Trigger warning: Mentions of abuse, assault, rape, caste based-violence
It was early 2014 – my first year at Jamia Millia Islamia.
I checked the semester details and read the subject name I dreaded the most – street theatre. Why dread it, some of you might wonder. Because my acting skills were and are still terrible. Also, I am not a star kid either, for any godfather to endorse my non-existent talent.
Off we went into practice sessions and our final performance at Community Centre, New Friends Colony. Our street play was based on violence and its different forms – physical, emotional and communal. I was glad after it was over. I would never have to act again. But what stayed with me was a particular scene – a man groping a rural woman who came in to apply for government schemes because her farmer husband died by suicide.
My classmates brilliantly acted this out – they definitely deserve an Oscar! But the scene still gives me shivers.
And this brings me to the question – do rural women have access to justice mechanisms like urban women?
Look at us – nobody’s denying the plight we go through. Lack of safety is in the air. But the rural women hardly have any hashtags or feminists coming to their rescue.
Of course, some cases have been in the spotlight. But then so many women in the villages and semi-urban areas are unaware of their rights, do not know about the justice mechanisms set up for them or that even safety is their birthright.
Remember the 2018 survey which highlighted that 52% of Indian women thought it was okay for their husbands to beat them? Of course, this must be a mix of urban and rural women. Now let’s go back to the rural and semi-urban women.
In October itself, a woman from the tribal community was found dead because her neighbours suspected her to be a witch. Did you see any hashtag or any prime-time debate talking about the case here? Oh, wait, did you see Sambit Patra screaming out his lungs because the gruesome murder happened in an opposition-ruled state?
Yeah, the Kathua case got a lot of attention and rightly so. The Hathras case saw a lot of outrage and rightly so. But these are just some of the many instances of gruesome violence that women and girls in the rural and semi-urban areas face.
The Bhanwari Devi rape case and the Khairlanji rape and massacre only show how multi-dimensional women safety in rural areas can be – patriarchy, caste hierarchy and land ownership. And I highly doubt much has changed since then. Some cases get attention, while the rest still live in dread and fear.
Today and the following 16 days, you might see your social media feeds laced with posters and videos in orange with hashtags like #OrangeTheWorld, #16daysofactivism and #EndViolence.
I might sound cynical here, but of what use are hashtags when a girl might find it difficult to walk to her village school because of the men who eve-tease her every day? Or when a woman is scared to go to the nearby well to draw water because the so-called upper caste men in her village are waiting to assert their dominance over her family?
Tell me, of what use are hashtags in a war of land and caste where women are treated as collateral damage?