By Saket Sekhsaria:
Three weeks ago, I created a petition to amend laws on rape and domestic violence to gender neutral standards, which promise equal justice regardless of gender. This petition was created with the long-term goal of achieving gender equality. Now you may be wondering why I decided to take up this cause, when India is plagued by severe women’s rights issues. Why I made this petition, aligns with a belief that looking at the big picture doesn’t solve much.
To illustrate this, I would like you to close your eyes and imagine a domestic violence victim and the perpetrator of said crime. Open your eyes now. Was a woman the victim and a man the perpetrator? Almost everyone shares this belief because it is the only representation we been subjected to. Advertisements and campaigns fixate on this perception and several of them even take gender bashing routes to further it. The truth, however, is that a 2004 National Family Health Survey (NFHS) revealed that an estimated 60 lakh women have perpetrated physical violence against husbands. If physical violence and threats made by wife’s relatives are taken into account, an estimated 3 crore men are facing domestic violence. A Human Rights Watch survey claims that 1 in 2 boys is sexually assaulted in India. (Although children of all sexes are protected by this act of 2012, it highlights the ominous possibility of continuation of abuse into adulthood and being one of the only statistics on sexual abuse against men in India, showcases the need of more research on the issue)
The above mentioned facts already promise a devastatingly large number, but are considerably marginalized by the various stigmas that restrain men from taking action. The flawed perceptions of the crime coupled with clichés like “Men don’t feel pain” and erroneous gender identities, make for a combination which makes victims plunge into self-blame. Social stigma also often gets added to the mix, because of which victims get made fun of for their confessions. Despite these figures and constraints, Section 375, 376 and the DV act of the Indian Penal Code, only women can be identified as victims. We have ingrained these flaws and perceptions and it is upto us to get rid of them.
If we amend laws like section 375, 376 we are simultaneously breaking down stereotypes and providing deserved justice. Once these stereotypes break, men, women and others will realize that everyone can be a victim, perpetrator and that no-one is superior or inferior. It will ridicule facts like “Men can’t be raped” and teach men that they have no right to dominate. I propose, instead of teaching our boys not to make girls cry (If Vogue’s #StartWithTheBoys is an indication) we teach our boys that it’s not okay to make anyone cry, boys or girls. We should treat the children equally and negate declarations like “Girls don’t play sports”, “Boys don’t play with dolls”. Instead we let the children build their own gender identities and their own personal beliefs of masculinity and femininity because masculinity shouldn’t be defined by physical strength and six packs, neither should femininity be defined by your weight, physical appearance. By doing this, we make sure that individuals are taught to be equal and restrictions on what a person can and can’t do are left to the person’s discretion rather than a misrepresentation. This is a long-shot but the only shot at true gender equality. Change starts here, and now. Join.