By Vinayana Khurana:
“A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boys and girls are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.” These words by one of the men convicted for the notorious December 16 rape in Delhi, give us a deeper insight into a rapist’s mind; one full of prejudices, plotting revenge and using rape as a “correctional” measure. Like him, many still think that the victim of the December 16 rape is responsible for her fate. Can the clothes she wore be blamed? Or her taking that bus at night?
Prominent politician and BJP leader Banwari Lal Singhal from Rajasthan has such concerns. In 2012, he wrote a shocking letter to the chief secretary sharing his concerns, as follows,“Girls either walk to school or wait for school buses at various points in Alwar. That is when they face lewd comments from mischievous elements. It should be prohibited (walking, i.e.,), keeping in view the rise of social crimes against women. The school should have pant-shirts or salwar suits as uniforms for girl students.” Seriously?!
At first, I thought such comments are a media concoction. But the more I experienced life, the more I realised that blaming women for the improprieties of men is a social norm. I remember an incident, which happened near my college. A man used to come near the fence and flash his privates at us. When we complained to the authorities, they scolded us and asked us not to look out the window and study with concentration. It made me furious not to be able to counter the views of the teacher. Once I was looking outside the window of my car, and two boys from another vehicle passed a lewd comment. When I told my father, he scolded me for looking out of the window!
Shivani Pundir, a student at Delhi University, says,“The notion that ‘she was asking for it’ by rapists and sexual assaulters stems from the fact that society as a mouthpiece of patriarchy never questions the hideous act but on the contrary, blames the survivor’s behaviour, way of dressing, demeanour or even companionship, as a justification for the inhuman crime.”
Another student Surbhi Aggarwal echoes a similar sentiment. “Women are always blamed for their own assault because society never wants to take the blame, or allow their mentality to be questioned,” she says. Such thoughts shared by the youth of our country help us understand the anger among young women.
Yes, we went for many candlelight marches, yet, Delhi, the capital of India, is still unsafe for half its population. In crowded metros, or buses, or in marketplaces, women walk in fear. Fear of a bad touch, of being the object of a dirty comment or a cheap song as she walks by. A survey by international charity organisation ActionAid UK revealed shocking details on the extent of harassment women face in public places in India. The survey found that nearly four of five women in India have faced harassment in public places, and 84 percent of those who had experienced it were between 25 to 35 years of age. Most were working women and students.
We may not realise it, but an unsafe city restricts women from achieving higher goals. A girl must compromise on her career because she cannot stay late in the office even if her job demands it. When the news of a sexual assault breaks in a nearby colony, the first thing families do is prevent their daughters from going to college, office or anywhere else. Whereas, they hardly ever stop their sons from going out.
A few days ago, I saw one of my neighbours walking hurriedly towards the gate of the society. I grew curious and asked her why she entered this way. She said she had her husband’s “approval” to be out until 8 p.m., but today she was running late (it was already 8.05) and was scared of being reprimanded. This is the kind of terror I see in the women around me. The husband, no doubt is concerned about his wife’s safety and security, and to be out late she always needs a ‘male bodyguard’ with her. Isn’t this akin to curtailing a woman’s freedom of movement?
The simple answer is that to build a safe environment; we need first to rear a caring individual. And this needs to start in our most basic environment – at home. Home is where a child develops social skills, as this is where a child’s first interaction with the world and its people, take place.
Children learn how a patriarchal society functions while growing up. They observe the different roles and behaviours displayed by men and women around them. They get to see who has an upper hand over his sister and sometimes even his mother.
A son never cooks. He is served like his father. On the contrary, a girl has to help her mother in the kitchen. The son will be instructed to accompany his mother or sister to the market. When a teenage boy is made to do this, he thinks he has a kind of authority over all women.
He sees his father scolding his sister about what to wear and what not to do. That is why, when the child grows up and sees a woman not behaving ‘appropriately’ (according to the norms he has seen in his family), he thinks it can be corrected by a ‘correctional’ sexual assault.
We need a progressive nation where there is no difference between genders, and everyone is encouraging of each other to move forward in life. That will only happen, when we focus on changing mindsets, and not the dresses that women wear.