Even though I left Asia 31 years ago to live in Britain I still feel a sudden gush of anger whenever I read or hear about how the Indian patriarchy culture has, yet again, enabled and perpetrated a gross act of violence against a women. I mention the length of time that I have been away from Asia to illustrate the point that time seems to have stood still in terms of gender equality for Asian women. If anything, the audacity and level of violence seems to have risen. Time seems to have enobled the Indian patriarchy system instead.
The trigger for this blog post is the gang rape of a poor woman on a bus in Delhi in the last week. Gang rapes seem to have become commonly committed incidents in India and when I delved further into it I discovered that gang rapes were taking place in institutions and open spaces where the public, whether man or woman, can reasonably expect their safety to be of paramount importance. What is happening here?
When I was growing up I witnessed the seeds of violence against Indian women rapidly being sown. I can pinpoint two reasons for this – women’s rights were seen as non-existent and women’s issues were seen as belonging to the private domestic sphere. In other words, Indian social culture placed a woman firmly in the home where she was to be subject to the domination of others. Young Indian girls left school at the age of 17 or 18 and were immediately married off before they could ‘sully’ themselves by having boyfriends. Once married she was deemed to be too ‘westernised’ if she did not cook, clean and submit herself to the authority of her in-laws. Any husband who dared to take his wife’s side in disputes was told to ‘behave like a man’. Being ‘Westernised’ meant that you were letting your family, in-laws, society, community and culture down by not being adhering to the patriarchy of the Indian culture.
After marriage the issues moved on to childbearing. Any mother who produced a girl was second best and her daughter soon followed suit in being second best too. A second best mother and daughter duo were scarred for life. If the daughter was darker skinned than an average Indian she would soon be pushed into third best position.
The Indian movies portrayed scenes of rape in abundance in the absence of being able to show romance through kissing or bedroom scenes. Sex was still part of the cinematic culture but it had to be accompanied by violence to be acceptable viewing. This may be a simplistic explanation but Indian movies did play a role in the causal link between the treatment of women and rape.
Indian patriarchy afflicts both men and women and this is where the danger lies by placing the issues of women firmly in the domestic arena rather than as an important subset of social policy. Boys are being brought up by women who tell them that their masculinity is defined by acquiring a wife who will obey them. Girls are being brought up with unreasonable burdens of expectation laced with the threat of shame and marginalisation should they bring shame to the family. ‘Shame’ is an umbrella term that covers every aspects of an Indian’s woman’s life.
The treatment of Indian women is a race to the bottom rather than an upward curve. While the class system exists, while the rich are protected the poor suffer which leads to prejudice being acceptable, while a woman’s worth is judged according to who she marries and while her daughters are treated with embarrassment nothing will change.