Women’s safety under the female leader

At the annual Women in the World Summit in New York in 2015, acclaimed journalist Barkha Dutt, speaking about Hillary Clinton’s bid for presidency, said that the debate about having a woman leader is not a conversation that we have in India anymore. “We had a woman leader decades ago”, she said (referring to former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi). She quoted Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and claiming that statistically the incidence of rape is much higher in the U.S. and UK.

While having a woman leader during the 1960s may be considered progressive for those times, the Indian parliament is yet to pass the Women’s Reservation bill, which reserves 33% of the seats for female Members of Parliament. The bill has been a matter of debate for 18 long years. Currently, women MPs occupy a mere 66 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, or the lower house. The national average for legislative assemblies of all the states is a dismal 9%. India currently has four states with women chief ministers, but does their leadership necessarily amount to safer conditions for women?

 

Anandiben Patel

Even though the reported incidents of rape almost doubled in Gujarat from 2013 to 2014, Gujarat is considered one of the safest states for women according to a survey conducted by Tata Strategic Management Group.

A rape victim from Botad district who got pregnant asked for permission for an abortion from the Gujarat High Court, which was denied to her. She even met Anandiben in person, but ended up with a baby boy whom the High Court had urged her to “bravely give birth to”, and her rapist, who is still a free citizen. This court also denied permission to a 14-year-old girl raped by her doctor, who had to move the Supreme Court to abort the baby.

Patel has spoken about wanting to make women’s empowerment a priority for her state. Yet when it comes to such incidents she, much like her predecessor Modi, prefers keeping an undignified silence over the matter.

 

Vasundhara Raje

Rajasthan has the second highest number of women MLAs (14%). This state also records the second highest number of rape incidents. While the state has a history of greater incidence of violence against women, their first woman CM seems to have done little for betterment of this situation. Rapes of minors and women in Rajasthan have been as consistent as Raje’s silence over these cases.

 

Mamata Banerjee

Mamata Banerjee has several infamous statements about rape to her credit, the most peculiar one being that rapes are caused because of girls and boys interacting freely with each other. When a 70-year-old nun was gang raped in March 2015, Mamata handed the case over to the CBI, asking for quick action. However, approach to this crime seems ageist as it was she who, in 2013, dismissed that Late Suzzette Jordan (sometimes referred to as the Park Street rape victim), as a story that was “cooked up to malign the government”.

Jayalalitha

Tamil Nadu was the first state to have a female-staffed police station, first all-female police commando unit, and now the first women’s special-forces police battalion. Jayalalitha has personally vouched for the state as being safe for women. Dowry deaths and sexual assault on women have seen a steady decline during her regime, especially since 2010.

Jayalalitha was the first Tamil actress to appear in a skirt on screen in her former years as an actress. Even so, the state has had an ongoing problem of moral policing. Several colleges in the state have been known to enforce outdated dress codes and moralistic rules especially on female students in Chennai’s engineering college.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women leaders are as conducive, or as detrimental to female citizens as their male counterparts. Mamata Banerjee is inconsistent in response to sexual assault in her state, and Vasundhara Raje seems to have done little for the state which already had abysmal conditions for women’s rights. Even though Anandiben Patel and Jayalalitha have made certain strides in empowering women, they seem to suffer from the fatal flaw that most of our leaders seem to have: moral policing.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to be a Good Indian Woman

It has come to my attention that many women have been demanding to be treated as humans. It’s not their fault, sometimes they aren’t educated about how they aren’t. Which is why I have prepared this guide, so that women know how to behave at every stage in life. 
 
1. When you are a child, you need not worry about this. Being a female child is in itself an accomplishment, since you were allowed to live. Concentrate on regular childhood things such as toys, food and hating school for a while.
 
2. As you grow older, you will begin to notice that society has begun molding you into the non-human that you are. Go with the flow. Remember that the position of Class Clown is reserved for boys. 
 
3. As you hit puberty, you must undergo the harshest training. You can communicate with boys, but the ratio of boys to girls you hang out with should never be 1:1. But if the number of boys exceeds the number of girls, run for your sake. And never be alone with unrelated males, because that means you are developing sexually. Do not argue about this; live in denial. Remember that this is your responsibility. Not the boys’. 
 
4. Pick a gender appropriate career, especially in the field of humanities. You may be forced to read about women’s liberation, but let that roll of your back. If you do pick something else, it is easier to avoid independent thought, but it is not lady-like.
 
5. At some point you may feel the need to date someone or be in a relationship. You must avoid these thoughts if you care about your future, and your reputation. Do not take the term ‘your reputation’ at face value. It is the collective reputation of your living, deceased and ancestral family. Only you can save it—by denying your natural urges. 
 
6. Remember to always smile and be bubbly and vivacious, but in a controlled manner. Being shy and ill-adjusted to your surroundings is helpful. Remember to not be too friendly towards males, because then you may be labelled as a slut. This counters the reputation we talked about in the previous point. 
 
7. If you do feel like giving in to dating, always pick from the men who are interested in you. It is wrong to decide who you like and then go for it. When agreeing to date, always date someone who pledges lifelong commitment. Whether that is followed through or not is irrelevant. Casually getting to know someone before you get into a relationship is not an option. Physical relations outside the bonds of holy matrimony without the purpose of baby-making aren’t permitted. 
 
8. In your early twenties, you will either have the option of an arranged marriage or to magically pop out a boyfriend whom you wish to marry. The second option is only available to girls who have not followed Rule No. 5. Even so, make sure the man is from your religion/caste/sub-caste, just to avoid unnecessary complications. 
 
9. You must undergo a painful ceremony called a ‘wedding’ where you will be hidden under make-up, heavy jewellery and flashy clothes. You must be nice to everyone here. Your husband’s family now owns you so you better suck up. Your late twenties are the alarm zone to get married. If you aren’t hitched by the time you hit thirty, you are required to waive off ownership of your breasts, vagina and other feminine parts. (Oh wait. They were not yours to claim anyway.)
 
10. After your marriage, you are required to live a life of servitude. You must try your best to produce a son, because he can marry a girl for you to torment. Sorry, I mean educate. 

A tribute to Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou passed away yesterday. There’s a lot to be said, but I decided to express myself by writing a poem inspired by her works.

I don’t want to be a woman, I just want to be me.
It was dark and I walked into it
Without shame or fear.
I did not think of you. I did not think of how short clothes will pull your eyes towards me
Nor of what my shape will do to your mind.
My hair was wild and free, it couldn’t fit into what it was expected to be.
The buttons on my shirt were open only because they didn’t know they ought not to be.

And I walked into the night because it felt right to me.
It wasn’t meant to hurt you- I don’t know how it could.
I was trying to see your reason, but reason didn’t let me.

I refused the guilt you thrust on me and I felt lighter still
Because I can’t always be a ‘woman’, sometimes I’m just me.

The victim checklist

The nation, and more specifically, Mumbai was ‘shamed’ once again when a 22-year-old photojournalist was gang raped recently. I do not, in any way, belittle what she went through. I am just trying to severely judge all of us.

Since the Delhi rape case happened, there have been several stories about women being gangraped. After the recent rape of a Dalit girl, every headline for every news article sincerely mentioned that it was a dalit girl right in the headline and the affair died down quietly. That it happened in Haryana and that the girl was economically underprivileged seemed to be good reasons for us to not be ‘outraged’.

But the mass hysteria about women’s rights comes up only when the tragedy matches our checklist. We all get into this public fury where we speak up about our rights and more. Somehow this is a platform for everyone to air their grievances about being teased, molested and judged for the way they look or dress. And yet we fail to see that we needed a girl with a ‘respectable’ profession on an assignment at a ‘respectable’ time, with a male colleague, dressed ‘decently’ to be raped, for us to see that. When the media asks us for our opinions, we say that the problem is with these rapist monsters. They need to be castrated, or killed. And then we come home to set deadlines for our daughters while our sons can roam around as they want.

Let the victim get over her trauma at her own pace. Rape is not going to destroy her life and, like she said herself, she is going to get back to work. She is going to be a person who suffered a traumatic experience but rose from it. Barging into her building, invading her privacy and creating pseudo saviours out of the witnesses in the case is exactly the kind of foolhardy behaviour we don’t need.

If a girl who was out having a good time in a heels and a mini skirt was gangraped, would the women’s rights groups who preach gender equality stand up for her rights? When Chetan Bhagat made a silly stray tweet about the rupee being ‘raped’ (and took it down after seriously pissing off women’s rights activists), I failed to see how it was an offensive to women. If anything, it could be termed as offensive to rape victims, which includes males too. What is actually infuriating is that people actually expect anything other than wannabe thoughtless statements from Chetan Bhagat.

And while we’re at it, let’s take a look at the rapists. They’re at the lowest possible strata of society – young men belonging to the lower economic class. They’re far away from being precious or pitied. If you have grown up where you are constantly put down by everyone, the only place where you get some self respect is from your peer group. With that environment, not having a severe mental disorder would be a miracle. And while rape is not in any way an excuse for feeling empowered, we need to acknowledge that the real problem is not in having a penis and stop treating every male as a potential miscreant. Women are not genetic victims. They are people, and they deserve to be respected for being humans, just like everyone else. Not because they are daughters or sisters or wives or friends, but because they are.

With populist campaigns like ‘women under attack’, there is very little scope for people to realise that rape does not only claim female victims. This does not explain, and is by no means an excuse for their behaviour. They indeed call for a very severe punishment. But instead of revolting with passion and no headway, we must look into ourselves. We all need an education. Something a little more effective than the “value education” class that we had in school.