Amidst the embarrassingly patchy English, childish exuberance, scanty vocabulary and the intermittent use of uppercase letters to draw attention, something stands out in this post. Inspired by Phileas Fogg, the protagonist of Jules Verne’s Classic “Around the World in 80 days”, the Reform Club I talk of was to be an organisation of reform. I had the audacity to believe it could stop abuse of women in our country and promote chivalry among young men. Alas! it turned out to be a damp squib.
However, as someone freshly into teenage and recently endowed with the power of free thinking, I looked at the incident in Delhi as an occasional aberration and not the norm. Little did I know that the patriarchal nature of the society, that my imagined Reform Club sought to change, would prove so resilient and so far ingrained in the tapestry that is our society, that it would resurface everyday as I learned to read the newspaper or watch the TV.
The occurrences in the past few days have been particularly disturbing. The open molestation of women in Bangalore and a similar incident closer home in Bhubaneshwar, has stirred our minds. There is an opinion in a significant proportion, if not a majority of Indians, that feel that women are in some manner or the other responsible for the doom they bring on themselves. This opinion has manifested itself in not just the statements of men and women from visibly public spheres, but also when habitual offenders try to justify their acts.
“Will this ever change?” is the question everybody is asking? Will the upheaval and the call for reform, following the death of Jyoti Singh, die an unnatural death? Turns out there might be an answer to these rhetorical questions. The answers definitely will not emanate from the shastras, because if there was a secret potion to stop abuse we would have unearthed it by now. So perhaps, for once we will have to silence the conservatives and the radical right who connotate the West with lasciviousness, and look towards the West.
Enter The Rainbow Man
Despite their foolishness in electing a demagogue like Donald Trump, when it comes to tectonic shifts in disposition of the masses towards any particular cause like that regarding same-sex marriages in USA, it is worth discussing. It is imperative to note that the struggle of the LGBTQ movement in the USA and elsewhere has been one that showed great strength and struggle. Over a decade back only a paltry 37 % of the Americans supported or were okay with same-sex marriages. However a recent study by Pew Research Center has shown that over 55 % of the Americans were in favour of same sex marriages and more that 75 % were “okay” with it. Notwithstanding which side of the spectrum (rainbow spectrum) you are on and your thoughts on gay marriage, we can all agree that such a paradigm shift, if successfully reproduced in India, will bring down crime against women and successfully rein in the perversion of Indian men. So what did the US do to achieve such a change in opinion? Like all interesting questions, there are no simple answers.
Enter: The Judge
The apex court judgments always have a way of deeply changing the perceptions of society. Be it the NALSA vs. Union of India case, where the transgender people were granted equal rights as citizens or the Bhopal Gas tragedy case which brought up the principle of “polluter pays”, SC judgements have slowly but steadily pushed society towards reform. One of the landmark decision on LGBTQ rights was that of the US Supreme court in the recent past in Obergefell vs Hodges (2015). In this case the court held that same-sex couples had the right to marry in every state of the US, following the due process of law. This judgement though significant in the history of the LGBTQ movement, is also important as it brought about a major reversal in the opinion of young Americans.
Contrary to the happening in US, the Supreme Court of India has made some pretty regressive decisions when it comes to women. During the same period in 2015, the Supreme Court refused to outlaw marital rape in the country and in a way justified the subjugation of women by men. The decision and the unwillingness of the government to acknowledge and amend the law, shows the inherent patriarchal tendencies of the society. By taking a stand similar to the US Supreme Court and by braving the criticism of male chauvinists, the SC could have set a remarkable precedent which it outrightly refused to do.
In another alarming decision the SC has brought up the question of “woman of questionable character” in stating that a “sex-worker” cannot plead rape. This means that the persuasive argument of Amitabh Bachchan in Pink about “consent”, irrespective of who the woman is, might just have been ignored by the SC. Further, laws in India forbid “obscenity” in public places. The word obscenity has not been defined and this leaves it open to interpretation by male chauvinists. Young couples are often prosecuted and moral policing is rampant as a result of this law. By forbidding the freedom of expression of womankind our laws have, in a way, condemned women to the position they occupy today.
Enter: The Pop-culture
Another important reason for the increased acceptance of gay-marriages in the US is the role of pop-culture. Popular culture is perhaps the most significant way of moulding opinion, particularly of the younger generation. Popular TV shows and movies started showcasing gay men and women as significant members of the society, who were in no way different from the average person. “The Modern Family” is one of the newest TV series which champions the cause of gay rights by showing that gay couples are no different from heterosexual ones. On the contrary, for decades women have been portrayed by Indian films and daily soap-operas as timid, passive supporting characters who nurse the ego of dominant male protagonist.
Rarely does one see a Pink, a Queen or a Dangal come-by, which seeks to challenge the inherent male-bias of our popular culture. Moreover, Youtube has opened the floodgates of misogynistic content. Recently a prank video, where a guy kisses women without their consent and flees, went viral on the internet. The YouTuber in question had over a hundred thousand subscribers and was constantly uploading such perverted videos. Don’t we Indians deserve to have our version of “The Modern Family” which shows women as hardworking and driven members of the society and mistresses of their own will. The bottom-line here is that the first step in reforming a nation, is to reform its pop-culture.
The culture of coming out
Knowing someone who is openly gay, most of the Americans say, is one of the chief reasons which led to their change of heart. To draw a parallel to the Indian scenario, we should wish for women to be assertive about their rights to take charge and become role models for the upcoming generation. By role models I do not mean people from the glamour world, but people who we can relate to at a deeper level. Imagine if a teacher you revered would come up to the class and openly talk about the heart-wrenching happenings and male domination, and go on to say that what a woman wears has no bearing on how she should be treated. But on the contrary we have learnt to be complacent and make peace with smaller instances of sexism and misogyny. No one is off the hook when they turn a blind eye to these small, ostensibly inconsequential, acts, not even me. Now is a good time to begin.
Call For Change
In the years following the December 16 gang rape, the term “Abused Indian Goddess” has gained popularity. The feeling of subjugation, hurt and abuse is inherent in this phrase. The oxymoron brings to light the present situation for women in India. While we do not waive from describing women as goddesses and placing them on a pedestal, we have alienated them from the basic rights of life. In today’s world, sexist and male chauvinistic ideologies are an anathema. This needs to be obliterated. We have the precedent of the rainbow man, and the shift towards support of the same-sex marriage before us. It is incumbent on the society to make these changes if we wish to have a safer, nurturing and more importantly an equal place for women. It also falls on public figures to openly denounce sexist attitudes. Let the goddess not be a mere consort, living at the whims and fancies of the Indian God, let her be truly powerful.