Monday, December 9, 2013

Women and My Credo

Rex Arul

I still remember the day I froze as my grandpa delivered the terrifying news: Your Dhana “Akka” is no more. She went up to heaven. I was crestfallen, as she was more than a nanny. From the susurrations that followed, I learned of the ordeal she had undergone at the hands of a drunkard and her in-laws, who relentlessly tortured her for dowry. Finally, she decided to tie herself a hangman’s knot to sunder her own man’s wedding-knot. This was in my first grade.

During high school, I came across a few women, who could not be given in marriage because their parents could not afford the hefty dowry sum. I realized that something was inherently wrong with this equation. Is dowry a tax for the Indian woman, I would rue! Besides, society was brutal to these women, who were shunned as accursed, anathema, or inauspicious from all the social niceties. Some of them might have chosen the fate of my beloved Dhana Akka! Who knows?  Vernacular newspapers of the 80s and 90s would carry these quotidian stories relentlessly, albeit its steady flux was hardly ever stanched.

Later after graduation, I also witnessed cases within my own circles, wherein given a chance to either quit or suffer abuse, many women victims – highly educated, I must add – for unbeknownst reasons, chose the latter over the former. Is it fear of the unknown? Are they conditioned to suffer abuse to safeguard their social status, family reputation? I could not understand. I started to extensively read about Stockholm syndrome and other topics related to survivors, trauma, and their conditioning, to gain a better understanding.

These days, I come across more gut-wrenching cases at the Juvenile Courts of Georgia, where I serve as a voluntary officer of the court. Moms undergoing rehabilitative, court-ordered programs, appear before the Court to verify their progress so that the State can take a decision on their child custody. It is an irrefragable truth that I cottoned on to, that behind every woman subject, there is invariably a sordid history of abuse. She most probably fell a victim in her own home, by her own kith and kin. And yes, sometimes by her own sibling, Mom or Dad! A victim with a case-history of drug and substance-abuse need not be entirely a result of the bad choices that she solely made for herself. Rather, the abusive environment, the concomitant trauma, and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) that she might have undergone, does rock her ship later in life.  Some of them are runaways from broken-families, who were fleeing rape and abuse, only to be cruelly exposed to further rapes, abuses, and impregnation by the drug mafias, prostitution rings, and criminal gangs. It is here, where I see the crass objectification of women in the worst possible ways imaginable. When a woman emerges out of the jail on a drug-charge and has nowhere else to go, she almost always returns back to jail on similar or more serious charges.

Preceding paras show how directly I have perceived women’s issues. Countries, cultures, characters and scenes may be different, but, the ideas of crass objectification, ruthless subjugation, and an obstinate devaluation by viewing women nothing more than chattels are the common themes that tie them. Chattel is how the traditional meme of women has always been. Even laws of jurisdiction, domicile, and property rights have bolstered that notion. As those hoary notions give way to the newer reality of equality of sexes, gender wars ensue. This is probably why, rapes and attacks are often used as instruments of war in war-zones as well as an instruments of control elsewhere.

We have laws and courts. But, are they able to provide the reprieve before the victim is besought with violence or abuse? Or is that a Utopian goal? Since the Nirbhaya rape that shocked the world, India has responded with more laws as the society on its edge, clamored more for retribution. As Lao Tzu said in Tao-te Ching, “the more laws and orders are made prominent, the more thieves and bandits there will be.” What we need is a collective, social response to supplement the retributive legal response.

Any issue affecting women, directly affects the society. The very bedrock of the society and its sustenance lies on emancipated women, their physical, mental, and moral strength. Research shows the debilitating effects even on an unborn child, when a mother suffers abuse in her own home. Therefore, I see women’s issue as not just a gender, but a social issue as well. This is why, men’s involvement is ineluctable. I loved Red Elephant Foundation’s promethean idea of involving 16 men to speak in and on behalf of women’s rights for the same reason. I hope advocates of women’s causes opt for the inclusive “AND” instead of the exclusive “OR” path, when it comes to both the sexes. Survivors do not need any more of the internecine gender wars of Kilkenny cats.

Finally, it is also equally important to underscore that existing laws be made more gender-neutral. This is one way to recognize the true strides women have made in the current zeitgeist. Some men and women are genuinely apprehensive and chafed over the contemporary trend of vexatious lawsuits to settle personal scores. For each false case that takes up the court’s time, tens of hundreds of genuine victims are left in the lurch to fend for themselves.  I see this as a wasteful deterrent that otherwise keeps genuinely interested men from signing-up for these causes. I firmly believe that the issues facing women and children need a sustained, 360 response from the society, which should attract – not deflect – more men into the fold.

Just as charity, respect for women’s rights too, begins at home. As a Father, I am 100% committed to the welfare and interests of my daughter. It is from this spring, I will flow as a brook to touch the lives of girls, women, and children that I will run into, every day.

Rex S. Arul is an Energy Consultant living and working in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a Child’s Rights activist, community-worker, speaker, and a micro-blogger. Mr. Arul is a voluntary Court Officer with the Juvenile Courts of Georgia. He loves his daughter Rhea Arul more than anything in life. He is also the President of his Toastmasters Club and works assiduously to lend his voice for the voiceless:, namely, children and the marginalized.