‘Are women in India,which proudly celebrated its 65th Republic Day today, really safe?’. This is a question which troubles me very often, and I am always left pondering. This is a question which occupies newspaper headlines each time the news of a girl being raped comes to the fore. And very often people think the word ‘SAFE’ simply implies ,an environment where a girl/woman does not face the fear of being raped. However, for me the word ‘SAFE’ implies a host of other things- being able to go to college/office and come back home without being eveteased ,stalked; being able to wear shorts and walk on the road with head held high, without the fear of being stared at or being touched ; being able to get married without the burden of having to pay dowry; being able to give birth to a girl without the fear of the foetus being killed.
In India, the ordeal for a girl begins right from birth. When she is the womb she faces the danger of being the next victim of female foeticide. If the girl is allowed to enter the world , she faces the fear of being the next victim of ‘female infanticide’. (Some horrifying manifestations of female infanticide include the baby girl being left to drown in a cauldron of boiling milk as in Haryana; being buried alive or poison being mixed in her milk as it happens in Tamil Nadu).Once she matures , she faces the problem of being ostracised by her family/society during the time of menstruation, by not being allowed to attend religious or other auspicious functions , on the pretext that she is ‘impure’, and it is inauspicious.( Hello, people, this is not self created by women, it is something natural, god given, something that enables a woman to bear a child. There is nothing inauspicious about it and she has no reason to be ashamed of it)(This does not happen in every religion, happens mainly among Hindus.) She fears being raped and then bearing the stigma and blame for it, if at all she dares to speak of it, thanks to the society we live in, which instantly places the onus on the girl/women. When she reaches marriageable age she fears that along with her, her parents and will also be harassed by the way of having to give dowry(But there is also something known as bride price in some religions, a practice in which the groom pays money to the bride’s family. In Islam , the groom has to give the bride a gift called ‘MAHR’, prior to the consummation of marriage) If due to some reason , she does not get pregnant , she is looked down upon by the society, for inability to bear a child , though the fault may not lie in her. Finally, she has to take the blame for giving birth to a girl child, instead of a boy.
What are the reasons for this? Firstly, women are undervalued and looked down upon as being weak. Secondly, we still live in a society in which patriarchy is very deeply entrenched. Women have been taught to be submissive and live with the exploitation and not speak about it. Also women very often are treated as mere objects. On one side women, we idolise women and pray to them(deities like Parvati, Lakshmi) and on the other hand we treat them like mere commodities. Thirdly, a lot of these Bollywood movies and Advertisements are to be blames for commodification of women. I do not see the reason behind showing a girl walking out of a pool in a bikini in an advertisement for a cement company.Fourthly, widespread alcoholism is also a major reason, as very often women become the victim of the misbehaviour and beatings of her alcoholic husband.
On one hand we talk of ‘Incredible India’, on the other hand women in this country still do not feel safe, in the true sense of the word. A thought that keeps daunting me every moment is that ‘the girl who got raped at a park yesterday could have been me’
Things have changed a great deal. Women are now coming and talking about the harassment they face. The country has always had laws to deal with all this and these have been strengthened in the recent past, but still lacks greatly when it comes to implementation and enforcement. The main change will come only when we change our mindset and outlook of looking at women. And this change has to come about at home. Boys need to be taught from day one to look at their sisters , mothers and other women as equals and with respect,and this responsibility lies with the father as much as with the mother. After all ‘Change starts at home’.