ARE WOMEN CHILDREN OF LESSER GODS?P.N.BENJAMINWhither Indian women on this International Women’s Day? A question well worth asking.
Today Indian women have to choose between a lifetime of abject slavery at home and warding off mandatory passes at the work place, where they are rarely treated as equals. In many less than literate sectors of our society, they are treated as children of a lesser god to be burnt alive as young bride, for not brining adequate dowry. If she survives all this, and the ignominy of being forever treated as a receptacle for male lust, often forced into whoring or raped by her near ones too.
Hundreds of cases of rape and dowry murders are reported from different parts of country every day. Domestic violence is not even reported: husbands who physically ill-treat their wives do so with utter impunity because neither the police nor the public will interfere in a ‘private matter’. Women are hunted down and murdered by mobs because they are branded witches. Girl children are kidnapped from their homes or sold to pimps and forced into prostitution.
New born girl babies are abandoned and left to die – sometimes drowned or given poison by their own parents who perceive a daughter as an economic burden. They are often not even allowed to be born – sophisticated scientific tests have been misused to detect sex of the foetus and an abortion follows promptly if the test reveals the sex to be female. In short, it is indisputable women are increasingly being subjected to greater violence and aggression, both physical and mental.
Crimes against women are increasing at an alarming rate in our country. Yet, for some strange reason, we have reduced them to statistics. Cold, brutal statistics that pile up in the morgues of government offices, welfare homes, small town courts and prisons, confirming our suspicion that the single largest minority in this country is being viciously battered into submissionWhat perverse instincts impel such acts of aggression? And why do they go unpunished? No one can argue that these issues have not received their share of publicity today. In the print-media there are women’s pages and carry articles and reports on contentious women’s issues and even special supplements. Television boasts of woman’s programmes. The other powerful medium – advertising – has always been over-eager to use women in ways women would rather not be used. Even politicians, who have often forgotten that women form any part of their electorate have bestirred themselves and, with unaccustomed activity, have launched a flurry of legislation ostensibly aimed at helping and protecting women.With all the seemingly positive changes in the society women have become the targets of increasing violence. Why, despite the stringent laws against dowry, have dowry deaths registered a sharp increase? Why have the ‘official’ figures of reported rapes doubled in the last decade and the rate of conviction been so low? Why are there so many child prostitutes in big cities? Why is the right to live denied to a girl child in some communities and why are women still the most chronically undernourished sections of the population? And, finally, why do the shocking statistics and daily reports about the deteriorating condition not create the kind of national uproar that the antics of film-star-politicians and other leaders do?Crime is endemic to the human condition, but a crime specifically directed at one sex is most despicable and, unfortunately, the one that is punished least. Because, despite all the hype and hyperbole, the protective laws and action plans, the seminars and speeches, the basic patriarchal structures and attitudes have undergone very little change. The majority of women are still second class citizens, their worth measured purely in economic terms: how much work they can do inside and outside the home, how many male children they can bear, how much dowry they will bring.The media exposure and all the legislation thus have little impact. Besides, they are themselves contradictory and often betray their own biases. Print and electronic media may carry reports castigating police connivance in a rape case or highlight a dowry death, but at the same time will carry/telecast advertisements, photo-features and illustrations that exploit women’s bodies, and perpetuate sexist images of women and flippant headings that belittle important issues. The media’s understanding of the issues involved is so confused and half-baked.Legislative enactments by government have so far been mere tokenism. Another factor that blunts the edge of any attempt to give women a better deal is that women’s issues are often politicised.
Whatever positive changes taken place so far on the women’s front are due to the hard work, dedication and commitment, of thousands of ordinary men and women and unheard of groups, braving the scorching heat and heavy rains, sacrificing the comfort and many allurements of the consumerist society, in the cause of millions of dispossessed women in the remote villages and hilly regions of this vast land of ours. They give us reasons for hope. They are building a new India. The saga of such endeavours is hardly publicised by the media addicted to the burlesque of the women who are holding up their dirty pink panties publicly.However, waiting for the real changes to occur for women in India is rather like waiting for Godot.