Sunday, September 29, 2013

It’s my fault

By Ramya Padmanabhan
Recently a video released by All India Bakchod has gone viral on the internet. Keeping in view, the hot topic these days, the video deals with sexual assaults on women. The video has a humorous twist to it though, by taking on the widely spread myth/claim, that women are somehow the instigators of the sexual assaults on them.
The key message from this video is that somehow we have become so numb to all the atrocities that are occurring, that we are apathetic and have somehow contrived to blame the victim instead of the perpetrators. This point is well taken. In fact the target audience for this kind of a video would not be in disagreement. Of course, it’s not the victims fault; it’s the fault of the rapist!
Image: Stills from the video (c) All India Bakchod

The video is well-made, it is short, stylish and the depiction a progressive injury-laden state on the narrators is not lost. They are speaking for the battering of the Indian woman and the notion that somehow the victim will blame herself, thereby injuring herself the most. If this video is meant to be a part of a larger series of video that will deconstruct sexual assault, I would call it a fantastic start. If, on the other hand, this video is to be standalone, then my request to the makers of this video is- DON’T STOP! Get to the heart of the matter. 

Beyond the Video
As with any complex social evil, the root cause is often deep and sometimes so deep, that it is buried within layers and layers of prevalent social conditioning, that in turn have become conditioned over centuries.
So yes, sometimes we need to go backwards in order to step forward, in this case even a single step. The video, in the very beginning briefly touches upon a key aspect. What is that you may ask? Men you say? No, it is the institution of patriarchy. This institution, in my opinion, is one of the key causes of not just sexual assaults, but a whole host of abuses that women faces on a daily basis. Please note that I’m not making a blanket statement, and nor am I saying that this must be replaced by matriarchy or any other ‘archy’.
The basic institution that is available to us all is ourselves- the single unit of creation and existence. While human beings display many wonderful attributes such as compassion, love, caring and sharing, they also display a proclivity towards subjugation. While the roots of this may remain shrouded in the mystery of human creation itself, it cannot be ignored or refuted. Throughout recorded human history, humans have warred with one another on some pretext or the other, be it land, resources, tribes , villages and later on kingdoms, countries, colonies.
We’ve seen massive colonization, apartheid, slavery, and somewhere along the way, in the middle of all this, women have been collateral damage in several ways. Women have always been identified as the weaker sex, the ones who need to be protected. Patriarchy has also taken root with this notion that women cannot take care of themselves, and hence must be protected. Over time, this social structure has spawned various cultures and traditions that have supported this notion and which have bolstered it. While, it is entirely possible that at one point, women were the prize and hence needed to be protected, it is a fact that they are now paying the price for it.
While it may seem completely logical that every human must have access to knowledge that can help enhance their own potential, it is this very notion that is questioned on a repeated basis in this country.
This notion of the weaker sex has created a stigma for women even before they are born. They are viewed as a burden, from the moment they are born and they are conditioned to believe that they exist only to please others. This kind of subtle conditioning is undertaken more often than not by the women than the men. While sweeping generalizations are not fair, it is true that women are thought of or defined solely based on their physical appearance and their worth is often attached to it. This objectification is more rampant and deep in society and the only beings bereft of this objectification are mothers. Isn’t it a classical irony that the world’s second most populous country is still killing the girl child, and in effect killing its own mothers. Let us admit it, we have all attached a woman’s worth to her appearance at some point or the other, thereby creating a judgmental void even before we utter a single word.
More than Skin Deep
They key point here, is a complete lack of respect for another human being, and the inability to view that human beyond her gender, her appearance and the so called roles that she must play. The result- stereotyping, not just by men, but by a huge number of women too. Rape is nothing but the highest form of sexual assault, but women face all kinds of abuse -mental, psychological and sexual-on a regular basis;  those abuses which are dismissed as  evils that cannot be combated. Rape is the extreme end of the spectrum.  Today’s eve-teasing can be tomorrow’s rape-today’s groping can be tomorrow’s marital rape. Sometimes, the conditioning is very benign. How many times have we heard the word woman associated with beauty? Sadly, more often than not, we hear about beautiful women, therefore identifying those who do not qualify to be called as such. We are completely ignorant to the notion that beauty lies several layers beneath our skin.
What we need is a massive level of social sensitization and intolerance towards any form of subjugation of women.
The next time you see a woman sacrifice her nutrition for her children, demand that she take care of herself first, the next time you hear someone making a derogatory remark about women at your office, question it, the next time the auto-driver dismisses you for vacant fluff-head, make him listen. The next time someone says that they are worried about their ‘daughters’ encourage them to equip them to the best possible extent, but most importantly teach them that respect for another human being begins with self respect and no self respecting human being will ever commit such acts.
We need to move past the blame game to ensure that women are not deprived opportunities to develop their own identities, live life on their own terms, and be free from the burden of socially accepted norms.
Let us stop feeding cultural stereotypes and let that change begin with each one of us. Let us ask ourselves who is a woman in our own minds. Your answer may surprise you!  Let us start by changing our own deep-rooted comfortable notions.