December 07, 2013

Will we fail our future generation?

I watched Lincoln (link), a movie which I have been wanting to watch since long. One particular scene struck me the most. I think the director intended it to be that way to make us digest a true picture of the then American society. I'm referring to a scene where a Congressman is shown to be mocking the proposed 16th amendment abolishing slavery. He explains about the dangerous consequences of the proposed amendment, arguing that it will not end at freeing slaves but  enfranchisement of these slaves and blacks and then women suffrage will follow - in that order. The disapproval expressed by the representatives against each of these also increases in that order, with the highest disapproval being expressed at the idea of giving equal rights for women. How telling this scene is of that mindset! That scene summarizes it: slaves first, blacks next and women last. That's the priority. That generation could contemplate freeing slaves, and extend it to giving voting rights for blacks but women empowerment they couldn't bear to hear about. Please do watch the scene - it gives a very poignant picture.

That scene left me trying to evaluate if and by how much we have evolved now. Slavery has been abolished even though other forms of servitude called 'modern slavery' do continue in India (link). But women empowerment has been long overdue and we still need to go a long way in truly understanding the fact that women are human beings to whom human rights such as equality, dignity and freedom apply. Back then, the inalienable rights which Lincoln has talked about (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) didn't seem to apply to women as women didn't have equal voting rights in all the states (link). It is so ironic that a country based on strong democratic foundations didn't consider giving voting rights to close to 50% of the population. Coming back to India, we have small mercies which we can thank for but they are not enough. I can't help voicing it out: Why is it so hard for some people (read patriarchs and misogynists) to accept an ideology which is so simple, intuitive and just? How many centuries of decay did we undergo to enable this kind of resistance against basic humanitarian values?

Slavery is a taboo today though 'modern slavery' is prevalent (link). I wonder if and how our future generations are going to judge our generation for its mistreatment of women, the same way we are judging our ancestors for mistreatment of slaves. Shouldn't we learn from history and take up the responsibility to create the change which we know is just and inevitable? Shouldn't we try to live up to the expectations of our next generation and give our daughters the kind of life they aspire for and is rightfully theirs? Will we be able to give our girls better and complete empowerment offering them true choices and controls over their life, beyond gender stereotypes? Is it possible to isolate and struggle for this change only for our children without ourselves embracing the values which that change is going to represent? Aren't we at some level betraying our girl children in their struggle for empowerment if we choose to not stand up for our own rights and yield to patriarchal values in our own lives?

Related posts:

1) An excellent post by Madhu Trehan on how we let this generation down:

Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it. - Gloria Steinem ....(link)

2) Blind faith and what history teaches us:

December 02, 2013

If we dealt with every act of sexual harassment this way....

I think this is the best news (link) I came across in quite some time - filling me with a ray of hope. So here's the silver lining we were all looking for:

// ....On Saturday, when Tilak tried a flying kiss, little did he know that he would end up spending that night in a police lock-up and parting with Rs6,000.....what went wrong was that Tilak’s target was a total stranger.....When he was near the traffic signal opposite Gulistan Hotel, he saw a girl on the other side and let out a flying kiss.Embarrassed, the girl informed some policemen, who were nearby. They arrested Tilak and produced him before a local court on Sunday. The court remanded Tilak in judicial custody till December 7. He was granted a bail of Rs6,000.....// (link)

There are so many things right about the way this had been dealt with that I can't help listing them out:

1) The girl wasn't shamed into silence. She didn't have to think it was her fault. She didn't take this act lightly. She responded by reporting the incident.
2) Help (police) was available to her nearby to make her reporting easy. Also, she didn't have to be intimidated or discomforted because of reporting the offense.
3) Police did not dismiss her complaint as a non-issue. They were diligent in discharging their duties: Right from not letting the accused 'buy' them out with a bribe to being swift in response and producing the accused at the court the very next day, they did everything right.
4) Law does seem to extend its application from paper to practice. Court has considered this act to be an offense.
5) News like this is being reported (not just gang-rapes) - meaning our country is taking sexual harassment seriously now and 'eve-teasing' can no longer be dismissed of as the norm :)
6) Most important aspect is that there has been no victim-blaming reported in the article - No highlighting of the time at which this incident occurred (after 10 p.m.)
7) Quick response from police and judicial system

Don't we wish for a world/country where every act of sexual harassment was dealt with in this way? What we need to do to create this world is to follow these steps which are simple to understand but probably more time-taking to implement throughout the country (but then again, nothing in life comes easy!):
  • Report every act of sexual harassment to the law-enforcing authorities.
  • Create a system in which reporting a crime is easy for all.
  • Police reforms: Gender sensitization courses, improving efficiency, following procedural guidelines.
  • Ensure quick response from all concerned authorities, to ensure speedy delivery of justice.
  • No victim blaming.
Of course, it's a not a perfect world. The imperfection in this near-perfect case can be seen in Arnold's comment on this article (link):

// I think it's quite ridiculous that we even have laws like this! What does "a word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman" even mean? If she didn't like his flying kiss she could have just ignored it. No one is hurt. For some reason Indians tend to believe that 'taking offense' is a birthright. It's not. You don't like something, move on.

My sympathies are with the boy. // (link)

Head-bang!! My response here to Arnold (just to ensure other trolls don't get carried away with the same 'intellectual' criticism of our laws):

Kiss is a sexual act and flying kiss is a sexual gesture. Isn't it offensive to make sexual advances to a total stranger? What was the intention behind sending a flying kiss to a stranger? Was he expecting any sexual response from a total stranger? Or was the intention to humiliate the victim and get a false ego-boost, like this link suggests? Why then shouldn't this offensive sexual gesture be considered as a sexual harassment crime? Who are you to decide whether an offensive gesture has hurt the person towards whom it was directed or not? Our country has been ignoring sexual harassment against women for centuries. Do you think all criminals who rape begin with rape as their first crime? They would've committed smaller offenses, may be starting with 'flying kisses' before and gradually moved to bigger crimes when they realized that the society's attitude has made them immune to punishments. Are you aware that almost every Indian woman is molested (sometimes without realizing it) at least once during her lifetime? I don't need to attach links or show statistics to prove this - I'm sure every woman reading this post wouldn't need any proof from me to agree with this. Which birthrights are you talking about when close to 50% of the Indians (comprising of the female population) are sometimes even denied the right to be born? 

Here's why street-sexual harassment (which we usually underplay as 'eve-teasing') should not be taken lightlyPublic spaces should not be reserved only for men. Every citizen has the right to feel safe in a public space and till today, safety and security in public spaces (including bus-stops, buses etc.) has almost been 'reserved' for men. Many Indian parents are scared to send their girl children to far-off places for studying or employment because of the possibility of their daughters being subjected to eve-teasing sexual harassment. This is depriving women of better study/work related opportunities. Women have restricted opportunities to work because safety is reserved only for men during certain unspecified times (specified as per the convenience of misogynists), making it difficult/almost impossible for women to work during these times or in professions which demand work during odd-hours (like cab drivers). We as a society should work towards giving every individual a sense of security and create a level-playing field which would help in empowering every person.

Useful links for people to understand street sexual harassment: