To be a Woman in India

India. The world’s largest democracy just had it’s 16th Lok Sabha Elections in May 2014. The tagline of “Achche Din” (Good days) made Narendra Modi (Prime Minister of India) win a majority in the Parliament. This isn’t a rant about the rise of right wing politics or policies that can change the economic position of India by the right amount of investments and negotiations. Rather, this is a reflection on the unfortunate state of affairs for the marginalized females in India- who, on the intersection of class, caste and gender are at the bottom rung of the social hierarchy operating in India. Never mind, the young HRD Minister Mrs. Irani or the Minister for External Affairs, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj. This isn’t about them- the financially independent, popular, political stalwarts. This is about the two young girls who were raped and hung from a tree in Uttar Pradesh. This is about the woman bus conductor who was beaten and stripped naked in Maharashtra, the mother who was raped infront of her children by militants in Meghalya- whose head was blown off due to her resistance. While drawing room discussions in the ‘Second Upper-Class India’ turn these brutal acts of sexual violence into a game of politics, by blaming/questioning the political party in power- very often, the required changes at the grass-root level are blurred. The idea of rape as a weapon to enforce dominance and power in a highly stratified society, where women of a specific class/caste are the most vulnerable, are pushed on the back burner. 

The mainstream media, often on 9′o’clock news has unfruitful debates inviting politicians, actors (Bollywood) and perhaps, the new favorite, lawyers from a specific ‘political camp’. For two hours the speakers try to prove imaginary ‘truths’ (with an ‘s’) blaming the Chief Minister, the Prime Minister, the law and order and sometimes, unsuccessfully, patriarchy (the ‘P’ word, is always seldom used). In the very public, Tarun Tejpal scandal, a lot of ‘good friends’ and well-wishers said it was a ‘conspiracy’ by those attacked by the magazine Tejpal was CEO of.

In the evening at 5 p.m. when my classes get over, I notice a few college girls get into their Honda’s, driven by chauffeurs, while others take the public transport- Delhi Metro. Despite separate coaches assigned only ‘for women’, the lewd remarks, gestures, constant staring done by lecherous men are numerous in the ‘safe’ territory of the national capital region of India. There has been an increase in the number of women in Delhi University who have reported cases of stalking to the police. The missing statistic, is the huge number of women who would never report, due to fear of victim blaming, done very often by society and families. To be a woman in India, can make you fall in two categories: one, who is aware of her rights and the existence of patriarchal structures. Second, who can personally experience the patriarchal structure of society, but cannot exactly ever understand what it is that subjugates her: her body? her being born as a female? her family? society? country? Both the categories are the concoctions of my mind. The second category lacks the ‘financial capital’ and ‘cultural capital’ bestowed upon the Indian women who are born into upper-class, upper-caste families. They are educated and know the way, patriarchal society operates, but this knowledge also has repercussions: breaking away from established norms of within-caste marriage (endogamy, experienced by both categories of women).

Rape, domination, patriarchal kinship ties, are not the only experiences of being an Indian woman- but the most important ones, worth examining. If control over another person’s body can be traced into ideas of ‘family honor’ (izzat) or ‘dishonor’- then the ‘rape culture’ prevalent in the country can be, and is, used an excuse to further accelerate control over decisions pertaining to the lives of sisters, daughters and wives. Since the horrific rape case of December 2012, there has been a tendency in the media to constantly flash news regarding sexual violence (which is a good thing), but the impact of the said digital images in the minds of families in India, is a blatant acceptance of the violence, a normalization of rape incidents and a greater ‘fear’ of having daughters. This is perpetuating the Rape Culture in India, where female goddesses are worshiped and female babies are raped.

While interning in December 2013, I was working on mass violence in an established organisation in New Delhi. While transcribing the videos of Riot survivors, a middle-aged woman rushed into our office seeking help from a project coordinator. They were working on a project, for providing night shelters to urban homeless people in Delhi. In a particular shelter, a few months old baby had been raped by her own uncle. This was perhaps that incident that is never reported in the media, an incident that makes all those involved with the homeless shelter project aware of the vulnerabilities of young children who could be exploited.

What is it like to be a woman in India? The academic answer is that “it depends on your location in the patriarchal structure of society”. The devil is in the location. To be a woman in India, is to be filled with fear and anxiety while walking alone in the night (here night means 6:30 pm). Fear and anxiety if a stranger smiles a little too long, fear and anxiety from a co-worker who gazes a bit too much. Fear and anxiety from the driver who teaches you how to drive. First, to be a woman in India, is a courageous act. Secondly, the Madonna-whore complex, perpetuated by Bollywood movies and society, disorients the Indian male’s mind.  In order to establish true equality for men and women, one must move beyond narrow mindsets (Rape cannot happen in ‘villages’ in India, so on and so forth). The judicial system must increase the number of convictions, with justice being given in months and not years. The road ahead is difficult but not impossible.

 

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