but there may be other things that could help. Ask. Ask if there is anything.

Provide socialization

The biggest symptom of abuse is a person who withdraws, avoids social contact, feels awkward about answering questions about self and has poor self image. Having company helps. Helps provide a diversity of conversations rather than only abusive ones dominating the victim's interactions, which is how abusive situations narrow and create a perception of isolation and inferiority. Socialization also reduces opportunities of abuse as well as increases the threat of discovery and social disapproval.

Check up

Keen an eye, ask friends to occasionally check up on the person. If warranted, provide the victim a simple code that will mean she needs rescued. Something that is not blatant to others. DON'T take it lightly, ever. One of the things that helped me finally decide to risk moving out on my own with a disabled child in tow was something as seemingly unrelated as a day of internet outage resulting in phone calls asking if I was all right since I had vanished online.

Rescues

Unless you feel capable of taking charge of the victim's well being or offering a substantial part of the assistance needed in recovering, do not do solo rescues. Get police along. The rescue is the beginning. then comes the challenge - of rebuilding life. More difficult to get that assistance after being rescued. Much easier if the police are involved all through. A victim is also less likely to be intimidated into covering up in the presence of the police asking questions of the abuser.

Speak with social workers

They have options, ideas and assistance that could help the person much more effectively. They also have the manpower and diverse competencies to keep an eye, intervene or provide support as needed.

When to call cops rather than be sorry later?

You see unexplained injuries, acute depression to the point of aloofness, inexplicable changes of behaviour that are out of character for the person, hearing loud/angry voices or sounds of objects being thrown/banged/hit/etc, if you have a safety code that gets triggered... if you feel uneasy about the well being of someone in a known abusive situation.

Very likely that it will be a false alarm. Do it anyway. For one, you never know what you prevented by interrupting on time. For another, as someone outside the abuser's control with the power to call cops and get the abuser in serious trouble, you act as a shield. The abuser cannot prevent you from acting in any manner you wish, including reporting possible domestic abuse/crime. It becomes essential that any cops arriving find no trouble. It is as much a deterrent as a response.

If enough people do these simple things, society would be much safer.