(Cynthia shares her reflections on the recent debate over violence against women through a poem and a short note)
Don't cry for me.
Don't cry for me.
Don't cry for me.
Anonymous I may be to you, but
I have a name, a self. I too get thirsty
But when I go to drink they say the well is not for me.
I go to work in your field but you think my work is not worth paying for.
You pay me a pittance. That man asked me to go with him last week but I refused.
Now I just might, because I have to pay the doctor to treat my child. His father, the wastrel,
Left a year ago, good riddance to him, but now this son is my responsibility.
I don't know....will this fellow keep me or sell me to someone else? If that is what it means, then
maybe I won't go. But what should I do?
But you – don't you cry for me. It makes no difference to me whether you do or not.
Let me be. Our worlds are not the same. A different sun rises on my world every day.
~ In response to: For Anonymous.
It is a real shame that our society has not understood the basic reason behind the increasing sexual violence against women and girls. The reason is that our society is deeply misogynistic, that is, woman-hating. This is seen even in ancient mythologies where women are almost always shown in poor light, as slaves to the men. Thus there is a denial of their basic humanity in the collective consciousness of our society. That is why crimes against women - not only rapes, but beating, mental violence, stalking, dowry violence - is not seen as a crime or treated as such, whether by the perpetrator, the police, or indeed the justice system itself.
In Bangalore we had the recent high-profile case of a famous actor who had a history of severe violence against his wife - finally being "compromised" with his wife, who had the courage to speak up in public, but then faced severe criticism for having dragged the family's affairs into the public eye and pressure to compromise. But I think she has to be commended for speaking up. Because often victims of violence, and their families, think that it is better to be silent about violence. This is again because of the lack of value for a woman and her person - and many of the women are also co-dependents in the violent situations they face daily. This is not to blame the victim but to understand the reality that women are seen, and also taught by society that they are weak, vulnerable, and hence second-class citizens. Unless this situation is clearly understood and challenged, till everyone - the law, the police, families, each individual, and especially the men - are made to understand the equality, even the superior role, played by a woman in society, and this is given its due worth, such incidents will continue to happen.
The attempt to justify the violence by saying that women provoke men with their clothes or behaviour deserves to be dismissed with contempt. What justifies the now fairly commonly reported sexual attacks on minor children under the age of 8? What about the numerous cases of sexual violence committed on children by fathers, cousins, uncles and grandfathers?
The role of increased and unmonitored access to pornography is an important factor that cannot be discounted. The young men and boys who consume pornography are predisposed to sexual violence, especially against a vulnerable 'object'. Thus they are dehumanised and fail to see the sex act not in its human, relational aspect but only as a means to gratifying appetites aroused by the pornographic images.
This points to a failure in the way our society rears its young men and women. While something is being done to address women through empowerment programmes and education, nothing positive is being done to educate young men in this area. They need to see the world as not only their space, but as the common heritage of both men and women. They have to be taught that women are to be valued highly for their role in the family, society, and economy, and as common heirs of this world. They have to be taught that women and girls have the same rights as themselves, they too are human, and they have to be respected, whoever and whatever they are.
But having said that, it is important to underscore the fact that some women are more equal than others. Because it is an undisputed fact that the ongoing rapes of women and girls of marginalised groups like adivasis, minorities and dalits, are the most neglected in the media as well as by the justice system. This points to a huge blind spot in our society, in which these sections - which are a sizeable 30-40% of the population - are hidden, but in full public view. What is clear is that these sections are clearly second-class in the eye of the establishment in India, and the women from these sections are even more so. There is a systematic denial of their citizenhood, human rights, and dignity. For a more detailed treatment of the subject, see my "India, the Idea of Nation and the Subaltern Indian Woman". on Savari.
The justice delivery to women in general, and those from the margnialised sections in particular, is most neglected. This has to change. As far as possible, judges and prosecutors should be women to enable victims to speak with comfort, especially in the case of rape and sexual violence.
Cynthia Stephen is an Independent Writer and Researcher.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.