Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Wanted : A World Fit For Women

The conviction this week of Ajeet Singh Katiyar in Delhi in the notorious Dhaula Kuan gang rape case of a university student from Mizoram is good news. More important than the conviction is the 71 page judgement of the court which admonished the defence for maligning the victim and maintained that the private life of the victim is irrelevant. ‘A lady who has lost her virginity is not unreliable’ said the judge, whose verdict was primarily based on the victim’s consistent testimony.

We seem to have come a long way from the 1979 case of 16 year old Mathura, who was raped by two policemen within a police compound when the court acquitted the policemen on the grounds that Mathura had eloped with her boyfriend and ‘was habituated to sexual intercourse’. This case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, which sadly upheld the verdict. It became a landmark case, which went on to energise the women’s movement in India.

There were echoes in this week’s judgement of another historic case--that of Hanuffa Khatoon, who was gang raped in 1998 at the Howrah Station by railway employees. In that case, the Supreme Court in an unprecedented judgement held rape to be a violation of the fundamental right to live with human dignity. The court said: ‘Rape is a crime not only against the person of a woman, it is crime against the entire society…Rape is therefore the most hated crime’.

It is to literature that one turns to understand the human moral condition. The Mahabharata offers an amazing moment of insight about women’s status. After Yudhishthira loses everything in the game of dice to Shakuni, Queen Draupadi is dragged by Duhshasana into the assembly of nobles to humiliate her. She cries out, ‘this foul man, disgrace of the Kauravas, is molesting me, and I cannot bear it’. She reveals a right wing conspiracy to steal her husband’s kingdom in a rigged game of dice and looks to the elders in the assembly at Hastinapur for justice. But they fail her. Most disappointing is selfless Bhishma, who says ‘a woman and a slave are the property of others’. In the end, as every Indian child knows, only her never ending sari protects her from being disrobed. By the way, a company offered a ‘Draupadi Collection’ of saris after the successful TV series, which presumably did not stretch infinitely.

The attempted public disrobing of Draupadi is consistent with the moral paradigm of patriarchy. Karna’s revolting remarks show that patriarchical culture divides women into angels and whores. Draupadi has become a ‘whore’ in Kaurava eyes after their ‘defeat’ of the Pandavas. Their big-chested masculinity does not allow them to think that this unhappy person could have been ‘me’. Their wish to humiliate her is also related to the disgust that many men feel towards the sexual act. All cultures contain the seeds of violence when it comes to female sexuality. Tolstoy’s famous novella, The Kreutzer Sonata grew out of the Russian writer’s own relationship with his wife, and it describes the events that lead to her murder. The husband has violent and humiliating sex with her, and he feels miserable each time he rapes her. Since she is merely an object of bestial desire, he decides that he must kill her to put an end to his misery. Only after her death does she become ‘human’ in his eyes.

It is tempting to believe in the cynical French saying that the more something changes the more it remains the same. In two areas, however, there has been dramatic advance in human equality. One is the almost complete elimination of slavery in the world and the other is the recent rise in the status of women, even in urban India. Indian law has done its bit in addressing the issues of property, dowry, and domestic violence (and some claim that it may even have gone too far). But the real change has come with the dramatic rise in women’s education and job opportunities in a rapidly growing economy. Two-thirds of India’s women still live in villages, of course, and they have a long way to go but India is rapidly urbanizing and they too will soon feel the change.


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Anonymous said...

But isn't the recent Rathore case a harsh reality.He literally tortured the victim and her family to no end. Didn't he deserve more than just 6 mnths of imprisonment and Rs. 1000 fine? The cases that you have spoken about have culprits who are not affluential. But the wealthy and the powerful in India can get away with any kind of crime. Look at the Jessica Lal case. Had the public not raised a voice against the injustice done to her, Manu Sharma would have never been convicted.

But I agree some development is better than no development.

Amit Akkad said...

It is astounding to note that the human race (not just in India) has been so demeaning to women. Why blame Dushasan? Shame on Yudhishthir and all Pandavas to even treat Draupadi like a possession (and hence, give her away!), and even Bhishma, and all others who watched helplessly - as if their own promise was superior to a woman's dignity. Wrong lesson, my friends. I am a male and a proud Vedantist - but, am truly ashamed of the above. Last year, I was at Jaipur Palace, Agra Fort, etc. Lovely places. But, each was proudly described in terms of the King's (several) wives and concubines. We as a society do not even realize how much we have degraded women. Of course, this is not limited to India - it is universal. This disgrace exists where there are men (most times).
God must be a woman, so as to have the power to tolerate all this, and forgive men for thousands of years.
I shudder to think that we (men)have mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, nieces....and we never utter a word. We talk about progress for women. But, it is so hollow. We haven't the faintest idea how backward we are as a society.
May God Bless the Men, and give them Wisdom....

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