Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Women’s Day, sad India is re-hyphenated with Pakistan….

For a long long time, the thrust of India’s foreign policy – especially vis-a-vis the US – has been to “de-hyphenate” itself from Pakistan. Traditionally, the US treated India and Pakistan as one block, both part of an impoverished South Asia region. As India progressed economically and gained respectability in the West, while Pakistan disintegrated, the US recognized India’s rise by de-hyphenating it from Pakistan. Successive secretaries of states took pains to assure India that it was not a part of the infamous Afghanistan-Pakistan axis. When Hillary Clinton came visiting India, she made sure she didn’t visit Pakistan. Unfortunately, all that has been undone. Unfortunately, the tragic condition of women in India has re-hyphenated India again with Pakistan.

As if the tragedy of countless women getting raped every day was not enough, new US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s combining (hyphenating) of India’s “Nirbhaya” and Pakistan’s Malala Yousofzai in the same sentence is like rubbing salt into our wounds. I don’t consider it Kerry’s “tribute” to “the braveheart” as the TOI calls it. I consider it a slap on our face. But why blame Kerry? We should blame ourselves. We should be ashamed that on the one hand we are on our way to becoming a super power, but on the other, we simply cannot extricate ourselves from our pre-historic women-bashing habits.

The US Secretary of State could have spoken about several things that would have made India proud. About us being the biggest democracy. About the vibrant and independent (albeit irresponsible and politically motivated) media. About our rock-solid constitutional institutions (again somewhat diluted by political interference), our rule of law (albeit justice is routinely delayed), our intellectual prowess (no doubts here!), our growing technology sectors and our remarkable GDP growth (we grew 9.2% just last year, and are expected to claw ourselves out of the current slump soon). But instead, he chose to speak about Nirbhaya. Of all the countries in the world he could have clubbed with Pakistan, he chose India. What can be more insulting?

But like I mentioned, is Kerry at fault at all? He merely commented on something that we know is a reality. The way we treat our women is shocking. Right from when she is conceived in the womb, we ill-treat women till their last breath. We do this without even an ounce of guilt. We call it part of our vaunted Indian culture, a culture that puts a premium on men. A culture that almost grooms rapists – and forgives them. As if that was not enough, we go ahead and elect such people to Parliament and assemblies. We truly deserve to be punched in our faces. Why blame Kerry?

What is even worse than the way we treat women is the way we politicize women’s issues. More concerned than the state of women in the national capital are we with equating the rapes with the Sheila Dixit or the Central government. We didn’t do that for the last so many years. Why? Was Nirbhaya’s the first case of rape-murder in Delhi? No, Nirbhaya’s issue became so big only because the Delhi elections are round the corner. If we can’t get Sheila in the CWG games “scam”, let’s get her on the Nirbhaya rape issue. It is such politicization that harms our fight against such issues. Women must become aware of this and stop politicians from hijacking the issue.

Today, on women’s day, we have to turn the spotlight inwards, towards ourselves. And ask why is it that while our religion reveres women, putting them on a pedestal – just see how many goddesses we have – we the people of this country treat women so unequally? What joy do our men get in doing so? What are the reasons that make so many of our men rapists? What brings out their lust in such disproportionate ways? Why do they forget their mothers and sisters when they embark on such distasteful pursuits? Why can’t they put their testosterones and libidos to more productive use? But before we answer these questions, can we first acknowledge that the issues are inside us, and in our society, not outside with our political class or the cops? Why blame politicians and cops when we are all equally responsible?

Also, a stricter law is not the solution. Sure, a stricter law will create the right atmosphere to bring about a change. But what do you do when women refuse to report cases of rape? A strict law is meaningless in such situations.

What is needed is a socio-cultural revolution, a revolution led by men, not women. Righteous men must publicly identify and shame others who indulge in such horrendous activities. Make sure they don’t get to hide. What is also needed is for them to ensure that a rape is considered just another horrendous crime, not a loss of the woman’s or her family’s honor, nor the end of a life of opportunities and joy. It’s an invasion of privacy; not a full stop on her aspirations or the right to live life with dignity. This socio-cultural revolution has to be led by men because we are the ones responsible for the present state of affairs in any case. If women lead the revolution, what’s the big deal? They are bound to. But if we men lead it, we will be doing something honorable. And compensating for centuries of mistakes.

If we truly respect our women, then we must ensure that we don’t treat them as deserving of our pity, or favors. We should treat women merely as equals. When we see a woman co-workier, we should stop thinking of her as a woman. Her sex is unimportant. A woman can be a bus or taxi driver as well as a Board Director and CEO. Her womanhood has nothing to do with it. The moment we stop classifying a co-worker as a man or woman, half the battle is won.

On women’s day, the opportunity is for us men to grab. And prove to the women that Indian men are not misogynists. Nor are we set in a medieval mould. We are aware of our past, and are determined to change the future. We will treat women equally – not discriminate against them, nor indeed favor them – just as any other fellow human. And in doing so, we will prove Kerry wrong. And again de-hyphenate India from Pakistan. We have nothing to do with that country. We prefer to rub our shoulders with the liberal West. That should be our resolution today.

The real truth is that Kerry’s statement should be a wake up call for all of us men. We must acknowledge the truth in his statement, and feel the pain. That must lead to positive action, not an attack on him. Do we have it in us to make the change????

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