Ever got the feeling you might be raped? Or that a passer-by is going to grope you and you instinctively crouch. It’s more than just paranoia. It is the lust in a man’s eyes when he looks at a woman. It is inescapable. It’s on every woman and child.
It is stark, bold and blatant. Subtlety has never been accredited by the Indian. So, when an Indian man looks at a woman. It is almost always with obvious lust and having lived the longer period of my adult life in north India I know lust. It makes me wonder, has it always been so or is it a recent phenomenon? I hope it’s the latter. The former is a depressing worldview. If it’s always been there, it will not go, certainly not with stricter penal codes, media (in)sensitivity or public outrage.
What then is a woman to do? I for one would feel most comfortable wearing a burkha. Enough of the debate, enough of freedom and enough of men talking about women’s rights. I want to feel secure. Even with the burkha I know I am not protected against rape, hell even herpes might not protect me against rape. But in that shapeless black coverage, I will perhaps avoid that lust for a while. Even if it is a false sense of security, it’s security nonetheless. Being a woman, I cannot hope for more. It is in this world that I do not want a girl child and no mother should. That the only safety for women lies in their nonexistence.
What is the solution then? Go the China way? State control over all things public? Another suggestion, frequently echoed, is to emulate Saudi Arabia. Stone pelting, a public hanging, open lynching. I understand why these appeal to a youth thirsty for order in the chaos. But one thing we forget and confidently is that more so than any other country, Saudi Arabia is to women what KFC is to chicken. I could be mistaken in my perception. Saudi Arabia is perhaps more progressive because women are required by law to be accompanied by a male escort always in public places. Sexual offenders are dealt with in a grotesque manner, making for an effective deterrent. So, what if women are treated like chattel and not vermin. Not to say that Indian women are not subject to abject violations in their homes. We have it both ways. So why not emulate Saudi Arabia and at least make the streets safe?
Because, based on no sociological evidence or empirical evidence, I can say with confidence that an average Saudi woman is more unsafe inside her home than the average Indian woman, both inside and outside. This is because India is a free country and the state offers, at least on paper, equal treatment to women.
The other extremist view promotes the application of the Scandinavian model. How does it work? By granting women unfettered autonomy over their being. Autonomy even to trade their bodies like a commodity. This notion cannot find root in India. We will allow them a right to vote, to free speech, to work, even to equality. But never over their bodies. We will allow a man rights over his wife’s body to the point that it is not even recognised as rape, but how unreasonable of a woman to want to take control of her body.
That men do not look at women with lust is not a utopian ideal. It doesn’t surprise me that in the choice between freedom and security more and more women are opting for security with abridged or no freedom. Very few women prize freedom more.
The answer is outside the realm of law. It is comforting and relatively simple to change a law. What is difficult is bringing a change in the mindset of people. A mindset that has been fermenting for more than a thousand years now. Compared to slavery and colonial regimes, which took about 100 or 200 years to develop and then be eradicated. The subjugation is here to stay for a very long time.
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