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A new dialogue on women rights and safety in India

The past weeks have seen quite an outcry and disgust at the opinions of the accused and defense lawyers involved in the Nirbhaya rape case made popular in the documentary “India’s Daughter” and rightly so. The suffering of the girl and their parents shook many a heart. While the portrayal in the documentary may seem to include only those elements that sensationalize the events, it was close representation of the grim reality that Indian women face at large. But I do not agree that we are beyond reform or that we are a failed society. Sure it looks as if our house is burning today, but then it provides the opportunity to build a safer house with a better foundation for the future. A mere change of laws and even better enforcement of them may merely scratch the surface of the problem not solve it.

The source of the problem is simple. Our collective ignorance.

Firstly, when we look at the perpetrators of gruesome crimes like rape and molestation, there is a tendency to look at them as animals far different from us the “normal people”. What I am going to say now, may come as a shock and many may not agree with me but I don’t care. These animals are our creation, our collective failure and they are part of us, not separate from us. In fact, we only differ in degree not in kind from them. What is manifest 100 percent in a rapist or a molester is manifest maybe 5-10 percent in us, the normal people. If this statement, seems too surprising think of what happens in a war zone. The very respectable men, our fathers and brothers are capable of doing unimaginable things in a war setup, where you are not accountable for your crimes and can easily get away with whatever you do. Who doesn’t watch advertisements, item songs where women are objectified? However, can we go back to a period, where women covered themselves from head to toe and stayed at home, to prevent being objectified? I think not. We need to accept that it is wrong to objectify women and that men have self-control issues.

Secondly, we have to more open about talking about sex, especially in the family setup. Sex must not be a taboo and there has to be better understanding about all aspects of sex for both men and women. In a country, which boasts of writing the science of love making, how many men know or understand what difficulties women face during their menstrual cycle or during pregnancy. Such knowledge will help men understand what constitutes womanhood and help them see women more than as just as objects for enjoyment. In the absence of a more open society, which freely discusses such issues, the people will take to wrong sources such as the internet. We know what damage that can do. Neither do we have to elevate sex with too much attention nor should we try to avoid discussing it. Like everything in nature, sex has a purpose. We have to keep it at its rightful place.

Thirdly, Is a woman equal to man in our society? My mother was not allowed to major in a subject she was interested in because it involved lot of work and she who already had shortsightedness, would get worser if she continued. Getting married would be difficult for a woman with glasses apparently. You would think the situation would have gotten better with time. My cousin sister got married recently. She only asked that she be given a couple of years to get settled in her career, then she would marry. Of course, she wasn’t allowed, because she was of marriageable age. And this is not in a village from a poor family but in an educated well off family in a metropolitan city. This is not the only discrimination. Female feticide, gender bias in work and many other issues plague our women. And guess what, some ignorant woman are themselves perpetrating this discrimination further. I don’t see how these brainwashed people can be reformed.

But the next generation can educate themselves and educate their sons and daughters which will strike at the root of ignorance. This is the only way. While we are at it, there will be times when bad things happen and we here disturbing news but it is inevitable. We must not be discouraged and must plod on forward. There is no magic wand. We cannot be asleep for centuries and one day wake up and say my house is in repair and I need to get it fixed in a month. Right efforts over days, months, and years will bear fruit in time. If we take a collective stand and work on it, in a couple of decades, we will achieve a marked change to women’s condition in our country. In 50 years, we will be the nation, every country aspires to be.

I know the task before us is difficult. But as Swami Vivekanada once said in his talk, there is only so low a man can go and thereafter there is only one way that is upwards. All nations rise and fall, like summer following the winter, it is only natural. I totally reject that the present condition of India is hopeless and permanent. But I do not think merely great leaders or laws can bring about lasting change. Remember, that even the great Krishna, supreme knower of statesmanship and dharma, could not prevent the internecine wars between his people, which destroyed his entire clan. Only the people working together can help build a harmonious and just society, where everyone has equal opportunities and freedom. Where there is light darkness cannot prevail. When the knowledge that an woman is equal to man and that a woman is not an object for pleasure or a machine to produce children has permeated every strata of society, then we will have avenged the death of Nirbhaya and built a nation that we can all be proud about. But now is the time for action, not apathy and disgust. Jai Hind.

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