How many excuses does it take to stop rapes in India?

Why can't we even bring ourselves to be a gender-equal society by discussing the pressures put on men to behave in certain ways?

 |  3-minute read |   01-11-2014
  • ---
    Total Shares

What would you imagine is the biggest problem when it comes to fighting crime and trying to bring down incidences of rape in India? Don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer because you’ll burst if you try and guess. I’ll tell you. It is women who wear jeans and carry mobile phones. The Uttar Pradesh police have very kindly informed the nation that rapes will continue as long as women carry on with these infernal activities and make these impossible life, wardrobe and technology choices like jeans and mobile phones. If only women “dressed decently”, any female from a six month old baby to a three year old infant to an 80 year old grandmother would be safe.

We’ve already heard so much of this from India’s khap panchayats, which as we now know are village councils where the elders make pronouncements and the villagers must follow. These councils are most concerned about the behaviour of women and young people who fall in love because “transgressions” by both lead to the end of civilisation as they understand it. Apart from women dressing correctly or never leaving the house at all, men who regularly eat “chowmein” are especially prone to becoming rapists. “Western culture”, we have been told innumerable times, is the problem as well as presumably roadside Indian-Chinese food. And rapes of course don’t happen in “Bharat” but only in India.

The mellifluous Yesudas had very recently jumped on to the anti-women-in-jeans brigade, much to everyone’s distaste and amazement. It was not clear whether his dislike was aesthetic or simply absurd.

Need I ask? Is there no other major issue facing Indian womanhood or is our gender equation all hunky-dory? A few women stop wearing jeans and then we can get back to low convictions on rape, the glass ceiling, maternal mortality, domestic violence, gender-based foeticide, girl children dropping out of school, skewed salary rates, slave trading...

Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged in Iran last Saturday having spent five years in jail after she stabbed a man who tried to rape her. Jabbari had claimed that there was another man in her apartment who actually killed her assailant. Her charges were not investigated. Jabbari was 26. The issue is not that the dead man did not deserve justice; rather, it is about a system which discounts the evidence put forward by a woman.

One assumes that India does not want to be that sort of a society. That Constitution, after all, assures us of gender equality and freedom of choice, thought, expression and from oppression. And yet. We cannot even bring ourselves to be a gender-equal society by discussing the pressures put on men to behave in certain ways. The Harry Potter actor Emma Watson made a very sensible speech to this effect at the United Nations recently.

No, instead we waste our time on sheer nonsense like women in jeans and women who use mobile phones. We all know that these ideas are regressive and even illegal. The UP police has no right to impose a blanket dress code on anyone – and the UP police knows it. Nor of course do the khap panchayats, religious groups or “social organisations”. The only exceptions are when you sign in to an organisation with uniforms.

In the case of the police, jeans and mobile phones are merely bogies invented to deflect attention from the fact that they are not doing their jobs.

Mobile phones are an old bugbear for the police anyway. A Mumbai police commissioner once wanted mobile phone banned across the nation, if not the world, when reports emerged that under trials at the Arthur Road jail were using them. As logical as banning roads since robbers can potentially use them to run away with their booty?

Meanwhile, a three year old girl is raped in a Bangalore school by an “uncle” she knows, a new survey says most sexual assault happens inside the home, no one wants to talk about young boys being abused, LGBTs have to be ignored to save our unfair cultural prejudices but jeans are reprehensible. And women who wear them are verboten.

I have to laugh. It’s in my... genes?

Writer

Ranjona Banerji Ranjona Banerji @ranjona

The writer is a senior journalist who writes on media, politics and social issues.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.