The Burden of Being a Woman in India

In December 2012, the horrific rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student brought into limelight the insecure lives Indian women lead. Six men in a bus brutally raped her. Her friend who had gone with her to see a movie, tried to stop them but he was beaten by an iron rod. A 17 year old who raped her, inserted a rod inside her and took out her intestines. After the rape, the culprits threw the couple out on the road, naked! No one helped them for two hours. The girl after battling for her life for two weeks, died in a Singapore hospital. She became another woman whose dreams, hopes and life was crushed by the hands of men.

In India, a girl is at risk from the day she is conceived. If she is not aborted, she is considered a liability from her birth. She has to be subservient to all to survive. Her aspirations are sacrificed on the altar of her brother’s rights and privileges. When she gets married, her parents pay a dowry to the groom to keep her. She does not get any rights in her husband’s home also. She can be raped by her husband and she has no legal recourse, as she is duty bound to have sex with her husband. She has to lose her identity to ensure her husband’s success. An Indian women cannot demand equal rights from her father, brother, husband or son. In India, the saying holds true – behind every successful man, there is a woman. But behind every failed woman, there are men.

An Indian man from his cradle is taught that being beastly to women is a sign of masculinity and superiority. The abusive relationships he witnesses between his father and mother, hardwires him for life to treat women as objects and slaves. A teenage boy learns to sexually harass women publicly. Boys start rudely commenting on young girls and women walking on the street. It is called “eve teasing”, supposedly a sign of growing up of a boy. The young girls learn that they can be insulted and humiliated publicly by any random male and no one is going to come to their help. There is no protection available, and she just has to tolerate it.

The apathy in the society is such that no one will come to help a woman even if she is publicly asking for it. The worst part is that other men and women will join them in tormenting the women being abused. You see, the woman asked for it and deserves it. That is how bad the psychology of Indian society is. If a woman manages to break the chains and stands on her own two feet, men and women both will aggressively attack her at a social and psychological level. The women, who are dependent on men to win brownie points from them, will support them and make the woman’s life more miserable.A woman who is being abused by men will be isolated by women and made to suffer more. Women do the dirty work of men, against women. That is the tragedy. India is the fourth unsafe country for women in the world.

A woman has to accept physical, emotional and psychological torture without any hope that it will end. She is at the mercy of men. If rich men are involved, then she does not even have legal resource, as they will bribe the law enforcement staff. On the other hand, the society will support the rich men to get favors from them.

The same situation continues in offices. The sexual harassment faced by women in India is the highest in the world. However, the sexual harassment act is in draft stages for over a decade. No woman has won a sexual harassment case against a powerful man in India. In most cases, when a woman has managed to lodge a legal complain she has been proved to be mentally unsound and/or politically motivated. The sad part is fathers of daughters protect other men than the sexually harassed women to remain part of the men’s club. Then they expect that the other men will not harass their daughters in offices. A twisted thinking that highlights what the daughters were subjected to at home. Moreover, men to show their superiority will mob an aggressive and independent woman in Indian offices. Seniors will either encourage it or turn a blind eye. Very few organizations ensure protection from sexual harassment by seniors.

Closing thoughts

Being beastly and brutal towards women signifies masculine power and superiority in Indian society. Female physical and economic weakness makes her a target for social exploitation. Without women gaining social and financial equality, the plight of women will not cease. They will continue to endure the atrocities meted out to them silently, scared to voice their anger and fight for their rights. In India, the bias is so strong that when a woman fights for her rights, she is called Phollan Devi, and when a man fights for his, he is walking the steps of Mahatma Gandhi. With these judgments, society wishes to silence women forever. Men wish to continue the tyranny of past centuries in the 21st century to safeguard the male order.  That is the real tragedy.

I dedicate this post to the gang-raped girl Jyoti. May the candle lit from her pyre light the life of women in India.

candle light

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16 comments on “The Burden of Being a Woman in India

  1. Dear Madam, I wanted to share my experience in the corporate world, wherein i was part of a committee formed to investigate a complaint filed by a lady of sexual harassment against her senior colleague in office. Mind you this was a large corporate and that too a listed one and boasts of excellent values ,ethics & CSR activities. However its unfortunate to say the least that this lady did not get any justice neither did the senior accused get any punishment. The company followed the process of forming a committee chaired by a senior lady executive as per the SC judgement / directive in a similar case. this too was done to ensure that appropriate “risk management” is done, so that the ‘Company’ does not face legal issues later. Nobody ( in the Top Management) bothered about this lady who was in tears all the time she narrated her tale of wows to the committee members.
    You are absolutely right in identifying the problems faced by women across all strata of society. But the root cause of this all has been the fact that the seed ( of women being looked at as an object) is planted in an environment / culture of our country which would take a long long time to change. However there has to be a beginning somewhere ; hence i feel the conscience of MEN / BOYS need to be shaken up via spirituality, yoga, meditation at say the least, at a very young age. The law, however stringent, cannot prevent anyone from committing a crime that’s for sure. In the meantime the girl child has to be provided MANDATORY self-defense courses in JUDO / KARATE in schools / colleges etc. Let the law be mended to provide for deterrent weapons like pepper spray, or any other device which provides enough power for the women to get away from a situation ( if at all GOD forbid) she enters into anyone.

    • Sameer,

      Thank you for highlighting the case. It is the story of most women who have faced sexual harassment at work. The men are smirking and enjoying the so called chase, while the women suffers. When caught, they are happy to give false sympathy and shed crocodile tears.

      Sonia

  2. Principally I agree with you 100%. Being a woman is, and has traditionally been, a curse in India. There’s no denying ours is a hypcritical society as we adore our women at home and abuse them outside. What is the use of worshipping the innate Lakshmi, Saraswati, Parvati, Radha, Kali and Durga if we abuse their earthly manifestation? I would however also like to add that women sometimes more often then not become the fait accompli for abuse of other women. The Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law syndrome is well established and doesn’t need further elaboration. Stereotypes exist everywhere you look. Semi clad and half naked divas entice you from film hoardings, scantily clad women in bikini and g-strings gyrate on your TV screens under fashion, entertainment, music and travel category while all the wonderful TV serials produced by Ekta Kapoor, a woman, re-inforces the scheming and conniving womenfolk in characters and relationship of various shape and forms. You Tube videos and social networking sites are haven for women to show off their naked pictures while equally men also indulge in the same. The good news is that atlast the soul of the nation has stirred and hopefully some good would come out of this shameful and ghastly affair. We do have women in power (Sonia Madam in Congress, Shiela Auntry in Delhi, Jayalalitha Amma in Chennai, Mamata Didi in Bengal, Mayawati in UP, etc) who should take the opportunity to change the system and not behave like men (Pratibha Patil running Rs 2.05bn in foreign travel). Further, society and behaviour will not change unless we change and influence atleast one other person to change for the better. Are you, me, WE up to the challenge? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, these incidents would continue but media limelight and social awakening amongst women should see a fight back and greater public empathy in their support. Today it is nameless women on the street who gets abused, tomorrow it can be my wife, mother, daughter. We will stumble and be shamed occasionally but hopefully we will see the light at the end of the tunnel where we worship our womenfolk at home and not only as some deity at the temple.

    • Thanks Mitresh, for sharing your views. Yes, as you have stated the TV channels objectify women and some women are happy with it. However, the majority do not want to part of the objectification process of men. With this incident, the women for the first time are fighting for their rights publicly. India is the 4th most unsafe country in the world. How can it become a super power with these kind of behaviors. To progress, women need to be respected and given equal rights in all fields. They should have legal recourse available and all men who abuse women should be punished legally and by the society.

      Sonia

      • “Applying Risk Management to Prevent Rape” should be the next topic for discussion. In Fraud parlance, we all know Fraud = Incentive + Opportunity. Similarly, rape incidences occur due to both incentive and opportunity. Incentive comes from an unsympathetic culture, an apology of a police force, a laughable justice system and an apathetic civil society that turns a blind eye to support women in distress. Incentive also comes from stereotypes highlighted in my previous response as well as the constant reinforcement of the “Zar, Zoru, Zameen” as cause for all conflicts. The profile of a rapist is typically a sex starved rural bumkin or a slick city geezer overfed on booze and pornography. In a bell shape normal curve, most antagonist would fit within the 20-40 age category. Opportunity comes from vulnerability. At home, in villages and cities, women are vulnerable as they remain alone and fall prey to strangers although most often than not the rapist is well known and even a family member. Opportunity also comes from dependency. In many households across India, women are dependant on men for their livelihood and suffer abuse as they are not financially independent or literate to work. Women need to consider the threat-vulnerability assessment before they venture alone late in the night, travel alone or visit areas notorious for its crime. The city folks out for a good time at pubs and bars need to be careful as drinks may get spiked and even so called friends may turn out to be beasts as ‘the coating of civilization is so thin it comes out with a little alcohol’. Actions need to be taken on multiple fronts. Charity begins at home. Women at home must start inculcating in their male offsprings the right behaviour as well as equal rights with female children. No more extra or choicest portion for bhaiyaa during meals. Education and literacy campaigns must focus on abolishing dowry and making the girl child stand on her own feet. Policing needs to be increased with more women police hired. Male policemen need to be gender sensitivized with ongoing training. All media (print, visual, social) need to be vigilant, enhance reporting and follow through to punishment. Family members of all rapists, especially women, should be brought before them for public shaming. Whenever venturing outside the house, women should carry pepper spray or equivalent to deter would be molesters. Doors of the home should only be opened to strangers after proper identification. These and many similar steps may not be able to prevent all rapes however it may atleast prevent and save some women who otherwise risk joining the shameful rape statistics that we collectively bear as a nation.

  3. I have been referred to your post by colleague Peter Cook via FB. Think this is a very thought provoking blog and one that needs to be addressed immediately. Not just awareness, but action required. There are positives from this situation(s) and we should collectively support any actions that would deter such abhorrent unethical practices.

    From a HR and workforce perspective, I think the following personal blog; that I would like to share with you, might be supportive of supporting women in the workplace: http://kaurskills.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/women-worth-and-work-in-india/. I would welcome any views you have, in support.

    Prabhjit – KaurSkills (www.kaurskills.com)

    • Prabhjit, your blog states it very well, working women in India don’t have much rights. Harassing and abusing women is entertainment for men. Till the mindset changes, where they feel ashamed of their actions, the situation is unlikely to change.

      Sonia

      • I thank you for your comments on KaurSkills personal blog. Much appreciated.

        I think mindset and cultural change will only begin when unethical practice is challenged and governance protects from abuse. Individuals have a huge part to play – internal reflection and personal consideration. Belief, and values play a big part in Indian society. It is for individuals to adopt, embrace and share for others to be reunited with faith – intolerant of abuse.

      • Very rightly said “intolerant of abuse”. However, when people see financial gain or personal gain by abusing, they forget the principles and participate in actively abusing the other. If an authority figure says it is okay to abuse, then people forget individual responsibility, shift ownership of their actions to the authority figure and blindly follow the most abhorrent instructions.

        Sonia

  4. Thank you Sonia for touching upon sensitive topic as this. We in India have reached a tipping point , if not acted in time I am sorry to say, we will be beyond point of no return. The shameful incident generated immense level of shock value which stirred up entire nation and no wonder PM and President of ruling party had to be at the airport in wee hours to pay homage to the deceased.

    Are we, as a society now ready for introspection and act fast ? Can we consolidate our thoughts, recollect the values which we boast about but don’t practice before it is late ?

    I would say, there is a ray of hope . Civil society poured on streets throughout the country without any political leader calling them. Truly that was spontaneous. Let the steam gather and make profound positive impact on society.

    I am one of the fellow Indians, who join you to pray and pay homage to the deceased. Not only that, as a professional in our stream it is moral duty as well to abide to the values and make our corporate environment equally safe to all.

    Before concluding – Two days back a molestation case was reported in Pune when a lady was called for interview. One of the panel members molested the candidate in secluded staircase where he wanted to give some “important tips” about interview. The company is one of the IT giant ! I hope the company in question takes swift steps to adhere to ethics, code of conduct and disciplinary policy, else the document is no less than worth of a tissue paper.

    • Hi Vik,

      You are right the incident has shocked the nation. But I think the PM and Sonia Gandhi went for political purposes, to attempt to look good after the debacle.I am sure after the incident a lot will try to pay lip service for their concern and some will continue unabated, It is not going to bother them as you narrated in the incident.

      Sonia

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