Wo-Man-Handling has been a determined prefix to foster progress because of the inherent misconceptions and beliefs, that have led to women’s concrete status as secondary citizens. This article establishes the dilemmatic circumstances during the pandemic and the sudden recognition in the surge of domestic violence cases.
By May, 2020, National Commission for Women received 587 complaints from March 23 to April 16, out of which 239 were related to domestic violence. 123 cases of domestic violence were received between February 27 and March 22. – National Commission for Women
Stay home, Stay safe
Currently, as I write this article, the world is facing a Coronavirus pandemic. Such a pandemic has never been seen, thought or fought before. The virus targets any human, irrespective of their gender, colour, caste, creed or nationality unlike many of our laws, legislations, customs or even beliefs which are biased and targeted towards a particular person or community.
As much of a fair play is involved in the virus choosing its prey, similar is the amount or even more, of the foul play involved when it comes to social justice, respect and safety in the context of a ‘Modern Woman’.
The Modern Woman
The idea of ‘Modern Woman’ is so ironic that all a person truly sees on a keen observation is that the world just got modern leaving the woman hanging behind in the backdrop, as good as a scenery pleasing to the human eye. The modern world still embodies Devi Parvati as the goddess of divine strength and power, but at the same time refuses to acknowledge the strengths of a woman who has entered a modern age, modern challenges and a modern state of mind.
In this ever-advancing ‘Global Village’, our ‘Modern Woman’ really doesn’t have a place we call ‘Home’. Home is not merely a place where a few people live in confined walls, but rather a haven where they come back to and seek peace after struggling through the prosaic day to day concerns.
Home is more of a feeling than a noun or a structure made of concrete, clay or bricks. What surely doesn’t feel Home, isn’t home but a worn-out shack house with people no better than living corpses. Our ‘Modern Woman’ is bereft of this feeling, she struggles through the day and is strangled at the night.
‘Stay home, stay safe’ is the motto amid this global medical emergency but ironically, this safety tip has caused a parallel pandemic, rendering homes not so safe and homely for many women. Though this parallel pandemic might be new in figures but the plight of women has been a sorry-figure since ages.
The medical pandemic will hopefully find its way out as soon as an effective vaccine is made, but the original task lies in curing the social pandemic that the women are and have been subjected to since ages and the challenges they have been facing to achieve basic social justice since a very long time.
The first wave of feminism that emerged during the nineteenth century wanted to achieve voting rights for women with the core idea of acknowledgement of their dignity, intelligence, basic human rights and recognition of the humungous potential of the female sex. Over the centuries though the secondary demands have changed but the primary focus still remains on the recognition of the abilities and potential of this cornered gender.
The woman of 2020, more specifically the Indian woman of 2020 faces the challenge of being manhandled, which quite literally and metaphorically refers to the maltreatment a woman is subject to by the patriarchal society. Manhandling is myriad, ranging from bossy attitudes thrown by their male colleagues at work to the constant nag and bicker they are fed at home, inequalities extend to every sphere, political, legal, social, religious, cultural, educational or economic.
Among all the inequalities or the challenges faced, gender-based violence and normalising of misogynist culture are the worst predators.
Under the veil of sexist jokes and comments, toxic masculinity accelerates, which further grows into the violent attitude against women. Owing to its traditional and religious systems, misogyny is just another justified tradition in India and probably one of the oldest, where women are treated as a property or rather a commodity. Such treatment of women is not just backed by some conservative cultural ideas or religious customs but surprisingly also enshrined in some of our laws. ‘The Fault in our Laws’ is altogether another issue faced in this largest democracy of the world.
What is then, The Fault in our Laws?
Laws are often seen as infallible, but sometimes even they need to stand in the witness box and face some genuinely pertinent questions. Adding the prefix ‘domestic’ to violence somehow undermines the seriousness of the issue. It sends a message of ‘private affair’ that needs to be hushed up rather than a social issue that needs immediate help.
Therefore, understanding violence becomes all the more important when we further associate with a prefix ‘domestic’.
World Health Organisation defines violence as:
“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation”.
In India, we have special laws to deal with the protection of women against domestic violence, one such legislation is The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which enlists what shall constitute of domestic violence.
Though this Act tries to cover a huge spectrum pertaining to the various facets of domestic violence, even then the issue remains highly unattended at the grass-root level, which makes it just another toothless piece of legislation. The lack of awareness, lack of courage and the lack of trust in the system causes major hindrances for women to even report their grievances let alone get justice!
It is very important to assert the fact that Domestic Violence is not just a legal issue that can be dealt with some legislation and penalties but a very deep-rooted evil which should be addressed in a manner such that the future generations do not normalise it in their behaviours. It is a problem which is not merely domestic but one of the societies.
Lock Down and Locked Down
The lockdown from March to May, locked down the predators and prey in one cage and there’s when the helpline numbers received a large number of calls reporting all sorts of violence against women. The Chairperson of NCW, Rekha Sharma rightly remarked that, “the high number can be attributed to the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak which has locked the abuser and the victim together.”
Jobs came to a sudden halt and people were made to sit back home, with almost everyone worried about the bleak future and dreadful present. Though every sector, every employee, every person suffered, the suffering of the Migrant caught the human eye.
I somehow saw the woman as a migrant during this entire time, reminded of Tufail Niazi’s famous composition “Saada Chirriyaan da Chamba ae…babul assaan udd Jaana… (We daughters are merely a flock of birds…Oh, Dear Father, we are fated to fly away”. The plight and sight of this migrant gets more vivid through this.
Woman, is the People tree, working tirelessly for herself and everyone associated with her, providing her sacred shade with love and asking for nothing in return. When such a gratuitous act is not acknowledged and this selfless giver is made a subject of mockery and abuse, we as a society fail.
We fail to deliver her the basic human rights of love, respect and safety. We fail to show her that humans are the finest creation of the Almighty, and we make her believe that phrases like ‘The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world’ are a mere bunch of words with zero practicality.
Contemporary issues branching from the main stem of gender inequality might vary from time to time; sometimes the issues will be political, sometimes social or economic, sometimes professional, but the root cause shall always be the inherent tendency of men to dominate and women to conform to domination leaving the idea of equality a far-fetched reality. We often come across various forms of misogynist expressions in our day-to-day life, but the idea of ‘men being men’ has been normalised as such that we fail to recognize such expressions.
Failure of a machine called Society?
Society is a machine that manufactures all sorts of people, their beliefs and their behaviours. At workplaces, at homes or in our society in general, above-mentioned comments, however casual, are often passed with an intention to intimidate the woman or threaten her. Such behaviour of domination and subjugation by the male and female genders respectively is an effect of social conditioning, to which we are exposed ever since the beginning of life and remain exposed till our graves, or even beyond.
Misogyny is structured within the body called Patriarchy. On closer observation, one finds out that no issue is new and no issue is independent. There is well-structured machinery where some are major parts, like patriarchy, male-chauvinism, performing the lead role at the top-notch level. Then come misogyny, false ideas of masculinity, religious practices that treat women as the second gender, performing secondary roles.
And then, sexist jokes, derogatory remarks or gender stereotyping, which seem too insignificant but play the most important role of lubricating this machinery and keep it going on the ground level. Such tiny acts are the secret flag-bearers of giant problems faced by women. It is the lack of prima facie seriousness of these acts that no one objects to them and the lubrication keeps the machine going.
From Bitter to Better
While the laws, women helpline numbers or different commissions set up nationally and internationally offer help to the women or try to set up punitive measures to avoid the happening of anything that might cause harm to the women are mostly women-centric, what is actually required are solutions which are problem-centric. Solutions that work on the machinery that destroys and not on the thing destroyed.
Domestic violence does not pop up all of a sudden from nowhere but rather develops through social conditioning. When a son would see his father thrashing or verbally abusing his mother, what would stop him from imitating the same with his partner? The idea to see the love in a ‘thappad’ needs to go.
Concepts like Women empowerment and movements like #MeToo or #AllLivesMatter would be mere jargon if they fail to empower, strengthen and save even those women who can not even read or write.
Malala Yousafzai rightly puts her vision of Women Empowerment when she says,
“I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
Awareness is the key to unlock the lockdown posed by this social pandemic to which women have been subjected to. Implementation of legislation drafted specifically for the purpose of women upliftment and delivery of justice, along with international, national or rural commissions and redressal cells we should create a victim-friendly environment to address various issues pertaining to violence against women and protect them further.
If society is indeed a machine, then social engineering is required; study of its different parts and then; like social scientists, come up with effective vaccines.
Showers of love, respect and safety is what our beloved ‘People’ tree needs amid this immensely suffocating environment it stands in. We, as a society should be willing and determined to go beyond the shackles of a system that thrives on ideas of patriarchy, misogyny or toxic masculinity and give the homemaker a home she deserves.
UILS, Panjab University