How many ways are there to hate women in India? Of Incel, rape culture and a point of no return
Incel. I hadn’t heard the word before it began doing the rounds of the media in context of the van that ran amok in Toronto killing 10 and injuring 13 people, many women. There is a real possibility that the women who died did not just happen to be there. This could be a misogynistic act by someone who identified with Incels- Involuntary Celibates, by someone who hated women as a result of facing sexual rejection from them. This horrifies me! Just how many types of misogyny are women at the receiving end of?
We have plenty of the Incel-types in India too. Women are commonly victims of acid attacks, gang rapes, molestation and even murder because they rejected a man who was pursuing her. Many times there might have been no promises made at all, but rather the man is provoked by feelings of jealousy, possessiveness and inadequacy that may or may not have anything to do with the words or actions of the women who are objects of their desire-turned-ire.
And then there is the misogyny that comes with feeling threatened, or the fear of being threatened in the future. I call this the fear of equality. Those thousands of misogynistic jokes floating around the Internet that characterize women as nags, freeloaders, killjoys and even plain stupid (yes, you should not be forwarding those) are just a way to reassure men of their superior place in society. When men who claim to stand for gender parity share these jokes, I ask if they could find ways to end situations that generate these stereotypes. Would they simply let their wives/girlfriends/sister/daughter work or study out of town, let her have normal relationships with other men, let her go out with her friends without judgement. This is usually met with cynicism, silence or worse, total hatred and counter-aggression. Ironically the safety argument is regularly deployed to keep women boxed in. Dress codes for girls not boys, restrictive hostel timings, victim shaming, all of this has to do with the core insecurity that men have about women becoming their equals. Well, here’s news for you, we already are and if you let us partner with you, we could together make this world a much better place!
We must remind ourselves, though that while the increasing assertion of women sharpens this form of misogyny, such attitudes towards women are deeply embedded in patriarchal societies like ours, which see women as vaginas and wombs whose primary purpose is to bear and raise children. Therefore women are not seen as natural participants in the public sphere, as working professionals, as politicians and activists; only care-giving roles outside of the home (teacher, doctor, anganwadi worker) are easily accepted. This form of misogyny exerts itself through the control of women’s bodies: where they go, what they do, who do they interact with. Male control of movement and reproductive functions are paramount. Hence, the lost honor of rape victims is usually the focus of discussion, deterring reporting even by parents and kin, rather than the need to counsel and support her to lead a normal life in the future. Neither are men committing sexual crimes counseled to rethink deeply misogynistic notions as well as the embedded ideas of masculinity that lead to normalization of misogynistic behaviour.
The third kind of misogyny is simply heartbreaking. This is not a misogyny of neglect and disregard stemming from a conviction that women simply don’t matter. Rising female foeticides and male preference, especially in places with rising prosperity testify to this, leading to the theses of the ‘missing’ or ‘unwanted’ girl children. In the now infamous Kathua rape case, an 8-yr old girl was used as pawn in a rivalry between communities, because as a girl she was considered unimportant, dispensable.
What strikes fear into my heart is this. Back in the pre-Internet era, we could conveniently segregate people into opposing categories, like traditional vs modern, ignorant vs informed, uneducated vs educated; but now, the Internet is an indiscriminate medium to spread ideas. Like Incel in North America, misogyny in India is also spreading online and we seem powerless to stop it. Online rape threats and abusive language against female online profiles are the order of the day. My petition against online sexual abuse has over 14,000 signatures, with many sharing their personal stories of abuse, shame, anger, fear and helplessness.
I used to imagine these men, and some women too, lead some sort of schizophrenic lives. That many of them have seemingly normal relationships and then transform into Hyde-like vile virtual creatures. But the Toronto story reminded me that I might be wrong. Many folks do not lead what we consider ‘normal’ lives. Millions of men across India are experiencing sexual frustration, incompatibility in their relationships, family conflict. Many are possibly members of social groupings that celebrate aggressive misogynistic masculinity. Many see misogyny enacted daily and as Madhumita Pandey’s study of convicted rapists shows, may have no idea of the wrong attached to their actions. Add to that alcoholism and substance abuse, mental illness……and the simple fact that everyone is talking and no one is listening anymore!!
So where do we begin to change this narrative? Now that our immediate outrage in India has been quelled by an ill-advised ordinance to send rapists of minors to death row, we must talk about more long-term solutions. There is no getting around it. We need to start these difficult conversations in our homes, schools, offices. We need to stand up against misogyny, online and in person, and practice the equality we seek. Recently, I visited an exhibition in my children’s’ school where a group of 11-yr olds enacted a startlingly mature skit on gender equality. The tiny details in the skit – the husband reading the newspaper while the wife sat next to him waiting her turn, the girl child sweeping the floor before she and her brother slept every night – touched me. The message they left with us was powerful. Girls are making choices and achieving success despite facing several odds. What if those odds are removed? What an amazing world ours would be!
The joke is always on women, but why are we laughing?
Last week, I (among others) took offence to a recent outdoor hoarding. I was shocked by its casual sexism and peeved about the use of cheap publicity to get eyeballs. A half-baked apology only added insult to injury. But it is hard to hold on to outrage—especially when we all seem to be outrage-ing so much about so many things nowadays—and by Monday I was much calmer.
But I couldn’t get the episode out of my mind. I found myself wondering about the diversity of reactions to the ad itself, which used abbreviations for common Hindi abuses that depict incest. I also kept thinking about how some folks on social media who found the ad funny, not offensive—and I’ll be the first to say that they are entitled to their opinion—also expressed their distress about the rape of a 4-year old girl, which was reported in the media around the same time. It is hard for me to wrap my head around this dichotomy and yet, it aptly demonstrates the extent to which sexual violence against women has got normalised in our society. It takes the rape of a child to upset us, but mothers and sisters being raped is now par for the course!
I find it fascinating that, for the majority, there is no relevant link between sexist advertising (and jokes) and the dismal record of Indian cities on women’s safety. Recently released data from NCRB shows that reported rape cases increased by 12.4% between 2015 and 2016. While crime data on domestic violence, sexual assault, abduction and rape is collected by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), many others forms of violence that women experience on a daily basis remain poorly documented. We know from media reports as well as many micro studies these too are widespread and on the rise. The statistics on child abuse, unfortunately, are worse. Across the country young children, mostly girls, are being sexually assaulted, often times by teachers, family members, neighbours and caregivers, people whom they implicitly trust. The NCRB reports a dramatic 13.6% increase in crime against children over the last three years, with about 35% of the cases registered under POCSO, or the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012.
These numbers, shocking as they are, no longer make an impression on us because we seem to have accepted that this is how Indian society is. Our reactions to the news items about raped children comprise expressing anguish, tightening security around our families and securing good marriages for our daughters, thus passing on the responsibility of their safety to someone else. Or, for the elite, sending our children abroad.
Unlike in other issues like terrorism or national security, we find it hard to pin point the enemy in the case of gender-based violence and so we blame the ‘other’, usually folks from another class and/or religion. Helpless and frustrated, we take solace in our WhatsApp groups, our laughter clubs, our kitty circles, our YouTube stand-up comedies, our Friday beers and we enjoy a few ‘husband-wife’ or ‘blonde’ jokes. The next morning, we read about another rape story and hurriedly turn to the sports page, where BCCI slamming pollution-troubled Sri Lankan cricketers makes for an entertaining read.
Conflicting thoughts on the Uber rape #safety #women
The Uber rape is the latest in the never ending saga of the lack of safety for women in India. The focus of media discussion on the issue has been on verification processes and law. As a number of twitter discussions highlighted, there isnt enough hue and cry about the rape itself. Alarming and depressing as it may be, the idea of India being unsafe for women is no longer news. We have normalized the lack of safety, the patriarchal nonsense, the injustice of it all, the trauma, the shaming, lock-stock-and-barrel.
This could be a moment of the deepest of despair. However I do see two small, tiny, fragments of light. One, the raped woman was alert and brave enough to click a picture of the number plate and report the incident. The media attention on the issue of gender and sexual violence is, I think, breaking the silence in many ways. More and more women have been emboldened to report sexual crimes in recent times, reflecting bizarrely in the crime stats but also subtly on the confidence levels of other women.
The second is that victim blaming has not been the focus of the reportage and discussion this time round, though there were some who drew attention to the fact that the lady had fallen asleep in the cab (that, of course, is a crime for woman!)
Another take on this by a well-meaning but cynical friend was interesting too. She said her first thought was that the woman had been planted in the Uber cab by a rival cab company! Chew on that, people 🙂
The larger question: What are our strategies for survival as a society- vilification or empathy, us or ‘them’, paranoia or rationality?
I read this morning with mixed feelings about the arrest of an illiterate teenager from Bihar who is the co-accused in the latest shocking—no, deeply saddening—rape of a five year old in East Delhi’s Gandhinagar area. Of course I am happy that the perpetrators are being brought to book. But just for a moment and because I have been intensely interacting with migrant workers in low-income communities, I thought this through from Pradeep’s point of view.
Getting into the perp’s mind, for a moment
Illiterate, with no opportunities in his village, Pradeep moves from city to city finding work on construction sites. He lives away from the social fabric he has grown up in. He has to make new friends wherever he goes. Violence, as Nilanjana Roy’s editorial in The Hindu yesterday points out so well, is an inevitable and integral part of his life. Several times has he had to fight for survival against cheats, sexual predators, thieves, rivals at work. His self-esteem is often eroded and no normal family life exists to restore the balance. And then, of course, there is his daily search for livelihood. A daily struggle for basic needs- water, toilets, food. Shelter, a rented room shared with any others, is just a place to sleep, offering no solace. Entertainment is film music, songs from back home traded through memory cards and heard on the phone, B grade flicks watched on the phone. Images of sex flood his mind. He has little or no sexual opportunities. He has little or no economic opportunities, no real skills, no value, no real self-worth. Soon his family back home will find him a wife. More responsibility, still very little income. He has no future. He just has to get on with life. And yet, he aspires to live well. In his imagination, like the heroes of the movies he watches, he finds wealth, love, sex, power and popularity. In reality, he is less than a Nobody. Starved even of dreaming with a semblance of hope, in a moment of depravity, he finds the most vulnerable target and an act of thoughtless unpardonable violence follows.
The gravest crime
I am not advocating for Pradeep. I am only saying that the problem is of a magnitude so large that we are unable to comprehend it. We are breeding millions of Pradeep’s in our country and as a nation, our crime against them of offering them promises that we cannot deliver is the gravest one yet.
Let me explain. In an evangelist mode, we have enacted the Right to Education. Our public, private and non-profit institutions have drilled the importance of education into our citizens. Yet, we are unable to provide the education we advocate is necessary for every child. In my fieldwork among migrant families in Gurgaon, I repeatedly see parents save and scrounge to send their children to schools that often are not even registered institutions! Further, we are unable to provide meaningful and dignified employment opportunities for those who emerge from or fall out of this less-then-efficient education system.
Many young people are resorting to migration as a means of economic survival, and this has been well established by leading economists like Kundu. The inability of agriculture to support rural families, the lack of non-agricultural employment in villages and the lure of economic growth that is concentrated in urban centers all contribute to the massive internal migration India is experience.
Need to understand the migrant experience
A part of my mixed reaction to today’s news was that, until now, voices in the media were not vilifying the other, that favourite scapegoat, the migrant. Perhaps it is a small indication that the phenomenon of migration has become an accepted and inescapable reality. This is a migration necessary to sustain the economy, but it is also a migration that renders a large section of our population without rights and without identity. Migrants find little recognition in public policy except as the ‘other’.
The intense alienation and confusion that are characteristic of the migrant experience, especially among youth, is no small factor in understanding the crime statistics in our cities. The intangible is easy to ignore, but only in understanding these psychosocial phenomenon, in listening and analyzing the thousands of stories that migrants can tell, can we hope to ease their transition and lift them from the sheer hopelessness they feel and that triggers depraved and abnormal behavior in these young men (and women).
Taking a call: Barbarism vs humanity
What must be going through Pradeep’s mind as he awaits his transfer to Delhi and a confrontation with his partner-in-crime Manoj? Does he feel shame, revulsion, remorse? Does he see his entire life flash before his eyes? Does he imagine the grief of his mother? Does he understand how the nation is reacting to what he has done? Does he hear people baying for his blood?
I just finished reading another book of Alex Rutherford’s series on the Mughal emperors, who meted out the most barbaric punishments to traitors in order to deter any others who might contemplate treachery. Perhaps their times demanded such barbarism and violence. It pains me to hear those who denounce the Islamic invaders as barbaric and hold up the superiority of the Hindu civilization as examples of ‘Ram Rajya’ propose the exact same measures to punish rapists and sex offenders. Clearly, these leaders and organizations do not think we have evolved or need to evolve.
Many other ways to address the issue of punishment have been discussed infinitely in the press and blogosphere since December 2012 and there is sufficient evidence worldwide that disproves the theory that the death sentence, castration and other barbaric means to deal with convicts deter future offenders. However, just as there has been little finger pointing to the fact that the miscreants are migrants, there is also very insufficient debate on the preventive measures we need to take to prevent future crimes—how migrants are to be offered opportunities to assimilate with the society they choose to live in; how communities are to find mechanisms to educate their children about sexual predators and how they are to deal with those who exhibit predatory behavior, for instance. If we were to work to reduce the huge amounts of stress and insecurity in our society rather than do all we can to fuel these feelings, wouldn’t we all be better off?
The larger question: My survival or ours?
I saw my daughter Aadyaa off as she got on the school bus this morning. She is five. Innocent, with a huge zest for life and unlimited energy, she waved her goodbyes with a twinkle in her eyes. Inadvertently, I shuddered at the thought of something terrible happening to her that would destroy her innocence forever. Even something as small as a touch or glance could do that damage and that moment will come, sooner or later, I know. But let me not make it worse by feeding her with suspicion and paranoia. Let me believe that most people are good. I intend to take her and my son Udai on my interactions with migrants later this month, to see for themselves how other people live and work, deal with problems in their lives, how they are as normal as we are in what they wish for, in how they struggle to reconcile their dreams with their realities (except that the difference between the two is achievable for us and impossible for them). I hope that, as they grow, they will discover that there are beasts among us, aberrant personalities that have tipped over and fallen out of line. I hope they understand that they need our help and our empathy more than they need our hatred. How do they learn this even as they learn to protect themselves and fight for survival? That’s the larger question that we are dealing with, isn’t it?
Verma Committee report kindles hope: Let’s fan the flames!
Most, if not all reviews of the Justice Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law in the context of gender-related safety and sexual offences, declare it to have seized the moment in proposing changes that could have far reaching impact if implemented. It is indeed a hopeful sign for all those of us who have fretted and worried, stood in protest, and hoped to hell something will happen of the momentum of activism and sheer anger that our nation’s citizens unleashed post the Delhi gang rape.
To sum up the report’s positives, rape is now defined within the context of sexual crimes as any act of non-consensual penetration, while sexual assault includes all forms of non-consensual non-penetrative touching of sexual nature. Marital rape is very much recommended to be within the purview of this criminal offense. The committee recommends that marriage cannot be offered as defense and is not relevant to the matter of rape. A huge step forward for the country this would be, if implemented.
Much praise has come in for the committee’s inclusion of people of all sexual orientations in its recommendations. This broader view of dealing with sexual crime as perpetrated against any citizen regardless of gender or sexual orientation, in my opinion, is really relevant in making this issue universally relevant and not just about women’s safety. For the inclusion of a gendered perspective in our society is necessary so that we all evolve to be more sensitive citizens and so that we deter criminals of all types.
Further, the recommendations of increasing the punishment terms of rapists from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment is a balanced one; the report rules out both the death penalty as well as castration and this too sends out the right signals about India’s position as a humanitarian democracy. I have been really disturbed about the baying for blood that has been a strong strain in protests post the Delhi gang rape and am heartened by the Verma Committee recommendations.
Police reforms and the amendment of AFSPA, in which sexual offences in conflict zones are specifically addressed, are other positives that deserve mention.
Of course, we can take the cynical view and despair about whether these would be implemented. However, this is precisely the reason why the activism must continue. Not just women’s groups, but all concerned citizens must speak out for the need for legislation to prevent sexual exploitation. This, along with physical planning measures to increase safety in public spaces as well as support groups to help victims speak out and tackle sexual crime in their lives, are the way forward, certainly. For once, I would think the Opposition wouldn’t really have objections to most of these recommendations.
So friends, don’t let the fire die out. Speak, protest, write, do what you have to do and we can together hope for a safer India!
Using the ‘Right to the City’ approach to include migrants and other “others”
I was reminded today by various organizations on twitter that it is International Migrants Day. Migrant, a term that has fascinated me for a long time. What is it that makes someone uproot his or her life and go to a new place, start from scratch, face all sorts of hurdles including social rejection and cultural deprivation, to eventually carve out a new life in this adopted place? On the face of it, migration sounds rather unpleasant and yet, it has been a recurrent phenomenon for centuries!
Migration may be forced (slavery, bonded labor, displacement due to war, infrastructure projects, etc) or voluntary (usually to avail of a real or perceived opportunity), but the status of the ‘migrant’ is fraught with difficulty. In India, economic growth and a changing economic structure along with urbanization has meant an increase in rural to urban as well as urban to urban migration across the country. There are several aspects of migration that are fascinating and need to be studied to develop a contemporary understanding of how our urban centers (these ‘engines of economic growth’, yea!) function and grow. However, citizens and governments usually perceive migrants (esp low-income migrants that belong to the informal economy) as unnecessary and unwanted, people who are competing for meager resources, and would like to wish them away regardless of their dependence on migrant labor for a large proportion of informal and often difficult (read undignified) jobs in the city.
For my research on housing for migrants in Gurgaon therefore, I have been trying to put together a rights-based case for why the city needs to accept the migrant situation and address it squarely, with a focus on housing and employment. I was struggling with something that appeared obvious. I was heartened therefore to hear today from some of the contributors to the newly released book titled ‘Urban Policies and the Right to the City in India: Rights, Responsibilities and Citizenship‘, brought out by UNESCO and CSH and edited by Marie-Helene Zerah, Veronique Dupont, Stephanie Tawa Lama-Rewal. The book draws on Lefebvre’s ‘Right to the City’ approach, which the UN hopes to leverage to urge governments to adopt a more inclusive approach to city planning and governance.
At the workshop I attended today at the Centre for Policy Research, Ram B Bhagat, author of the chapter on ‘Migrants’ (Denied) Right to the City made a hard hitting point. He pointed out that policy makers in India refuse to acknowledge or address the issue of migrants squarely. There is no policy that accepts migrants and attempts to give them the basic rights they are denied by virtue of having no identity or documents in their adopted place of residence. He spoke about representation by civil society before the 12th Five Year Plan requesting the inclusion of migrants’ rights and the subsequent exclusion of any such provision in the Plan.
In the chapter, he clearly outlines the contradiction between an Indian citizen’s Constitutional Right to relocate to any other place within the country and the refusal of local governments to grant a migrant a form of identity via which he/she can avail of the basic services and amenities required to live a life of dignity. The paper identifies several exclusionary practices and advocates for the use of a Right to the City approach to include the voice of the migrant in the policy discourse. At the very core, Bhagat argues for the recognition of migration as an “integral part of development” and the placement of migration at the core of city planning and development. I couldn’t agree more and I’m happy to find validation for my thoughts and the assumptions on which I am carrying forward my research work.
On a larger scale, such a Right to the City approach that accommodates multiple viewpoints and consultations and redefined citizenship, imbuing it with a participatory framework is the way ahead for many of the situations that disturb us today. I am reminded of this as I observe the rabid hatred and suggested use of violent and retaliatory actions to “teach a lesson” to the rapists in yesterdays heinous incident on the Delhi bus. While the rapists deserve to be punished swiftly and severely, I question the construct that we have, positioning the rapist as the convenient “other” in general discourse even as we know that may incidents of rape in the city are perpetrated by men known to the victim (though not in this case)! The “other” is omnipresent in all our critiques of the failures of our cities- slum dwellers, beggars, municipal workers (or shirkers), apathetic policemen, the ‘system’, the rich, the poor, the flashy bourgeois, they all threaten us while we remain helplessly virtuous. It is a ridiculous situation, for surely we are the “other” for someone else!
To build an inclusive city, we would need to begin with inclusive mindsets that promote dialogue, debate, awareness and provide space and opportunity for free speech and expression. Even as we speak about the need for safety and improved security, better law enforcement, etc….. we all know that moving towards a society of intense and perpetual surveillance is not a viable proposition. Though theoretical, the Right to the City is a good starting point for the State (especially local government) to build a relationship with citizens and radically change the way cities are governed. Idealistically, I believe that there is a collective action that can be taken to address many of the issues that we urgently need to resolve.
Feminism ahoy! We need more brave, outspoken women to inspire a contemporary feminist wave in India
This was a strong strain at THiNK2012. Shoma Chaudhry at one point actually said the audience had been complaining about it! We aren’t really comfortable with feminism are we? Well, I am, and increasingly so. That does not mean I think women must become like men, nor does it mean that men must defer to women, though most sensible ones do for obvious reasons!
For starters, I think we misunderstand feminism considerably and have a fuzzy idea of what it entails. The fact is that like any other movement, feminism has evolved over the decades. In its current form, the movement rejects absolute definitions of what being a feminist is, and includes the experiences of women from diverse racial, ethnic and class backgrounds.
I had a chat with Mona Eltahawy, a prominent figure in the activism related to restoring democracy in Egypt, a feminist and a grassroots leader. The experiences she shared silenced the audience into a hush. She was herself a subject of brutal sexual assault and threatened gang rape by the Egyptian police in the wake of the Tahrir Square liberation. She told us that women activists were picked up en masse and assaulted, raped, beaten into silence. And this continues. Horrifying? Well, just as horrifying as the rapes in Haryana, which aren’t political, but born out a deep sense of male superiority. Apparently it is fine to believe that women can be beaten and raped into silence.
I agree with Mona’s appeal that women must speak out and I admire her bravery for being able to do so again and again. I was rivetted when she declared “The shame was that of my assaulters, not mine!” It is terribly hard for women to believe that, but we must if we are to lead dignified lives.
I was also struck by the parallels between what is happening in Egypt and in the part of India where I live. The constituent assembly in Egypt, which is rewriting the country’s constitution, has suggested bringing down the marriageable age for women to, hold your breath, nine! Thos violates all child rights norms, conventions, treaties and is downright inhuman. Like many khap panchayat leaders in Haryana, these guys seem to not have heard of marital rape. To think that a woman can only exist under the protection of a man is regressive and reprehensible. Women must speak, write and stand up against it. For starters, those of us who consider ourselves liberated must stop thinking and living within this disgusting framework (yes we do, we all still do in some ways). Perhaps if we can negotiate our own balance, we could dream of a world in which women are respected and treated as equals.
Of sexual repression and the search for a new freedom @THiNK2012
Christopher Turner. A session on psychoanalysis for the 21st century. Rather refreshing. Here are a few random thoughts…
When Tarun asks Christopher why a Brit academician turned to investigating matters of sex, Chris actually blushes. Yes, he turns beet red!
When asked is his family disapproved, he says he is glad his family doesn’t read everything he writes!
We all fight our own battles of sexual repression. In every culture, in every time. To me, sexual repression is something we need to take seriously here in India. I live in Gurgaon, Haryana. Yes, that place where all the rapes are happening! Where rape is almost condoned.
Of course I know that rape is a form of releasing anger and exhibiting power; but there is something in the theory that if sex were most accessible, rape would not be that default form of expression it seems to be becoming in parts of the nation where women are right at the bottom of the pecking order!
What is it about sexual liberation that threatens the very core of our culture, here in India? Where the sexual liberation is happening right now in our cities. Children as young as eight are in the know about sex. I doubt the idea of sex would surprise my own son. The other day, I was chatting online with someone who reads my blog often. I don’t know this guy personally, but he pops up now and then to have random conversations with me. But this day, he asked me if I had done it before marriage! I was taken aback, but more amused than shocked. What do you even say to someone who is asking for such personal details? I didn’t think it as intrusive, rather it seemed like he was really struggling with this idea of how to contextualize sex in his life. It’s a struggle many young people from traditional backgrounds need to resolve for themselves.
Chris talks about advertising using the sexual revolution to sell stuff! Well, that’s proof that we are having this revolution in India. Think Axe Deo, car brands, chocoloate, fairness creams, anything and everything uses sex to sell it!
Another thing. Chris says- Intellectuals can’t have good orgasms! I’m wondering about that. Somehow it makes sense. Intellectuals cannot truly enjoy anything. They are so busy analyzing the present, they cannot really experience the now in a spontaneous manner. Same goes for sex perhaps. But maybe they can have an intellectual orgasm with their partners and methinks, that might be doubly pleasurable!
Violence is an easy answer when real issues go unaddressed: Cases of South Africa & India- Oct 9, 2012
J M Coetze’s Booker winning book ‘Disgrace’ is deeply disturbing. It tells the story of the cultural backlash against whites in South Africa. The story caused me to have violent and dark nightmares because of the matter of fact reactions of the “victims” of violence, in this case a middle aged man and his young daughter. I finished the book last evening in a grim mood, wondering how it would be to live in a society where being safe was apparently not even a right any more.
Today, on cue as it has happened often enough lately, The Hindu carries an editorial by Anita Lakshmni Powell titled ‘Bring my my machine gun’ about the violence in South Africa. Shocking stats: One of 4 men in a nation of 50 million admitted to committing rape, half of them say they’ve done it more than once. Murder is commonplace; the police system reports one million unsolved murders a year!
A report by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation report, released in 2010 claims that violence is cheap, easy and the thing that works, the only answer where there are none. The report draws strong correlations with the disbalance is South African society (SA is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 0.7 in 2008; the top 10% of the population accounted for 58% of South Africa’s income, the bottom 10% accounted for 0.5% and the bottom 50% less than 8%, as per a recently released World Bank report). A quarter of South Africans are unemployed and traditional routes to prosperity, like education, simply aren’t working well enough.
To me, all of this sounds scarily familiar. Unemployment, growing disparities, rampant violence, rape as a means of expressing frustration, hatred, rage…..we see this all around us. And a weak policing system, a judiciary that simply cannot cope, political apathy.Is this where pockets of our country are going as well (13 rapes in Haryana within a month!)? Is India destined to be a violent nation? Will we also be no longer able to step out of our homes without fear? Will our children live a gated, over-protected life and never experience freedom, for fear of reprisal from their youthful counterparts who happened to be born on the other side of the social divide?
The real bad news in South Africa, the editorial claims, is that violence is a language that was endorsed as the rightful means for recourse even during the anti-apartheid movement. The establishment turns a blind eye to violence and politicians glorify violence in their campaigns. Violence is culturally acceptable.
Fortunately for us, we did not win our freedom through violent means, but the aftermath of Independence saw a nation steeped in blood and gore. Our system still frowns on violence and there is no social endorsement yet for it. In SA, a gang rape of a mentally deficient girl was distributed brazenly as a video on mobile phone; here rapists still try and run away from the law. But that’s neither here nor there. Increasingly, we are become inured to violence and perpetrators are becoming bolder. Increasingly, we want to believe that the bad things happen to someone else and live in fear of becoming victims. The larger issues are taking way too long to be addressed and in the meantime, paranoia is taking hold of our society.
The South African experience should be a wake up call for us. Inclusiveness is not a warm and fuzzy type of concept that idealists (like me, I have been told recently and yes, I am a bit angry about that) promote. Inclusiveness is a necessity, so that we do not become an inhuman, abnormal, highly stressed and unworkable society. Equal opportunity, as much as possible at least, regardless of religion (ref: Sachar Committee report), caste, ethnicity, gender, income level, is the goal we must adopt, as a nation. Otherwise, we are doomed indeed. I shudder, I hope. I fervently hope for change.