You become a woman in India, as in many parts of the world, not through adolescence. We reach it through multiple tests by fire. As a young girl you are taught to avoid certain roads that are unsafe, wear clothes that are “safe”, ignore catcalls and eve-teasers, and aided by quick reflex, avoid groping and other kinds of sexual assault. This is if you’re lucky. If you’re not you’ll be stalked, molested, raped and on a very bad day, even killed. This happens out on the streets and not surprisingly even within the comforts of our own homes. This is the reality. Don’t let a man tell you otherwise.
In the age of social media, women have also picked up other defence mechanisms. When unsolicited messages on Facebook become licentious, we block the people. When Twitter trolls tag us as “whores”, “presstitutes” etc. we report the account. Therefore, when the Union Minister for Women and Child Minister Maneka Gandhi clamped down on social media trolls, it was a minor victory for Indian women.
But from the same camp came a comment so tasteless and crude that senior BJP leaders were quick to denounce it. BJP’s Dayashankar Singh said that BSP Chief Mayawati is “worse than a prostitute”, taking political rhetoric to an all-time low. (For that matter, why keep using the word “prostitute” as an abuse? Prostitution is legal in India and at least most of them conduct honest transactions. They screw themselves in lieu of money as compared to many respectable business people that screw others. But oh well! That’s for another post.)
Senior minister Arun Jaitley expressed “personal regret” at Singh’s comment while others demanded that he tender an apology. But is an apology enough? What message are you sending to your party rank and file? That an apology is enough when you have insulted a female politician? That it is kosher for a man to disrespect a woman? For a country that reports a high number of cases of violence against women, having its leaders spew misogynistic statements sends the discourse on female empowerment back a few centuries.
Because let us not kid ourselves. Every comment, every statement, every joke shared in the company of buddies that disrespects women exposes the male mentality that is retrograde and plain disrespectful. And those who think that misogyny has no relation to the cases of violence against women or even rape are living in a fool’s paradise.
If India must stride towards being a developed nation that truly respects its women, it must tackle the rancorous perception that has been festering over years. Rapes are a criminal act, but online trolling, physical stalking, obscene gesticulations, verbal abuse, should be punishable.
Let Maneka Gandhi show the way. Let Prime Minister Narendra Modi show the way. Denounce, condemn, and expel Dayashankar Singh from the BJP. Make an example of him so that not only are politicians scared of belittling women but also so that the change in mindset percolates to the nation and society at large. If India is indeed changing, let’s start with changing her perception towards her women.
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