by Ashwini Mokashi (c)
Violence against women has continued despite the wake-up calls through the ‘me too’ movement a few years ago. Violence occurs not just from powerful men, but also from men on the street. Anger takes the form of violence, when it is out of control. Why are women being held responsible in these instances and how can they protect themselves and lead a life of dignity?
Anger is necessarily connected with a sense of power. Anyone who has a sense of power can victimize another weaker person. In many cases, women are weaker parties either due to their cultural placement or due to their choice of being the homemakers or caretakers. These jobs don’t necessarily translate into money-making and due to the lack of financial power; they suffer from direct or indirect violence at the hands of other powerful male members, once in a while also at the hands of female members, who are either powerful themselves or are acting in lieu of the powerful males.
Sociologically speaking, women from various regions, castes, tribes, minorities, poor communities already feel themselves at a disadvantage and are coerced to do whatever they need to do. Many women from upper class or upper caste may also be subject to random acts of violence. In short, most women can potentially be subject to violence. There is not a single section of women in the country that does not feel today that they are not under threat. The point is that the probability that a woman will face violence in her lifetime is high.
Statistically, India has an unequal ratio between male and female children, due to the culture of male-child preference among some parents. It is a comparatively small group of people, but the impact it has is staggering. As per the 2011 census, there were only 943 females to 1000 males in India. When they grow up, there will be roughly 57 young men at a given time without a spouse to marry and so the chances of 57 boys per 1000 people, who may not be able to find spouses and that would make them unsatisfied with life, possibly leading them astray. This already complicates the issue at hand.
A rational solution would be to give power to women. This entails both financial power as well as inner strength, including a recognition of their role as a caretaker of the family. Some of the measures we can undertake are building the confidence of our young people – both men and women, teach boys to be respectful and sensitive, educate and teach our children values of hard work and moral ways of life; teach young girls self-defense; extend family support to married daughters; provide equitable treatment to both girls and boys, make them responsible. This shift in our mindset could really deepen the support system and help alleviate problems in the future.
As the joint family system is breaking down, young people are moving out to different places for jobs and most cities are filled with strangers. The safety net of the families is thinning and there is not an inherent community that binds the young people together, teaches or reinforces values. Everyone in the family may hold different views about what is an appropriate expectation from their role in the family, whether they live with the family or away from them. This has caused a lot of turmoil in the minds of people from the Indian subcontinent. Even the Indian diaspora in foreign countries is not an exception to it.
To vouch for the safety of our younger generation assuming an overall responsibility to do what is good for the young people, the elders need to be good role models. We need to continue the discourse in which we talk about our idols, our unsung heroes, ordinary men and women, who live a good moral life without any expectation of praise or money. If we look around, there are still plenty of examples available. We need to raise them to a higher status, before that generation of people vanishes. Even now, western people look towards holy places in India to seek spiritual solace. With a responsible and moral attitude, we can try to create a safer society for our young women and counter these social ills by leading moral lives ourselves. This will go a long way to stabilize the situation, even if it doesn’t eradicate the problem.
[This article was originally written for the audience in India. It does have some global appeal as well.]