This has been a dark and chilly December for India. The shadows have been creeping in since a long long time but this month has been particularly bad. The brutal rape of a girl in the country’s capital has shaken everybody and the last few days have seen massive public outcry to change rape laws in the country and for establishing women- friendly procedures and a fast track conviction in such cases.
The fact that crime against women be it female infanticide, dowry deaths, domestic violence and rape have been long-standing issues has a lot to do with the mindset that prevails in the society. When the president’s son, an elected representative to a state assembly, talks of ‘dented and painted women’ and questions their right to protest peacefully in a democracy while a senior scientist wonders why the girl went out for a movie at night thus putting herself ‘at risk’, one starts to wonder whether things have really changed in India deep down. The objectification of women and the rules and framework within which a ‘decent’ Indian girl should and must behave are part of a hard-wired meme that propagates through generations.
I used to take pride in the fact that I try not to reinforce gender stereotypes to my son till one day, about two years back when he was 9 yrs old, he proudly came up and informed me that if I ever was in any trouble, he would ‘save and protect’ me. While I thanked him for it, I asked just what he meant by it, and was told that ‘when girls get into trouble boys save them as happens in various cartoon shows’.
I think we should seriously analyze what information we as educated- liberal parents feed our kids. Children learn and mimic the patterns they see as they are growing up, and cartoons and movies make up a huge chunk of their database. There is a dearth of strong girl/woman oriented characters in most shows on kids channels. The ‘nice and sweet girl’ image is associated with female leads in most popular cartoon shows as well as movies. The idea that little girls are made of ‘sugar and spice and all thing nice’ reinforces the same thing. Memes are powerful because they self-replicate and mutate and thus can influence generations.
Rape is the ultimate violation of a person, but the violation starts at every single step that we take in solidifying such beliefs in our social structure. Equality means just that, and not equal rights within a particular social frame-work or a stereotype, thus nullifying the initial objective. It becomes our duty to pressurize the government to introduce women friendly court procedures and police action, but it is as much our duty to look within and to identify biases within our social framework, to question a system where an average working woman comes home from office and is expected to cook dinner for the family, where cases of abuse within a marriage are seldom reported even among the educated because preserving the social framework is considered more sacred than preserving a womans dignity, where boys are given better career opportunities than the girls in the family and where the absence of efficient day care support handicaps a woman to stagnate her career graph.
It is only when we question ourselves that we shall begin to understand the problem and work towards finding the answers. Till then such inequality will keep eating away the fabric even while the Prime minister of the country asks “Theek Hai? (is it all right?)”
(The incident: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/delhi-gangrape-victim-the-journey-to-death-began-with-a-movie/1/240022.html