Sunday, 23 December 2012

The problem is us

If you haven't been discomfited by a government form that demands a father's or husband's name, you're part of the problem.

If you think that a woman must change her name, first or second or both, when she marries, you're part of the problem.

If you are not ashamed of laws that treat women as if they were possessions of a man, or less than men in any way, you're part of the problem.

If you work for, or patronise, a company that insists a woman has no identity of her own, that she ceases to become part of her birth family once she is married, you're part of the problem.

If you think that ladies compartments in trains and ladies seats in busses are a solution, you're part of the problem.

If you think security cameras and banning sun-film on vehicles are a solution, you're part of the problem.

If your son can stay out late but not your daughter, if your daughter must be 'dropped home' but not your son, I know I'm being hard on you, and I would do the same in our cities, but you're part of the problem, as I am.

If you are not distressed by playgrounds where little boys run wild but where you don't see any little girls, by boys coming out to play cricket on the street during a bandh, but not girls, maybe you're not observant enough, or maybe you're part of the problem.

If you run an ad campaign that has hunky male film stars asking the world to 'be a man' and join him in protecting women, you're part of the problem.

If you think that getting men to think of all women as their mothers and sisters and daughters is a solution, perhaps you're not a problem, but I'm sorry, I think you're very wrong. It should be enough to think of them as fellow human beings, with rights of their own as valid and as important as yours.

If you think offering bangles to a man, or saying he should be wearing a sari, is an insult, you could be making a very subtle point about gender imbalance, in which case I'm sorry I didn't get it. Or you could be part of the problem.

If you call sexual harassment 'eve-teasing,' you're making a crime sound like boys-will-be-boys mischief, and that, I'm afraid, makes you part of the problem. If you think that 'outraging the modesty of a woman' does not smell strongly of woman-as-possession, then perhaps we have different sensibilities, but I'm inclined to think you're part of the problem.

If you think that chow mein or other foods result in uncontrollable libido, you're a lunatic and definitely part of the problem. If you think anything can result in uncontrollable libido, you're a very serious part of the problem and should be restrained for your own good and the good of all around you.

If you think the solution is giving young men child brides so that they can satisfy their lust, you're part of the problem.

If you think rape shames a woman, that her izzat has been stolen, that she is henceforth a "zinda laash," you're part of the problem.*

If your stock visual for rape stories is a woman with her face hidden, you're unimaginative, wrong, and yes, part of the problem.

If you think people having sexual intercourse, or even marrying, outside the religious, communal, economic or gender boundaries that you are comfortable with (and no, I don't include children and animals here) is against  your culture, you and your culture are part of the problem.

If you think that she shouldn't have been wearing those revealing clothes, because dressing that way is provocative; if you think that she shouldn't have been out that late, alone; if you think she was being 'adventurous' because she was returning from work at 2 a.m.; if you think rape happens because 'men and women interact with each other more freely'; if you think she invited trouble because she had a drink—or two, or three, or six—or because she smokes; if you think her being the only woman in a group of men was foolish; if you think her having had sexual intercourse with someone—or several someones—she's not married to makes it understandable that other men would think they can have sex with her against her will; if you think that her having sexual intercourse for money makes it okay to have sexual intercourse with her against her will; if you think her working at a bar is a reason why she will be targetted; if you think that her husband has a right to have sexual intercourse with her whether she wants to or not, you're part of the problem.

Yes, if you think there's any possible justification for rape, if you imply in any way that a woman is asking for it or provoking it, you're part of the problem.

And if your reaction to young people protesting a culture that makes rape commonplace is not standing up and saying, "We hear you, we're sorry that you're upset enough to come together like this, we're upset too, we're doing our best to stop this and our resolve is strengthened because we know we can count on your help," but instead you fire water cannons and tear gas shells at them, and then decide to lock down the area, you're not only part of the problem, we will lose faith in your ability to ever find a solution, because you are central to the problem.**

* Sentence rephrased after a suggestion from Harini Calamur

** Some very smart people I respect said, on Twitter, that this last paragraph took away from this post, referring, I guess, to the violence and vandalism that took place today. I must clarify that I was referring to what I had learned from reading about the situation yesterday, and leaning a lot on Nilanjana Roy's from-the-spot tweets and subsequent blogpost, and a chat with her on the phone last night. Which is that the mostly young people at Raisina Hill yesterday afternoon were not just protesting peacefully, but also actively stopping fellow protesters when they crossed the line. For example, telling each other not to throw back tear-gas shells, because that would give the police an excuse. Later yesterday, I know, and definitely today, various opportunistic ruffians and/or political parties descended on the protests, and things changed. I do not, by any means, seek to condone the violence that has now happened, and never will agree with violence as a means.


Paagla Dashu said...

Abolutely right. Agree with you wholeheartedly.

paromita said...

Wholeheartedly agree

Divya said...

Thank you for posting this. It is such a relief to hear a sane voice. There are so few around!

Unknown said...

Completely Agree...we're the problem....Gotta change the mindset.

Chatty Wren said...

Very well said, the daily dilemmas we face as being women and also transfer the same to our daughters. I am reblogging this on my blog.

sucheta said...

If you think a woman can be 'molested' by being groped, then you are part of the problem. If you do not give her the agency to respond appropriately, you're a problem too.

Sharanya said...

Why is being okay with a separate woman's compartment part of the problem? It's a way of dealing with lack of safety that comes with the behaviour of men in general compartments, isn't it? If their attitudes are fixed, if they stop groping and molesting us then we will happily board the general compartment. For now, we have to work with what we have because our safety is at stake.

Bhavana said...

Yes. Shared. Kudos for this line specially: "f your stock visual for rape stories is a woman with her face hidden, you're unimaginative, wrong, and yes, part of the problem."

Anonymous said...

if you think women are not safe because they are weak as opposed to men, you are again a major part of the problem.. as women don't need your sympathy, they want their rights as a human.. not as a weaker part of the society..

Anonymous said...

If I say I abuse women the same way as I abuse men cause I treat them as equal.And you have a problem. You are the part of the problem Hypocrite.

speck said...

Brilliantly put. Am sharing.

Abhishek Joshi said...

Bang on.

Abhishek Joshi said...

Well, some comments on the post are quite obviously not from the brightest of the lot. The post was Bang On though.

Vagabond said...

I agree with each and every point listed above. I think you should also add using expletives that are used to insult men by actually abusing women (MC, BC etc.) which reinforces the whole idea that women are property and if one can insult menfolk by abusing "their" women like it was tragically done on a mass scale during the partition.

Anonymous said...

If you think that pepper sprays, taser guns or karate are a solution, you're part of the problem too!

kokila said...

I think if you choose to be given away from one man to another,(father to husband) either in a christian church, or round a holy fire, you do not have self-esteem and always want to be the object thing...u r part of the problem...u r towing tradition which is not relevant today...and affirming to a system wherein u are the object to be given away...u r part of the problem!!!

Unknown said...

I have been trying to make understand people same thing :( no one understands :( the problem is within

How do we know said...

brilliant post as usual... :)

Anonymous said...

If your wife/daughter is expecting, and you're wishing hard that the child with be a boy.. you are to blame.

kanupriya tiwari said...

Bang right on!

Sanjukta said...

There was no better way to articulate the problem. Sharp, short precise. Thank you.

Sanjukta said...

And if your wife is expecting and you send her off to her parent's expecting her to be back with 'your' baby, problem. Pregnancy is for both to go through, not her problem alone.

HyperActiveX said...

The title says "The problem is us". The content is mostly of the form "If you [think/ feel/ say/ do/ are] X then you are part of the problem". So is this about "us" or "them"?

Not the best way to make what would be very valid observations, IMO. Venting is OK, a little bit of drama or rhetoric is fine (helps drive home the point), but I honestly believe this is a time for focusing on attitudinal change rather than condemning people.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Agree... with every word you have written!! We are all part of the problem

S Nandi said...

If you think that your wife is supposed to cook and look after the kids, you are the problem. If you think girl child should play with barbie dolls instead of hot wheels you are the problem ...

brilliantly written

Anonymous said...

Can you translate this into Hindi??? It is a brilliantly written piece! You should definitely spread the word to other people too - not just those that have internet access.

Shrabonti said...

I know some people have said your last point is out of place in this post or inaccurate in its summing up of the situation. I don't think so. Most of us are outraged by an administration that thinks ignoring anger is the best solution -- like they are the parents of children throwing an unreasonable tantrum and they have every right to ignore them and try and shut them up. That's not how a democracy behaves and this needed to be said.

As for those who say there was violence and vandalism, firstly, as you've pointed out, it's likely the perpetrators were outside agents. But even if they were from among the original protesters, or others who joined them, what does anyone expect when the only response from those in power was silence and teargas for days? It had to descend into chaos at some point, when no peaceful solution was offered.

"Authoritarian societies are like formation skating. Intricate, mechanically precise and above all, precarious. Beneath civilisation's fragile crust, cold chaos churns... and there are places where the ice is treacherously thin." V for Vendetta.

Saro said...

Awesome post. So much has been captured in so much of what has been written but I have a few things that I disagree with.

1. I don't think holding my father's name or my mother's name means says anything about my stand on the image of a woman. I know this to be true about me, and I don't think that that makes me (personally) a problem.

2. The change of a woman's name when she marries, must be a choice that she has. Whether she wants to or doesn't want to, is no body else's business...her familys' or her husbands or mine.. anybody who wants to take that choice away, by calling it a problem.. becomes a problem of another kind... no?

3. I travel by the bus and I take pride that we live in a country that puts seats reserved for a woman. It's not the solution, but it's part of the solution. It's like saying seats for the disabled are not ok, everyone should give their seats to the disabled... and until that happens, let's just leave the disabled to sit where they want to? That doesn't make sense..

4. An ad campaign with a hunky film star... asking to protect women.. what's wrong with that? In addition to that campaign, I think we should run a campaign with women of all ages, with the message "Stay Safe" or "Emergency Numbers". Heck I'm happy we're even running a campaign.

And if that is a problem (i'm aware there are certain people who'd have a problem with women making sure they are safe as well),then what we're saying is, we don't want men to protect us, we don't want to be told to protect ourselves, but the world has to change? Don't we have to be part of the change, both male and female?

And lastly, about gender equality. Being equal for me, isn't about me being treated/considered the same as a guy.

For me, it's about being able to choose what I want to be.. gender aside. I don't want to be told to go out and play cricket during a bandh, because my mother believes I should do what the boys do. All I want is to not be told that I can't go out and play cricket during a bandh because I'm a girl.


Sudeep said...

You are so close to actually pinning down the genesis of all that ails...will encourage you to take little bit more research and figure out where and when in history this went wrong...but even if you dont,,,thanks

Unknown said...

So true! whr is r democracy? whn r basic rights r being questioned?

Unknown said...

Sriram, you are right in many ways, but I think you have gone and fired from the hip at one and all. Giving "protection" or "respect" to women is not part of the problem, we have daughters and sisters, etc and that is an emblem of the sanity in this mad world, which we may want to be proud of, if anything you like to be proud of being an Indian. I am sorry to say it but I don't see it much in America and Europe and that is their problem. There are many areas where women are better than men (and I really mean many), but please don't let us stop giving up a seat or holding open the door; and on the contrary, and I write to some women who don't have the courtesy to say thank you, please do say thank you or smile. I know it may mean that there are men out there who may take it as being forward, but not all men are monsters and nor are they ones without human feelings. After all we are also the brothers, fathers, live-ins, boyfriends, husbands, uncles, grand fathers, etc.

Moving further, and I know this is controversial at a point like this, we need to do away with the anti dowry laws, as a first step to avoid gender abuse and bias against men. Now, having said that though any case against abuse against women needs to be expediously resolved quickly and effectively, let us not fall for the anti-dowry law syndrome, which is a vastly over kill. So, let us pause, and though passions are running high, and there is a need to act, let us not go overboard, but we live in times where are few women (very few and rare, but very much there) which can very effectively use the law to their advantage and harass men limitlessly and the problem (the real problem with the system), the enforcement agencies would love to take up these case and extract and extract and extract.

Please note, I am a seriously anti-dowry believer, I abhor dowry, I would publicly speak out against dowry, but really have seen a few cases, which has been misused. Naturally please extend this thought to note that I personally am outraged by the current cases before us with regards to abuse to women, I too am all charged up to do something about it, but I would still like to maintain a balance, where ONLY the real cases are relentlessly hammered right up to hanging, if required, but there should be no misuse against men, they are great people and most are generally VERY good people.

Vipula said...

I agree in all the points - we have been addressing ( and not well at all) the symptoms and the not the root cause of the attitudes towards women in India
However the point about CCTV is where I disagree- I think CCTV camera in public place is a must - not because it is going to change attitudes towards woman, because it is a crime deterrent. I myself feel more confident when I am in a metro or tube or bus which has CCTV on it. At a signal I am less likely to jump if there is a cop watching or a camera in place - and yes this is too trivial comparison to rape or murder or mugging - but it's an example of how people behave when they are being watched.
It may not address the reason why crime exists but it may be a means to control it

sufiya said...

If you think making offensive, self-righteous and self-congratulatory comments attacking no particular individual but an entire 'culture' solve any problem, you are part of the problem. Which 'culture' may I ask, treats rape as 'commonplace'? Perhaps if you're part of a culture which makes it a norm to speak of other cultures in this way, you are part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

Well said. I agree when Saro points out one particular thing- everyone should have the choice- irrespective of the gender, caste, creed etc.
As for the violence, killing a police constable is a HUGE problem. Using violence is a HUGE problem. Thinking that walking anywhere- even in politically sensitive establishments- is your birthright and protesting the ensuing violence is a HUGE problem. Resorting to rhetoric about "system v/s the people" instead of staying grounded to your cause is a HUGE problem. The protesters have to learn that mere knee-jerk reactions are not enough and that any violence cannot be justified- by them specially. Having killed a cop, I have seen no remorse and that, to me, is a big problem because it shows a general apathy. That is the biggest problem- right up with the "traditional Indian values" that so many Indians hold dear to their hearts without ever questioning them. Everything comes from that mentality and they feel offended if you point it out to them. Using "maa-behen" gaalis is just as much part of this problem, as is the idea of rape making women "damaged goods". The finger always seems to be pointing outwards and I am glad that more and more people are asking people to look inwards. The fact that most rapes in India do happen within the family, the need to talk to your own family is more important.
The government's job is cut out and making irresponsible statement or nothing at all doesn't bode well. However, if they do finally bring out effective steps, they should be enforced effectively. People's obsession with "theek hai" or "painted-dented" comments just show that the finger pointing hasn't stopped and the problem has not been recognized. This is a MASSIVE problem. Will Indians look inside themselves and question the values they have grown up with? I see younger generations growing up with the same kind of patriarchal attitudes- can they change? Will time really tell or will it be a failed endeavor that never took off?
We can only for the best.

Unknown said...

Awesome Post!!!
who ever wrote did said it all but few hiccups are there we can always debate about these points either they are part of problem or not.

Restriction on girls shouldn't be there just because there are some ( numbers have elevated by large amount ) insane men who cannot control minds. Restriction put on boys is not part of solution and if you think so you'r part of problem.

One of solution to problem is to Balance the Girl-Boy ratio. Its not the reason behind 100 % but it does count for 10% . There are states with in equal Girl-Boy Ratio which leads amount of men who don't get married and they go insane and they cross the line.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant piece of writing. 10000% true, every word.

Tikuli said...

You have said all I wanted to. Sometimes word fail us and then a brilliantly written piece like yours comes along to help us find those lost words. I am sharing the link on my blog post. I hope it will do what it is meant to.

Sohan Dsouza said...


Forms only asking for the father's and brother's name is to say mothers and sisters are irrelevant to one's identity.

The change of name upon marriage is very often not a choice, and women are mostly pressured into it, or seen as plotting infidelity if they don't. The Chinese got this one right since ancient times, and its time we Indians followed suit.

We reserve seats for the disabled because they are DISABLED. An able-bodied woman is, by definition, not disabled, and hence should not be reserved seats. That we even have to reserve seats for women is not a source of pride, but a source of shame, as it recognizes that there are still too many louts in our male population to allow a woman a bus or train ride without molestation.

@Subhas Basu

Women are slightly disadvantaged in upper-body strength, which would only be a problem if we had to travel on monkey bars. They are perfectly capable of standing, and of opening doors short of the Black Gate of Mordor. My seat-surrendering and door-opening extends to people who actually need it, such as the disabled, the elderly, people of EITHER sex who are carrying infants, and PREGNANT women. Extending this courtesy to able-bodied women is a sign that you consider them infantile and/or broken.

As for "and I know this is controversial at a point like this", no shit. SIFFers/MRAs have mostly kept sensibly mum about 419a during these past few weeks, but it looks like a few of them still can't resist a good old hijacking from time to time, judging by the comment sections of news sites and blogs.