When Lord Ram asked Goddess Sita not to accompany him to the forests, saying the forest is no place for a princess, she replied, “I don’t need your permission. I am your wife, and I am supposed to accompany you to the throne, into war and to the forest.” Here, Sita is not a feminine requiring protection from her husband but an equal partner in a relationship called marriage.
Fast forward to today’s world. Three days ago, four drunk persons, grabbed a lonely woman in the outskirts of Hyderabad, raped her, then killed her, raped her again and then burnt her—just like that. It was not a planned attack; rather, the four drunk persons thought that a lonely woman is an opportunity—that it’s their right; it was ‘normal’ for them.
No wonder it attracted widespread condemnation—people calling for justice, media widely reporting the incident, people sharing the news on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and people holding candle marches, etc. There is anger against the police for untimely action, against the courts for tardiness. But unfortunately, this instantaneous anger is momentous, emotional outburst, which does not necessarily lead to a structural, logical attempt to understand the predicament a woman faces in today’s society, and what justice means to her.
In fact, the outburst was more during the 2012 Delhi gangrape case, which shook the conscience of the nation, bringing the national capital to a standstill. Laws were amended, special courts were created, yet seven years later, the tragedy of rape continues. It begs a necessary question: are we searching for correct solutions? Justice is not vengeance against the culprits; justice is served when we, as a society, can guarantee that no other woman goes through the same. This requires deeper introspection.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 93% of the rapes in India are committed by persons known to the victim. So, what happened on that day to the Delhi gangrape victim and recently in Hyderabad, is just the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, many more rape cases go unreported due to social, economic, cultural factors owing to the harsh realities women face—just as the #MeTooMovement brought to the fore.
About 93% of the rapes are committed by persons known to the victims. Most of them are not necessarily alcoholic or illiterate. They are doing it fully aware of the consequences of their actions, just because they can! This means that rape is the worst manifestation of the discrimination women face in day-to-day life. The real culprit is the discrimination based on gender, linked with deep-rooted patriarchy, stereotypes, cultural prejudices that treat women as inferior, as property, as someone ‘weak’, and in need of protection.
This discrimination is manifested in our everyday lives, which we take for granted, and treat as ‘normal’, unless something as gross as a gangrape happens. For instance, take Bollywood item songs, where women are objectified, commodified for male audiences to ‘consume’. (In one such song the lyrics read as Tu “Cheez” badi hai mast mast—literally reducing a woman body to a commodity).
Even religion sanctions it (the Sabarimala case, for example, where women of menstruating age are restricted entry in the temple). When a 15-year-old girl on her periods is asked not to touch her siblings, what exactly are we teaching our kids? These issues may look trivial, but this conditioning in the children leads to the mindset where women are seen as vulnerable, weak, to be protected.
Curses are always targeted at the women of one’s family because women are treated as family’s honour—as property to be preserved, protected, not as independent, equal human beings. That’s why we see honour killings, domestic violence, workplace harassment, judging women for her ‘revealing’ clothes, her relationships, her career, her opinions, her sexual choices etc. No wonder the four accused who ‘deserve to be hanged’ are also a product of the society we nurtured. We, as a society, share equal blame.
Unless these prejudices are addressed, unless women are treated as equals, no courts, no police, no outrage on social media will stop another drunken man—who is essentially a product of the stereotypes we as a society cultivate—from violating another soul. Neither Sita nor our women need protection as mothers, daughters and sisters. What they need is treatment as equal human beings, equal value to their dignity, their sexuality and their choices. That is the true justice for India’s woman, with her independent identity—not as someone’s mother, sister or daughter.