Are we asleep and everything around us is just a fragment of our imagination? We see things, events and people pass by as if in an assembly line. Dead, are we? Or just too thick skinned? Or too alienated from ourselves? This might seem like some absurdist Beckettian plot, but it is nothing less than that, when we know that violence and especially violence against women is an everyday practice in this country. But what really angers the nation is a little creative freedom from an artist which might have a potential tainting effect on the character of a queen in the distant past (the existence of whom is a matter of an ‘academic’ debate).
What happened in Kathua is a dastardly act and has to be outright rejected by any individual, community and society which dares to call itself civilised. However, the concern that this incident brought is not just the continuing prevalence of such acts or the impunity with which the perpetrators roam free after the crime, or commit it in the first place, but the fact that as a society we have failed in standing against what IS wrong. We failed that day when lawyers – the guarantors of justice – rallied for protecting the rapists. We failed when we had leaders measuring their words before denouncing the incident loud and clear. We failed when there were debates about why was the family and community even lived in the town. We failed when it took for Kathua to happen to wake up from a deep slumber and shout out that this is not an isolated event, but there are women raped and abused in every corner of the world. We failed when the sanctity of a temple was trusted more than the eyes of a father whose daughter lies dead in front of the world. We failed. Failed Yet Again.
When violence becomes the norm, the trajectory that it follows next is more violence. To address this, we need to get our priorities straight. “Padmaavat” and the entire gamut of controversy around it boiled down to the fact that the Honour (with a capital ‘H’) of a community lies on the shoulder of the woman. And thus the woman becomes the ‘object’ of surveillance and protection irrespective of her consent or wish or rather in the case of “Padmaavat” – her actual existence. A woman then becomes a site of control. She is a medium to maintain the existing systems of patriarchal oppression and not a person in herself. The men and women who took to the streets opposing the release of “Padmaavat” – claiming the breach of honour of their queen, did not care less for say Nagmati, Maharawal Ratan Singh’s first wife, whose existence was practically subdued by Rawal Ratan Singh himself. Those who were angered by “Padmaavat” couldn’t or didn’t quite call for action when the 8-year-old in Kathua needed them. This is not just juxtaposing two varied episodes in the story of this nation to prove a point but an actual question as to how flagrantly misplaced our concerns can be.
Demanding the public hanging of the rapists every time an unfortunate incident like Kathua happens, is not the solution to the glaring problem of violence against women. Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. How many people will a ‘civilised’ society be ready to hang? There lies a more basic problem with the impunity with which the power relations work. An overhaul of the way we look at our world is the need of the hour. To wake up from this dead absurdist dream. It could begin with little things but could begin nevertheless.
After all, humans hope.