Men and women since a couple of centuries have been distinguished between each other in accordance with their work, responsibility and respective role in the society. The problem of violence against women in today’s society, roots back to the belief and practices acquired from our ancestors over a period of time. The conflict between man’s ideological space and his ever changing social space can be underlined as a key factor of violence between the two genders. A macroscopic view will highlight the insecurity of sexuality of every individual which therefore leads to act in a certain way for acceptance which in case of men becomes subjugation of the weaker by the stronger in the society.
Various factors identify women as distinct identity encompasses from her biological differences to different religious connotations to role in family, etc. A person has two aspects, a positional aspect called status in the society and a behavioural aspect which is defined by the role one plays in the society. Status of woman can be deduced out by a comparative status of man. There is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is biological and gender is a social aptitude. What a society expects a woman to do comes under the gender aspect. Women are considered weaker in physical strength due to their biological reasons. They are child bearers of the society and other factors like menstrual cycles make them loose their physical strength in comparison to their male counterparts. Due to difference in physique, men are taken to be capable of heavy weight, more aggressive work and women are treated as fragile, delicate and artistic kind. This factor further leads to division of work on the basis of gender. Such division of work has caused an inherent bias towards stronger men and delicate women which makes it difficult for delicate men and stronger women to sustain according to their personal aptitude and aspirations. There is a difference between acceptance and its bounded implementations. We can generally say that men are stronger physically but it should not be implied in the institutional form because under many circumstances, women in specific case could be stronger and may lack opportunities because of generalisation. A conclusion from majority should not be such that it adversely affects the basic minority needs and aspirations.
Women, historically, have been ruled and there are only rare examples of women rulers. This is due to the fact that earlier empires were based on tactics of invasion, surrender and physical power games. Women, being physically weaker than men have had always failed to compete and rule in those times. Long tradition of male rulers due to their strength and valour has caused an inherent assumption that women are supposed to be ruled as they are weak and men are the torchbearers.
Woman has been specifically spoken about in almost all religions of the world. Particularly focussing on Hinduism and Islam, the two most popular religions of our country, let us ponder over their approach. The irony of Hindu religion is that on one hand, it personifies women as goddesses in forms of Durga, Kali, Sita, Draupadi and worships them for their specific power realms and on the other hand, religious practices of Hinduism have a history of customs like sati, progeny which are deeply associated with religious interpretations. Ramayana has described the face of a women like a flower, her words like drops of honey, hands like sharp edges of razor and spoke the inside of women as a mystery. Islam has also spoken about women, in particular. Mother’s feet in Islam have been given the status of heaven. However, Islam equated one male witness to corresponding two female witness which questions at their understanding o of women. It also propagates purdah for women implied out of respect by preventing obscenity and indecency. Also, according to Islam, polygamy is allowed and a man is allowed to have four wives on a condition that he can do absolute justice in all spheres with all of them. This was a practice in those times due to lesser men and more women in the society due to wars and unrest.
Family is one o f the smallest, most important and most influential unit of society. It is the first school to every child and most of the values that a child learns to implement in his future are acquired from this unit. The teachings, informal as well as reading the situation at home, are provided at a very raw mind frame of the individual and hence are grabbed more easily and effectively by the child. Role of women in Indian family, in larger parts of the country is said to be that of home maker and housekeeping is supposed to be her foremost duty. On the other hand, men are supposed to work outside, earn enough in order to be able to feed his family well. Also, the largely popular concept of a girl’s detachment from her home after marriage and a culture of boys looking after his parents even after his marriage create an inherent bias against daughters of the family. The fact that every human is a utility maximizer and the fact that catering son’s needs, wishes and ego will help them to secure their future whereas girls are seen only as a liability due to their detachment after marriage incentivises elders to have differentiated love and catering to their sons and daughters. So the pressure in the family runs against women. And in order to gain confidence and readiness in their son for the outside world where they want him to be successful, they sacrifice the self respect of their daughters. The act of dominance by the boy over his sister in most of the Indian houses is considered as a learning step for the son to face the outside world. Women of the family are used as a catalyst for the attainment of confidence by their fellow men. The act of subjugating anyone, girl or boy, family or stranger, always helps to boost one’s confidence and inflates the enthusiasm amongst them. The teachings, practices in family not only makes men think that they are made to rule women in their family but it goes further to the point where they believe that all women are made to serve them whereas they are only supposed to work and live respectful. Women are mere objects who are supposed to follow orders and fulfil; their wants and wishes. In such a way, women become a means in the hands of men for their progress. Such prevailing inequality in the construct of the family is one of the most crucial factors in development of gender ideologies. What is seen and taught in the family is tougher to retaliate even with one’s own self. Such thoughts are accepted as natural in the sub conscious mind and hence it is extremely difficult to question or criticise it. These ideologies as mentioned above, that prevail in the family give the base to the higher degree of ill treatment of women by men. The society also creates a dilemma in the minds of young hearts where children in schools are taught about equality amongst genders but they face differential treatment in their homes. Sons are usually better fed than daughters. Sons are considered as the first to deserve their ancestral property. Also, issues like female foeticide, child marriage, honour killing have popularised the concept of women as burdens of society.
Men commit acts of violence whenever they feel subjugated, weak and less impactful. These qualities get highlighted in a man’s head due to historical glorification of the responsibility of men to rule and popular customs of the evolved society. Whenever they feel deprived of the masculinity defined in this certain way, they look for options available to rule as they fan gush out their desperation for authority. Women become their easier target in most such cases for the simple reason of their weak physical strength and their emotional make up since birth that makes them mentally vulnerable. Oscar Wilde has spoken about relationship between men and women as “It is all about sex and sex is all about power”. Rape is less about sex or pleasure, it is about domination, it is about feeling powerful. This problem also deals with the larger lament of man. A man has to be the bread winner of his family. In our county, the concept of House husbands is unimaginable in most part of the society. A man is supposed to fit in, in a certain form of masculinity, primarily with regard to the built, the moustache, beard, etc in order to prove his manhood. Such pressure of being successful in their profession as well as the need for proven masculinity causes huge pressure which further aggravates to depression. There is the entire identity of man at stake and hence results in desperate actions of violence against the weaker opponent in order to feel the gaining back of masculinity. It is due to such pressure from society today to prove them that there is more number of men attempting suicide than women. This lament of man gushes out as violence against women, the physically weaker group causing huge repercussions in the society.
Media is an influencing factor in today’s world. With special reference to India, Bollywood and the Indian television are prime sources of entertainment for the entire country. People can relate to movies and serials as most of them are usually made on a regular individual of the society. These connections with the movie slowly and gradually are imbibed in the person as realistic scenario. There have been various cases of copying and imitating movie actors and actresses respectively. There is a race of trying to look and act the popular heroes. And the dialogues become the routine of many citizens’ daily life. In such a case, the idea of women that the media portrays plays a crucial role in the development of the women’s role and importance in the society. Therefore, the popular image of women in Indian Bollywood movie of that being a fragile, delicate or perhaps bold, strong and sexually appealing puts women as tools for men. Male chauvinism can also be seen in various forms like in case of dialogues, actions, storyline of the movie. Recently gone popular singer Honey Singh has injected huge amounts of chauvinism in the society by his obscene choice of lyrics. Moreover, the advertisement world has commodified women as objects of attraction .Women are used in sexually appealing postures and acts for advertising products with least relation to women. Advertisements of cars, bikes, furniture, deodorants, etc have represented women as objects to lure with. Fashion Industry has further aggravated the entire ideology of women commodification by promoting the idea of perfect figure and appealing dresses to attract attention. When media is taken a medium to spread the position of women in the more patriarchal and chauvinist manner, it acts as a mode to strengthen the same historical belief of the roles and qualities of women. Media has a very strong influence which is hard to erase. Therefore, this picturisation of women by media, rather than helping to cure with medicine of knowledge and awareness has further aggravated the problem by popularising its role, nature and work in a typical patriarchal construct and hence provided for its further acceptance.
Apart from all the roles, identities, idea of women in various circumstances there are still various issues that cause violence against women, the most brutal of them to be rape. Rape happens everywhere, it happens inside homes, in families, in neighbourhood, police, towns and cities, villages and its incidence increases as is happening in India as society goes through change. As women’s role begin to change, as economies slow down and the slice of pie becomes smaller- it is connected to all these things. It is integrally and fundamentally connected to disregard to the hatred of female so evident in female foeticide. For so widespread a crime, band aid solutions are not the answer. Moreover, the problem is not the understandable silence of victims, who are afraid or not empowered enough to speak out but the incomprehensible silence of others-family, friends, neighbours and even passerby- who choose to turn a blind eye to such incidences. Targeting the victim sometimes by sympathies and sometimes blaming her for obscenity, incapability, crossing of boundaries and limits lead to further harassment of women.
The identity of women which has been demarcated more elaborately by the advent of reservations have also put stake to the net real benefits of reservations. Reservations of women are taken up in order to promote and motivate women in various roles as a leader and hence strengthening the opinion of women in the larger society. But these reservation policies have reportedly not been working well because the representatives of women, in most cases are puppets in the hands of their respective men of the family. Hence it has turned into a pseudo reservation where women are only left as rubber stamp, with actual decision of that of men. This creates friction between men and women. If the elected woman doesn’t do according to the commands by the male members of the family, she might be ridiculed or harassed. In general cases, men would not be able to see women of their family at higher posts leading to violent means to subdue them. This insecurity usually takes the shape of violence inside the family. Reservations in case of scheduled castes, scheduled tribe and OBC do not create problem at the family level as the entire family belongs to the same group. But women reservations create intra family disputes which are detrimental to the weaker gender that is usually women. Such consequences of women have caused tensions in the society which needs to be dealt with.
Since most of our ideologies and customs for women have been formed in the historical context, it’ll be interesting to review the thoughts of M.K. Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore on the issue of women. It is also enlightening to study the issues highlighted by first modern Indian feminist Tarabai Shinde. Also, it’ll be enlightening to understand women issue from Marxist point of view and present feminists of India like Kamla Bhasin.
Gandhi associated qualities of purity and self control to women. But at the same time he questions the right of males to measure female purity. He saw women as major propagators of non violence, as according to him it is engraved in their souls by birth. He also believed in political emancipation and economics self reliance of women so that they are aware of issues of the society, play an active role and voice their personal opinion. He had asked the women of india to make Sita, Draupadi as their ideals. Gandhi was a benevolent patriarch in his approach to women. He called women as sisters of humanity who serve people and make them happy. Gandhi had given immense importance to the tolerance power that women possess and with the help of this quality they can win their goal in a subtle manner. But such an approach creates distortion in the status of both the genders by making them bear in the name of tolerance as a virtue provided by birth. Gandhi’s extreme idealisation of women’s character and strength creates another disillusion about a woman’s abilities and inabilities. Gandhi was against prostitution and did not allow prostitutes to be a part of Congress. He though gave the blame of this evil to man’s uncontrolled desires but he expected women to stop being a part of such a human crime. He believed in minimum sexuality within marriage and wished to eliminate it outside that. But his idea of not involving prostitutes in Congress led to major repercussions as prostitutes got the punishment of a job they had not willingly chosen but out of dire circumstances. Exit from such jobs is associated with a fear of unacceptance from the outside world at the minimal and elimination from their own society at the worst. Such fear and insecurity of social and financial kind made them continue their profession despite of Gandhi’s advice.
Rabindranath Tagore, On the other hand largely differed from Gandhi’s view. He called women as not only deities of household fire but the flame of the soul itself. Women according to Tagore, are the most creative transformative factor within the social life. Tagore’s novels have always had a strong female character which also speaks about the importance and strength it tried to provide to woman hood or that he believed women to be capable of that mental strength. However, critics of Tagore associate the use of strong woman character by Tagore in his novel as an act of glamour. The woman of his novels used to be bright, glamorous character and can be seen as another way to lure men who read it. He is considered too be a thinker with liberal thoughts who has always emphasized on the freedom of thought, freedom to think freely. Therefore, even if Tagore had chauvinist intentions in his novel women, his ideas of freedom to think can be used in women issues of contemporary times in order to fight with the mindset of the society.
Tarabai Shinde, India’s first modern Indian feminist has her own distinct way to understand this issue. She had challenged Hindu religious scriptures themselves as the source of women’s oppression. She criticised caste and patriarchal views of other activists who saw caste as the main force of social antagonism in Hindu Society.
Kamla Bhasin, eminent Indian feminist of contemporary times, describes women’s problem today in a metaphorical way, “A girl is a young plant that gets neither light nor water. She’s a flower that should have blossomed but cannot. Half fed and half heartedly educated, she gets half wage of her labour. The country got freedom but she continues to be bonded again.”
Following the idea put forward by Kamla Bhasin, it is interesting to understand how women does maximum amount of work in the society and that too for free. The materialism followed by Marx revolves around labour. Women are fulfilling dual role in this case. They are providing free labour at homes. Also, they are the child bearers and hence produce children which further provide more labour. Insulting and disrespecting such a core part of the materialist society is morally unethical and hence must be revolted against and amended.
Women in today’s society are like Jews at the time of Hitler’s rule. There are no exact set of rules following which you can live a safe, respectful life. Just like Jews, were being killed for no other reason but that they were Jews irrespective of their efficiency or qualifications, women today face almost similar circumstances. No clothing, no boundaries of times can prevent rape. Survey speaks of the vast variety of targets rapists choose at various times, in various venues, sometimes the victims own home. No reputation, no fixed qualification can be enough to ensure respect in the society. She might be ridiculed because of her lesser earning husband. No defined rules can make them sure of respect in family and escape the social stigma of being a woman. In order to combat this menace one has to focus on a short term and a long term strategy. Individuals need to be dealt with providing knowledge that even hurts their sentiments but makes them fight with the age old constructed ideologies. Various reasons that cause violence against women as discussed above have their specific means to combat which is elucidated further.
In the present era of globalisation, historical constitution of society has drastically evolved to a more stable, less violent diplomatic society. The systems and construction of society have changed immensely since then. The concept of nation and its government and international forces have prevented invasion and colonisation and hence replaced the rule of sword to rule of law. A state is no longer dependent on strength and valour only but its existence and nourishment depends on various factors including social, cultural economics and other factors of international politics. This changed world dynamics and have created avenues where women can compete with men, irrespective of gender in their mental a social and cultural ability. With changing models of society where people have switched from joint to nuclear families and the disparities between two genders will reduce simply because now both sons and daughters will not stay with them because of job but can cater equally in terms of social, emotional, financial help. Such help can be hugely decisive in the changing role of women. These changes due to globalisation may create gender clashes due to its hurting attitude towards man’s ego but it could be, with civil society efforts be made accommodative as a need and new direction to the society.
The interpretations of various religions are also detrimental to the position of women as philosophies are posed to act as major barriers to women emancipation. The entire concept of personifying women as avatar of goddesses is not in the spirit of womanhood for simply that parochial status comes at huge price. The onus of being the goddess like in the society comes with the burden of decorum, rules and boundaries one has to accept as a goddess and those rules turn into absurd boundaries creating alienation and defamation to anyone who misses to follow it. This results in practices of declaring some acts unholy and hence restricting the likes and choices of individual. In Islam again, Heavenly feet of mother are symbolic to the respect of an individual due to its posts and not because of her gender. And the simple generalisation of all women, in general being less emotionally stable and all men to be comparatively more rational exempts the influences of circumstance in the construction of human nature. Hence the witness law is biased against women. Hence in both the popular religions of our country, there is a typical construct of woman which tries to define all women’s nature, ability and behaviour in the same manner. Giving an analogy, it basically provides with one type of jacket and asks everybody to fit it, irrespective of their sizes and choice of colour. In some cases, jacket may tear due to obese women trying to fit in whereas sometimes, the larger jacket could be a huge burden on small shoulders. And the individual’s choice of colour is not put into considerations at all leading to discontent and lack of harmony and satisfaction amongst the people. Religion is a tool that can be best used in both cases, for the welfare or the spreading bitterness. Iran is a Muslim majority country where women are usually found in Hijab (purdah) but they have highest women literacy rate than the co middle east. They also have the highest population of females; Representation of women in Legislative assembly is also of the highest number compared to other Islamic state. Religion, if interpreted well has never been against or for any gender, but its interpretations are biased due to the person who’s interpreting. Over time, men dominated society has interpreted religion, made rules in this society and virtually proven the biased love of God between the two genders. Such misunderstandings have to be dealt with, by contemporary scholars in order to come out of the false popular beliefs.
Further, in order to prevent violent acts of men against women, we also need to cure the society from the pressure that man witnesses to prove masculinity. If this society could accept men as home makers, families with unemployed husband and working wife, it will relax the burden and pressure men succumb to and hence prevent heinous crimes to gush out their aggressive negative energies. This can perhaps be the best ideological medicine for violence against women. Its implementation can be practiced in society only slowly and gradually by affirmative action’s by educational institutions, acts, media and other forms of influence penetrating media that constructs man’s ideologies. A man should not be excused for violence, either in frustration or without it, in response to woman’s misbehaviour, misunderstanding at work, misappropriate dress and such other issues. People of the state should not be sympathetic to the person who instrumented this heinous crime and should socially, morally, emotionally support the victims, even if their ideologies are not concurrent to women’s action. Elimination of violence is the first major step in order to proceed towards women empowerment. Further, it is usually seen that in case of news about violence by stranger, in forms of rape, molestation, etc parents are usually seen advising their daughters to keep themselves safe. They should rather also engage their sons in order to measure, understand and if needed cure any emotional, psychological imbalance their son might be facing. It is the same very society that is reaping rapists and molesters. This is due to lesser bridges and means for such men to interact and eject their negative energies in some form. Lack of communication and space and means to form the right opinion and ideologies are the core reasons of evolution of men capable of such crimes. Therefore, strong society support to victim with addition to proper communication channels in society to prevent formation of criminals will help reducing the rate of violence against women in case it is done by strangers.
But there are also incidences where the known faces commit acts of violence to their women. It can be evidently seen in case of honor killings, female foeticide, stove burning, child marriages, etc. Honor Killing and child marriages are larger problems where usually the entire society is supportive of the violent acts and hence the mechanism to prevent such crimes has to be thought differently. These can only be prevented by bringing mass mobilisation and education in such society and hence change their ideologies gradually. The new generation is the best place to conceptualise for such programmes as their raw thoughts can be inculcated into new moral values of the society because of their easier adaptive skills. Crimes like stove burning and female foeticide are out of gender roles played within the family circuit. These can again be dealt with penetrating the mindset of individual and giving platform to women for stronger roles and at the same time providing men space to relax and not have a must responsibility to earn because of his gender.
Ways to combat discussed above deals with ideologies and concepts of society which takes time to develop and evolve. The present condition of the society with the rate at which rape is occurring speaks of the adversity of situation and hence could not be left by the sands of time. Under such circumstances, one cannot leave the society on its own to evolve by its learning and the gradual process of education. As a catalyst for the long term and a deterrent to violence against women in short term by instilling of fear of punishment and encouraging the right conduct, one needs the support of law. Just as a handicap needs support till he recovers, law acts as a wheel chair for women issue. Till the time, society evolves to the ideas discussed above; laws cause fear and prevent such crimes at a nominal rate. It is also a symbol of the right against the wrong and hence of good influence. Justice Verma Committee had even called a forced sex with one’s wife to be rape and punishable by law. He had advocated progressive laws for violence against women but could not be passed due to patriarchal set up of the parliament. For law to be relevant and to prevail in society there is a need to check kangaroo courts and other such parallel offices like Khap Panchayat, village councils, etc which promote ideas against women freedom and empowerment. Otherwise, they are capable of creating laws on how a woman should behave and what are they supposed to do. Their influence is stronger because of its local and cultural nature and hence needs to be dealt with cautiously. Law should be strong enough to act as a deterrent but not too stringent to cause heavy repercussions like death to victims just to prevent one selves from being convicted. Laws alone can never work till there are affirmative actions to make them popular in the masses. Shortage of police, ill mannerism and lack of female police has further aggravated the issue. The reason for high frequency of violence against women is also due to less fear of getting caught. The experiences of victims trying to report and police stations have been humiliating and harassing which therefore demotivates women to make reports. Special courts with quicker mechanisms are again urgently required to reduce the menace in short term as this will create fear of punishment. There is also an opinion of decentralising Supreme Court with more benches all over the country in order to increase authenticity and quicken speed, hence promoting the quality of judiciary.
An important issue of short dresses worn by women and going out at late nights needs further elaboration. The fact that society is in shuns and women are declared unsafe, many scholars, even the government has sometimes tried advocating restrictions on women for their own safety. Even though it might prevent few rapes which occur due to odd times and dresses at some places it is a fall back step for future and hence should not be prevented. Asking women to not move out of their houses after ten in the night will in near future make a decorum if ten being the right time for women to get back at the maximum to their houses and also making women moving late more vulnerable as they’ll be treated as defaulters. This will put the entire movement in the reverse.
Finally, it is hopeful that with optimal laws, constructive education and active civil society, it should be possible to combat the menace of violence against women.