Thursday, 17 January 2013

India’s Rape Culture:‭ ‬Urban versus Rural

Ram Puniyani

While the horrific rape of Damini,‭ ‬Nirbhaya‭ (‬December16,‭ ‬2012‭) ‬has shaken the whole nation,‭ ‬and the country is gripped with the fear of this phenomenon,‭ ‬many an ideologues and political leaders are not only making their ideologies clear,‭ ‬some of them are regularly putting their foots in mouths also.‭ ‬Surely they do retract their statements soon enough.‭ ‬Kailash Vijayvargiya,‭ ‬a senior BJP minister in MP’s statement that women must not cross Laxman Rekha to prevent crimes against them,‭ ‬was disowned by the BJP Central leadership and he was thereby quick enough to apologize to the activists for his statement.‭ ‬But does it change his ideology or the ideologies of his fellow travellers‭? ‬There are many more in the list from Abhijit Mukherjee,‭ ‬to Mamata Bannerji,‭ ‬Asaram Bapu and many more.‭

Mohan Bhagwat
The statement of RSS supremo,‭ ‬Mohan Bhagwat,‭ ‬was on a different tract as he said that rape is a phenomenon which takes place in India not in Bharat.‭ ‬For India the substitute for him is urban areas and Bharat is rural India for him.‭ ‬As per him it is the‭ “‬Western‭” ‬lifestyle adopted by people in urban areas due to which there is an increase in the crime against women.‭ “‬You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang rape or sex crimes‭”‬,‭ ‬he said on‭ ‬4th January.‭ ‬Further he implied that while urban areas are influenced by Western culture,‭ ‬the rural areas are nurturing Indian ethos,‭ ‬glorious Indian traditions.‭ ‬As per him ancient Indian traditions gave great respect to women,‭ ‬and it is due to these values of Indian tradition,‭ ‬that villages are free from crimes against women.‭

The statistics from India fly in the face of Bhagawat.‭ ‬In a significant statistical observation and study of rape cases Mrinal Satish,‭ ‬faculty member of National Law University,‭ ‬Delhi,‭ ‬tells us another tale.‭ ‬He has used the court data and observes that‭ ‬75%‭ ‬of rape cases take place in rural India.‭ ‬His observations are based on the cases reported in Criminal Law Journal from‭ ‬1983‭ ‬to‭ ‬2009.‭

The cases of rape in villages,‭ ‬like that of Khairlanji and rape against Adivasi women may not be on the radar of the Hindutva boss,‭ ‬Bhagwat,‭ ‬but those engaged with the issues of dalits,‭ ‬Adivasis and gender issues cannot buy the simplified rural versus urban divide.‭ ‬One knows that patriarchy which looks at women as secondary beings,‭ ‬primarily as sister,‭ ‬mother or daughter,‭ ‬rather than a person in her own right.‭ ‬She is not a being with swayam‭ (‬selfhood‭) ‬of her own.‭ ‬As for as RSS ideology is concerned only men have swayam‭ (‬selfhood‭)‬.‭ ‬The full form of RSS,‭ ‬the male organization is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh while its women’s organization is Rashtrasevika Samiti,‭ ‬do note that the word swayam is missing here,‭ ‬in the name of women’s organization.‭ 

The myth that women had a place of honour in ancient Indian period is a well constructed one.‭ ‬During the long span of ancient Indian period the status of women kept changing,‭ ‬but women being subordinate beings was the running theme.‭ ‬During the Aryan period of pastoral life the women were supposed to commit symbolic self immolation after the death of husband,‭ ‬later this got converted to actual burning of the widows.‭ ‬It is probably around this period that two great epics were written,‭ ‬Ramayan and Mahabharat.

In Ramayan Lord Ram banishes his pregnant wife Sita,‭ ‬because of the rumours about her character amongst the subjects of Ayodhya.‭ ‬In Mahabharat,‭ ‬the Panadavas use their common wife Draupadi as a‭ ‘‬thing‭’ ‬and use her as a bet in gamble.‭ ‬Not to be left behind their cousins try to disrobe her in the court in front of the King Dhritrashtra‭! ‬So much for the glorious place of women in ancient India‭! ‬Later period’s values are well reflected in Manusmiriti,‭ ‬where the women were explicitly denied education and serving the husband and household chores were regarded as equivalent of education for the women.‭ ‬Manusmriti gives the detailed code for women and it leaves no doubt about women being subordinate or the property of men.‭ ‬The Gupta period‭ (‬3rd to‭ ‬7thCentury‭)‬,‭ ‬which is regarded as the Golden Period of Ancient India,‭ ‬the women were having limited access to education and barring few names which are dished out to prove the glorious condition of Hindu women,‭ ‬mostly the women were having limited access to education.‭ ‬Their participation in Yagnas was secondary to husband,‭ ‬the Yajman,‭ ‬who was the primary being who had solicited the priest for the Yagnas.‭ ‬Yajnman word interestingly has no female equivalent.‭

The ideologues of the Mohan Bhagwat parivar attribute all the prevalent ills to the coming in of Muslims.‭ ‬This is a very clever ploy to externalize the internal suppression of women,‭ ‬and also of dalits.‭ ‬It’s not too long ago in history that during British rule,‭ ‬the continuation of this religiously sanctioned Hindu norm,‭ ‬Sati,‭ ‬had to be fought against by social reformers.‭ ‬The ghastly sati system,‭ ‬occasionally surfacing even now,‭ ‬and supported subtly by conservatives has not been easy to eradicate as religion was cited as the argument for preserving it.‭ ‬In the wake of sati of Roopkanwar in‭ ‬1986,‭ ‬BJP’s Vice President Vijaya Raje Scindia,‭ ‬not only defended the sati system but also took out a morcha to oppose passing of the bill against sati.‭ ‬BJP of is the political child of RSS.‭

The travails of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in struggling against Sati system are a legend.‭ ‬The child marriage was/‭ ‬is another such evil.‭ ‬While British wanted to bring in the law in early twentieth century to abolish child marriage,‭ ‬the argument to oppose it came from the sources of Hindu religion.‭ ‬It was asserted that as per Hindu norms the girl must be married before her first menses,‭ ‬Garbhadhan.‭ ‬It was argued that our religion’s norm about early marriage cannot be violated.‭ ‬The introduction of widow remarriage,‭ ‬the struggle to abolish Devadasi system,‭ ‬each of these has a long and painful story to tell about the status of women in India,‭ ‬in Ancient India,‭ ‬not influenced by modernization.‭

The education is the key to the empowerment of women and an integral part of democratization process.‭ ‬It was a painful journey and the efforts of Savitri bai Phule in this direction are revolutionary in the true sense of the word.‭ ‬These efforts were downright opposed on various grounds,‭ ‬the main obstacle being the Hindu traditions.‭

As such what is being criticized by Bhagwat as modernization is basically the process of democratization of society.‭ ‬This gentleman is stuck in the feudal mode thinking and is upholding feudal of social relationships in the garb of Hindu glorious traditions.‭ ‬As per these traditions‭; ‬caste and gender hierarchy rules the roost.‭ ‬The atrocities against women are not due to democratization,‭ ‬which this worthy is calling modernization or westernization.‭ ‬The core of modernization is caste and gender equality.‭ ‬The essence of modernization is abolition of hierarchy,‭ ‬based on birth-the hierarchy of caste and gender.‭ ‬The process of democratization is the march of society from formal values of equality to substantive equality,‭ ‬and this the march has to be the agenda of social movements.‭ ‬The roots of oppression of women lie in the patriarchal values,‭ ‬which is the carry forward of ancient and medieval values,‭ ‬related to feudal society,‭ ‬society with the rule of kings,‭ ‬where woman was regarded as the one whose arena is the domestic work.‭ ‬The condition of widows and the women who were burnt alive as sati reflects the glorious ancient tradition to which Mr.‭ ‬Bhagwat wants to push back the Indian society,‭ ‬undoing all what Indian society has been able to achieve through the struggle for Independence,‭ ‬which was not merely a struggle to throw away the British rule but also a struggle to do away with caste and gender hierarchy.‭

For Bhagwat,‭ ‬the ancient glory is a cover to hide the gender inequality.‭ ‬Modernization is seen in a superficial way by many.‭ ‬Here the ancient traditions are glorified without going to the core of the social relationships.‭ ‬One is not criticizing the past,‭ ‬but understanding it in the context of the social milieu,‭ ‬the system of production,‭ ‬the level of education etc.‭ ‬is what is needed.‭  ‬Blind glorification of the past or blind condemnation of the past,‭ ‬both take the conclusions off the mark.‭ ‬To look down upon modernization as a crass process is a deliberate one,‭ ‬to try to bring in social equations,‭ ‬the epitome of which in a way is Manusmriti.‭

Here even the facts of statistics are being put upside down to prove a political point which is retrograde but covered in the cloak of ancient glory.‭ ‬The borderline between India and Bharat is not an iron wall,‭ ‬it is a fluctuating zone,‭ ‬merging and separating in a very fluid way.‭ ‬The need of the hour is to look deeper into the issue of violence against women.‭ ‬While all needs to be done to create a safe atmosphere,‭ ‬women’s safety and space for their work and creativity,‭ ‬we need to give a look at the social movements to overcome the chains of patriarchy,‭ ‬which is at the root of violence against women.‭

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