By Nivedita Rai:
The safety of women was a issue that called for heated discussions and massive protests throughout the country. India has witnessed a huge uproar, a revolution against lecherous members of the society who have caused immense shame to the entire country through their heinous acts.
The question on everyone’s lips, the question that has been echoing around the globe, which has been blaring out of televisions and radio stations worldwide — “What is wrong with Indian men”? Why is it that there are incessant incidences reported almost every day and even after numerous claims and promises by the government, police and judiciary nothing seems to have improved? In-fact, the situation has worsened over time. Who is responsible for the safety of women in a country of 1 billion people?
The answer lies within each one of us, the only problem is we do not realize it. It needs a lot of brainstorming to identify that we are responsible for all that is happening around us. Eve teasing, molestation and rape are the draconian forms of everyday petty incidences at our homes that we ignore. Each time a couple repents the birth of a girl child, however secretly, a shameful sin transpires. Each time a family favors their son over their daughter, the seed of superiority is sown in the mind of the little boy. The family gives fuel to this fire of superiority everyday by showing preferences towards the boy. It can be as trivial as letting him to go out and play while refraining his sister from doing so or dividing the responsibilities of household work among siblings in such a way that the girl gets to be holed up in the kitchen while the boy can go out to the market. As Mahatma Gandhi has said, for the first seven years of their lives, children are like clay. They will grow into respectful, responsible and honest citizens if you teach them to. This is the time children need to be taught equality and respect towards the opposite gender. We have to nip the mere thought of gender inequality in its bud.
The momentum gathered by the fight for a woman’s safety reveals a sad and bitter truth about our society. I believe that this issue cannot be solved superficially by shouting slogans or amending a few laws. After all, it is up-to us to either follow the laws effectively or to flaunt them. If every father stops feeling the burden of his daughter’s marriage, if every mother seeks pride in letting her daughter make important decisions of her life herself, I bet the problem is solved there itself.
The situation we face today is not because of a man’s libido. Nor does it depend on the clothes of the girl or how late she chooses to come back home. The problem lies in the eyes of the beholder. The problem is the lack of respect given to women in this patriarchal society, by men and women alike. If every individual recognizes that a girl is not an object, that her place is not reserved in the kitchen, that she is not merely meant to cook and make life easier for her husband, that she is someone who has her own priorities, ambitions and dreams, we will triumph over this problem.
A major lesson that we all need to learn is that the Indian man is not solely responsible. At a time when everyone is ready to jump down the throat of every man they see, we must not forget the brave men who stood up to protect their friends, girlfriends, sisters or even complete strangers. Many men, like Keenan and Reuben have lost their lives fighting to stand up for the equality they believe in. Let us not forget that women are equally responsible. A few days after the Delhi gang rape, a woman sensitization program was being conducted by a senior woman scientist. In front of a large audience comprising of policemen, the public and senior government officials, she lambasted the victim. In her opinion, the gang rape victim should not have fought back while being raped since that may have ‘saved’ her intestines. She also wondered what she was doing at 9 PM alone with a boy. When powerful women are actively participating in victim blaming, how do we expect to change the mindset of boys who are brought up by these women?
Let us not forget that the responsibility of keeping a woman ‘safe’ is not merely restricted to protecting her from rape. It encompasses protecting her dignity and self esteem even after she has been raped. It means to never, ever blame the victim or make any excuses for the crime. It implies never questioning her intentions of staying out at night or wearing what she wants to. Would we question our sons if they wanted to wear shorts and go out for ice cream at midnight? Protecting her safety signifies protecting her from discrimination at every single step of her life.
Today, when the entire nation is clamoring over the problem, cribbing over the rules, criticizing the judiciary, the police and the government, I appeal to the people of India to dig deep into your family, because you have the capacity to bring about a change in your family and your neighborhood. Feel proud to be the father of a girl, don’t curb her freedom. Instead, teach your son to respect his sister. Teach your daughter to be fearless and independent. Teach your children equality. Do not let their genders guide what you teach them. Irrespective of their sex, teach your children to cook and to play cricket. Teach them to sew buttons and to plan for their future. If your son is interested in fashion, send him to an art class. If your daughter is an athlete, coach her for the Olympics. While many have labeled this period in India as a fight for woman empowerment, I believe this is a fight for equality.