Tuesday, April 30, 2013

where blame lies

There's a new app called 'Trial by timeline'. Amnesty International (New Zealand) offers to make a quick calculation of what crimes you might be guilty of in how many nations, based on what you've been sharing on Facebook.

I was found guilty of 'socializing with an unrelated male', consuming alcohol (based on party photos where, in fact, I was not drinking). 'Suspicious activity' included two poetry events (which I did not attend though I had RSVPed 'yes') and demanding the right to express myself. I was also guilty of listing my gender as female. Finally, I was found guilty of being on Facebook. In at least 40 nations, I could be beaten, lashed, tortured.

As the virtual baton smashed down, splattering yellow on the dark screen, I flinched. So, today, you could say I'm feeling grateful. I have some freedom. At least, it is not a crime to be out with an unrelated male in India.

And yet, there are fathers killing daughters for doing just that in India. Husbands. Brothers. Boyfriends stabbing women who don't want to marry them. Strangers or mere acquaintances throwing acid on women who don't want to get sexually involved with them.

I've been thinking a lot about what legal freedom means if it is not backed by cultural freedom. What does it mean to say 'I am free to choose my profession', for instance? Some careers require that I be out late at night, like journalism. In Delhi, the state's knee-jerk reaction to attacks on women was to ask employers to drop off women who work after sundown. I know that this kind of rule automatically makes me a liability for the company. If it is a small firm, it will try to avoid hiring women. Then what does my freedom mean?

But right now, we're outraged at toddlers being raped. Not just in schools or buses, but in our own neighbourhoods. In homes. Still, we refuse to recognize that this is a culmination of a process we have allowed for centuries – denying grown women their natural sexual and economic rights. We refuse to see how violence is tied to freedom. Governments, religious leaders, corporations – they only inflict violence because it benefits them.

Mutilated and maimed bodies are not helpful to society. What does help is fear. A state can terrorize women by telling us that we deserve to be flogged if we talk to male friends. A state can also terrorize us by telling us that it is helpless to prevent attacks, which we ourselves have invited in the first place.

For too long, we've tolerated violence against women under the guise of 'culture' or religion. We tolerate schools that refuse to talk about sex but persist in segregating spaces in the hope of quelling all sexual curiosity. And we tolerate politicians who publicly blame women for sexual assault.

Not just tolerate, we elect them to power. Politicians say what they do because they believe they are expressing 'common' or at least majority sentiment. In a democracy, it is hard to argue with this belief. If we have elected such men (and women), then the majority of India must find it convenient to blame women – their sexuality, the very fact of their existence – for horrific crimes.

And now that toddlers are being targeted for sexual crimes, we no longer know who to blame. But out of habit, parrot-like, we go on blaming women's bodies, their female-ness. Because if we didn't, then we'd have to acknowledge that blame lies elsewhere. Perhaps, with doomed millenia-old battle to own women? Perhaps, with our tolerance of any act that damages women's freedom?

First published here

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Packers and Movers

nice blog, good article

Tweets by @anniezaidi