i remember an interview with deepa mehta for the film heaven on earth. when asked if the canadian government was active in doing anything about spousal abuse, and mehta responded:
“I don’t think they have a clue how to deal with it. That’s the tragedy. Whether it’s a Punjabi, Tamil, or Sikh [family], an Asian woman will never call 911. There is a question of losing one’s dignity”. shame. silence. women are made, told, reared, conditioned, imprisoned, killed to stay silent.”
although heaven on earth is a film about the spousal abuse of indian wives in canada, this ‘shaming‘ aspect is carried from indian tradition for these women who leave india and migrate to other lands, where women have freedom to come and go as they want, alone or accompanied.
the appalling remarks of andhra pradesh congress chief botsa satyanarayana appeared to place blame on the delhi gang-rape victim saying that she chose a strange private bus; that she shouldn’t have been out after dark blah blah blah.
this event gives us the perfect chance to consider how we think about subjugation, rape, and degradation of women globally. even in a place where women have much more rights than indian women, and far less sexual harassment. consider the recent stunners from USA rep. todd akin for missouri and senate candidate richard mourdock for indiana.
when asked whether women who are raped and become pregnant should have the option of abortion, akin replied that if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. how is rape ever legit?
murdock asserted he would not make an exception for abortions in the case of rape because pregnancies are “something that god intended to happen.” what kind of god permits men to rape ‘legitimately’ in any culture?
shame from rape should never be born. nor borne by women, the victims. victim-blaming has consequences. women are literally dying from fault-finding from syria to sudan in honor killings, suicides and murders because they are blamed for their sexual assaults.
we have to move the focus off the victim to the perpetrator.
according to ragini nayak in “rape, shame and the curse of patriarchy” in the hindu on 19 january 2013, shame is directly linked to the utmost necessity for a victim of sexual violation, i.e., her rehabilitation in society. her social acceptance would be complete only when society stops creating conditions under which she will feel guilty and ashamed for what was done to her. those women parliamentarians who were themselves feeling ‘ashamed’ and helpless after this incident were still very vocal in proclaiming that the scars on the soul of the victim would never go, and she would remain a zinda lash for the rest of her life. zinda lash or the equivalent of a living corpse.
nayak raises a much-needed and much neglected point of the FAMILY in indian culture. as one of the most important social institutions against violence to women. in the glittering spree of ‘institution bashing’, it is important to NOT undermine the role of the family, which has a tremendous capacity to subvert the biased construct of terms like shame and overturn the set norms.
according to nayak, families become repositories of exercising the functions of society and sustaining the power relations endorsed by it. we saw the comments that the gang raped girl’s father gave: he spent his entire earnings and left his poor village for delhi so his daughter could pursue an education. he stood by her and still, the father’s support couldnt protect her outside of his home. from the toys that girls are given, to the way girls are encouraged to dress up and be like their mothers, to the way they are told to be docile and submissive …all part of this socialization. differentiation of gender becomes differentiation of power and the principle of stratification and hierarchy in society continues.
given this socialization of girls vs boys, it is not surprising what ram singh, driver of the bus aboard which the december 16, 2012 gang rape took place, said about the incident: he categorically mentioned that it was the defiance of the victim that angered him the most. how dare she fight back, speak back and stand up to them? the deeply ingrained patriarchal mindset would automatically switch on the punishment button, the biggest punishment for the females of our species being to shame them through sexual violation.
the large number of rapes committed in custody also attest to this, for many of these are committed by the police. a mathura raped by two policemen, a rameezabee raped inside a police station by police personnel, a suman rani raped by policemen. and there are countless other cases not reported or known. will we hang all police rapists? that’s a lot of men to hang!
and although lawyers and judges have joined the protests, it’s lawyers who use every ruse in the book to allow rapists to get away; judges who make concessions because the rapists are ‘young men who have their whole lives in front of them’ etc. what about that young delhi woman’s life, gone forever? or other women’s lives destroyed forever by shame and invisibility?
but getting back to the family, if gender justice breaks free of the shackles of being a fragile myth and if equality of women ever becomes an achievable goal, home should be the starting point. everything can’t be left to the state. as john f. kennedy said at his inaugural address, way way way back in antiquty, in 1961 ”ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. charity has to begin at home. women must act without waiting for help from the gov’t. yes, the ideal situation would not be when every girl/woman is accompanied/watched/protected by a police officer. and yes the ideal society would be the one in which even without the fear of an administrative watchdog, men wholeheartedly want women to live and move around with as much freedom and liberty without unsolicited invasion on their integrity as they themselves do. but as a female, if you wait on mps, politicians, candidates in some parts of india to help you, you will quickly adopt kennedy’s brilliant words, because some govt members have been charged with crimes against women, and have still prevailed in elections :
only when parents make their sons realize the importance of respecting the other sex and treating it on a par, when society stands up to support rape victims and ostracize the assaulters, when the social order, stratified by gender roles, stops seeing women as belonging only to the domestic realm, when men willingly share with women the public domain where one gets remuneration, property, power and control, will this battle be wholistically won.
for the record, akin lost his seat to a WOMAN, and mourdock, to a man. in both cases such comments – not even acts!- are NOT tolerated, as they are totally demeaning to women. but such is the punishment of men who belittle women in countries where women are respected!
to think that men like akin and mourdock didn’t even get to the rape scene yet, but were publicly disgraced and disqualified is a work of art! a stroke of genius! i give that 5 stars.