Afifa Jabeen Quraishi
Published — Thursday 31 January 2013
Last update 31 January 2013 4:00 am
I am fed up. I really am. When it comes to women’s rights and their welfare, each one of us takes a holier than thou approach.
Be it our politicians in India, the religious figures there or the man or woman on the street. Each one of us has something “worthwhile” to say “in favor” of women: From politicians giving fashion tips on how women should dress to stay safe to spiritual “leaders” exhorting women facing sexual assault to plead with men as brothers.
Then there’s the other side of the ring. These are today’s women, young, educated and liberal. They abhor being told what to wear and when to step out of the house, because they feel these factors have nothing to do with their safety and security.
“What if I have to go to buy a cigarette at four in the night, how can I ensure I am safe? I do have a right not to be raped,” asked a twenty-something college girl to the chief minister of New Delhi Sheila Dixit in a TV discussion on a popular Indian channel.
Individuals on both sides of the ring are in denial.
The gang rape of the 23-year-old Indian student last month brought the country to a boil, with more citizens urging for a severe penalty for the rapists than those calling for self-morality checks.
As India struggles to come to terms with an increased consciousness of the rampant crimes against women, as more and more cases are reported in the aftermath of the New Delhi gang rape, we, the common people, have blamed everyone and everything: The state, the system, the woman, the man, the migrants, movies and the media.
Alas, we have yet to look within ourselves. If we tell our girls to dress appropriately and to come straight home from college, why don’t we give similar instructions to our boys? Is it too much of an impossibility to think of our boys going to a mall after college and eve-teasing girls?
We in India have a deep-rooted culture of misogyny. No one questions why a boy is educated in a top class school while his sister studies in some random neighborhood school. We don’t question why a boy is given a full glass of milk in the morning while his sister drinks half a glass, because well, he will be the “man” of the house. The idea of a boy having female friends is taken with great delight in the family, sometimes even encouraged, while a girl befriending a male may be suicidal for her. It is OK for the man to express outrage and break the furniture into pieces when angry but a woman should sob and sulk behind the curtain and not display her anger, because well, she is a woman.
The New York Times reports, “Beyond violence, Indian girls may suffer from subtle neglect that can have profound consequences. Research has found, for instance, that Indian mothers tend to breast-feed boys longer than they do girls. And once their sons start eating solid food, they may get more of it than their daughters. Families may also invest more in the protection of boys’ health, buying them mosquito netting to ward off malaria and dengue.”
This misogyny starts from the womb. Now don’t even get me started on how the birth of a female child is met with glum-faced relatives in a country where women in the Hindu religion are also worshipped.
It has somehow been imbibed in our minds and hearts that women are the inferior creations of God. Some bigots also bring in religion to support their views, suggesting that women are inferior to men. Anyone who is even remotely acquainted with Islam knows that such a claim is contrary to the spirit of Islam and that the problem is with his or her mindset.
The subcontinent’s favorite Islamic scholar, Dr. Zakir Naik, wrote, “Men and women are equal in Islam — but in some aspects, the men have a degree of advantage — in some aspects, the women have the degree of advantage — but overall both are equal.”
However, Naik’s position falls on the deaf ears of misogynists.
The Indian Constitution too provides for equality between men and women (Article 15). Then where is this old backward mentality of looking down upon women and treating them as objects of men’s lust coming from? A guilty society, that we are, must be introspective.