The barbarous incident of gang-rape and subsequent death of the so-far anonymous 23-year-old girl, named by media as Nirbhaya and Damini, has shaken the moral foundations of India and cast a pall of gloom over the entire nation. This has raised huge doubts about the ability of the system to deter such incidents in the future, as close on its heels other similar incidents have taken place in the national capital.
While at one level such incidents indicate sharp degradation of public morality, at another level, NIrbhaya’s case has woken the country up from its slumber and led to country-wide protests, demonstrations, debates and discussions, which gives us some kind of assurance that not everything is lost yet. However, it is too early to celebrate. The malaise that afflicts the moral fibre of the country lies too deep and would require years of consistent efforts to root it out entirely.
Violence against women is a global phenomenon. However, it is more manifest in our country across social, cultural, ethnic and religious divisions because of the prevalence of a mindset that treats women as inferior to men and mostly as objects of desire.
What leads a male or a group of males to outrage the modesty of a woman or attempt a heinous act of assault on a woman? What are the factors that shape and enable such a mindset? Is it a temporary manifestation of a criminal impulse or a calculated act of violence enabled by poor law enforcement, supine judicial system and above all a corrupt and morally bankrupt society that refuses to change itself?
Such incidents at regular intervals bring to the fore the age-old issue of gender inequality in our society. Nirbhaya’s case is not merely an act of rape or violence; it is a sorry reminder of the fact that in a country, which is being hailed as the rising star in global economy and politics by analysts all over the world, half of the population is being threatened by masculine desire. To a large extent, it is due to the persistence of a feudal mindset which regards women as a weak and dependent race. Despite the fact that women have climbed the social ladder effectively during the last few decades and made tremendous progress in diverse walks of life, often outpacing their male counterparts, the stigma of being a “woman” continues to haunt them. Even if women have tried to break the glass ceiling, the other half of the society has not perhaps been ready to accept it.
A related question here is to what extent women are respected in the society. In general, a mother, a wife, a sister is considered more as a service provider rather than service receiver. Very conveniently she is portrayed as a model of sacrifice, love and care. Our cinemas, theatres, advertisements and TV commercials treat women as objects of enjoyment. In educated families even daughters are often considered as someone else’s property (parayaa dhan). After her marriage she is hardly considered an equal member of the family. When a girl asks for an equal share in parent’s property, it is considered more as greed rather than a step towards equal rights. And probably this is the root cause of our dowry system where the groom’s family thinks marriage is an opportunity where they can extract as much as possible from the bride’s parents.
It is not a matter of only providing a safe environment to women. It is more important to work towards creating a mindset among people to respect women and being sensitive and tolerant towards them. No government can provide security to each and every woman. This is not to deny that framing of adequate laws, fair enforcement of such laws, efficient judicial system, safer transport facilities, sensitising the police about gender related issues, and other such measures are essential hygiene factors, which are indispensable for maintaining an ecosystem favourable to women¾ and the governments of the day have a moral duty to ensure such an environment. Women also need to help themselves by challenging the age-old gender stereotypes and breaking out of the shackles imposed on them by the society.
This is not going to happen overnight. But try we must¾ if not driven by any conviction to bring about positive change, at least stirred by the “shock and shame” of not being able to save the Nirbhayas and Daminis all around us, every time such incidents occur.