Let's ad-dress the real issue

Jan 04, 2012, 07:52 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Social activist Anna Hazare's insensitive remark about barren women got more or less lost in the cacophony over Mumbai's lack of response to his fast.

Social activist Anna Hazare's insensitive remark about barren women got more or less lost in the cacophony over Mumbai's lack of response to his fast. His comment represents the innate contempt, which some sections of Indian society have for women. It is so ingrained -- and we know it -- that it usually only bother us when it manifests as dowry-related murders or female foeticide and infanticide. Anything less than death is supposedly acceptable under the broad umbrella of 'Indian culture'.

But should our tolerance stretch so far as to blame women for being raped or sexually assaulted? This week that old, tired and completely discredited argument was trotted out again by the director-general of police of Andhra Pradesh, Dinesh Reddy and then after that by Karnataka Women and Child Welfare Minister C C Patil. The policeman said, don't blame us if women get raped if they are dressed provocatively. The minister said women should know how to dress or presumably face the consequences.

Distressing: The Constitution of India gives men and women equal 
rights, showing utter disregard for medieval, feudal, rural, and 
'cultural' mindset. Yet, such outlooks are still prevalent. 

Nowhere, it should be noted, is any mention made of men exercising some sort of self-control. This argument almost never follows that route. The assumption -- extremely prejudicial to men, if one may be so bold to point out -- is that men are sexually depraved savages with only a very thin veneer of civilisation covering up their true nature. The barest hint of a female upper arm and rape is the only option in front of them.

Is there any point in quoting figures about pre-puberty girls and post-menopausal women also being raped, when it would be fair to say that sexual provocation is not a usual intention when making wardrobe selections? Or that little boys are sodomised by predators when they wear little boy clothes? Or that rape is not so much about sexual attraction as it is about power? When a six-month-old baby girl is raped, who would the policeman and the minister blame? The girl's mother, presumably, for not dressing her correctly since nappies can also be deemed provocative?

Does that sound offensive? It should but it is not even a quarter as offensive as this women-are-to-blame for being raped argument is to both women and men. The excuse that medieval thought processes still exist in parts of India might work for those parts of India but it cannot cut ice with an IPS officer and a minister for women and child welfare.

The minister has apparently tried a mini-backtrack after the backlash, but it's too late unfortunately. He said what he did and his belief that women are respected because rivers are named after them is almost as ridiculous as his putting the onus of rape on the victim.

Unfortunately for both the policeman and the minister, the Constitution of India gives men and women equal rights, showing utter disregard for medieval, feudal, rural, and 'cultural' mindsets. Is it upsetting that they keep popping up in the 21st century? Obviously.

But the idea that men are still seen as almost helplessly brutal creatures, who can barely look at a women without wanting to rape her, is also upsetting. If I were a man I would be deeply offended at the kind of thinking displayed by these two men in government. Let's set aside the issue of women being allowed to dress the way they want. Let's turn the argument to men instead.

Religions and cultures through the years have tried to bundle women up so that they would not be exposed to men's gazes. But as our Constitution shows, that thinking has changed. Are we then to so easily accept that men are incapable of learning and practising the norms of civilised behaviour?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist.You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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