The Discourses and social mores that stiffle me!

I just got introduced to wordpress and well since social media is such a re invented world i decided to give blogging a shot too.

The past few weeks have got me introduced to a whole lot of views, ideas, perspectives from different angles on issues that are daily life topics. Somewhere they linked to my professional issues too and therefore all the thinking is probably the reason why it becomes important for me to start out my blog with issues that matter.

I had a friend discuss with me about why “khaap panchayats” are the best working solutions in haryana and how the whole dictate of not allowing a girl and a boy living in the same village marrying each other saves the women there from any harm. For the uninitiated ” khaap panchayats” are a group of elderly men in the village who pass dictates on anything and everything in the village which they consider in the interest of the people. In haryana, india, this has come to mean that a boy and a girl in the same village have been banned to marry by this body of people on the premise that they are “almost siblings”. The recent times has shown the passing of “orders” by this council for murdering young people who do this and carried out effectively by the community! While discussing this my friend , who belongs to haryana and more importantly is a judge, i was shocked when he justified this by stating that , ” we don’t allow this because as long as all the boys and girls in the village boundaries consider themselves siblings the women will be safe.” He further says,” this is a system of protection brought about in the times when your latest legal dictum’s didn’t exist, when the elderly knew what they were doing.” I didn’t consider any further arguments with him because it was clear that he had his mind set on the fact that “protection of the weaker sex needed regulation of what relationships people in the village can get into.”

A couple of days after this i was in mumbai and out for a team dinner and travelling by an auto rickshaw, wearing a dress which i felt like, and in between changing autos on the street, i had a few stares, a few top to bottom look overs and heads turned! Inspite of being the impulsive i dont care person i felt uncomfortable, maybe for a second made me think about maybe i should have worn a jeans and a tee!

The BlankNosie movement and the BBC World Have Your Say, have brought up discussions like ” Its a man who commits rape and not about the woman being raped” and  “Is a rape victim to be blamed for being raped”, which somehow linked the whole thread for me.

What are the social mores that decide whether or not i can assert my right as an individual and who decides them? Maybe this discussion has been happening for like decades but it assumes important focus with legal implications and also large scale changes that are the need of the hour. What happens when we curtail the basic inherent rights of any individual? What repercussions will it have on the future law making trends? What bearing it has on our collective thinking about our own rights?

I have been a student of human rights law for almost a better part of my professional studies and been  closely associated with human rights issues right through my childhood. So, yes at some level i have  a very strong sense of assertion and realization of rights and it may show in what i say here. But at a very basic level, at a very primal level- dont each one of us think about what we should have because we are humans and therefore is our right. When we become okay with the fact that a drunk woman shouldn’t really fight too much against her rapist or when a community becomes okay with the fact that the only way of protecting its women is by forcing sibling relationships on everyone- are we not circumventing the basic social contract theory?

When a community says that no boy or girl in the village should marry each other because they are like siblings and this protects the women what have we done? We have made ourselves believe two things:

1. That man isn’t capable of keeping his primal instincts in check and therefore this forced rule is the only way of keeping protection. This takes the community almost to the cavemen era where in man had no control over his primal needs and lived like he wanted.

2. Everyone’s individual rights assertion will be dependent on what a few people consider a convenient solution to a particular problem.

Culture, mores,norms are a pattern of practices that a large number of people have followed for a certain duration of time and therefore becomes a discourse. But should a persons right be violated because she/he is different from the discourse! And more importantly why should a discourse or a set of beliefs become the yard stick to regulate rights. When a community isnt able to instill amongst its people that respecting a woman’s space is important then how can its impose all are siblings rule!

Similarly why should a woman walking on a busy road think twice before wearing a skirt,a jeans and not walk free? Yes eve teasing happens to even burqa clad women, but generally women dressed in what is termed “provoking” clothes are easy targets. Should a discourse hold women down? Society has to move forward and ensure that every individuals liberty is guaranteed and has a free expression. How a man behaves should not be determined by what a woman wears, and how come the mores and the norms don’t establish respecting a woman in all her form!

When a man rapes a woman, even if shes completely out of her senses, he is violating the fundamental right of an individual to her body, her being.
Another pertinent thing to notice and for everyone to keep in mind is that the law is punishing the offender. Reparations though form a big part of victim rehabilitation, but the primary aim of rape laws is to punish the man who has done it. Therefore the important fact to bear in mind is “THE MAN COMMITTED THE RAPE” and not “SHE HAS BEEN RAPED”. This is an essential difference to keep in mind, sadly something not many judges in India understand this, but the law is evolving, our sensitivity levels are evolving too. Law has evolved enough to take into account various developments and understanding of victims perspectives and judgments are an indication that slowly but steadily the law is evolving.Law recognizes that even sex workers have the right to consensual sex and no client can violate her right to her own self and this goes on to show that every woman has the right o decide what she wants. A woman who is raped carries the mark with her all her life, hell i know what it means to have the ghosts of childhood sexual harassment torture you, and therefore no woman can be out there having a nice time wanting to have her self molested!
I am no psychologist or a doctor or a sociologist but maybe people in this field have some kind of statistics about male sexual reactions and their tendency to objectify women. But a woman having a drink with men in a bar is not looking for herself to be forcefully assaulted. The very word rape is intended to ensure that every individual has the RIGHT to decide what they want and who they want it with and nobody has the freedom to violate that basic right. This whole societal cacophony, about a woman asking for it because of her dress,her values,her principles, her lifestyle,her mores,her way of talking, way of walking etc , only reflects how evolution is not moving ahead but degenerating into a very appalling state of affairs. Individuality is the basic fundamental of evolution and the human race can get better on the survival of individuality! So lets not get into “she should follow the dictate of the societal norms” because a woman, wearing a jeans and a cleavage showing top or having tattoos or drinking, was not born to follow those norms. She has the individuality and the inherent right to decide what she does and nobody around her has the freedom to ambush her when she has been violated.
Nobody who has ever faced a direct violation of their physical space can ever agree with “certain things are self inflicted”, so from my personal experience i can say that those who talk about societal mores are the people who dont know what sexual harassment is! Having worked with rape victims i know a victim (man or a woman) goes through her/his life traumatized and loses faith in any kind of human relationships, therefore saying that she/he should have known better is not only appalling but more importantly demeaning ourselves and the concept of human evolution moving forward and not degenerating.

Yet there will be discourses built and mores that will curtail individuality and maybe take lot more lives. And when i see such criminals and hear victim stories i actually wonder that did darwin really have an idea about evolution at all!!


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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Naresh
    Feb 23, 2010 @ 17:41:24

    Way to go Megha! Good one.

    The panchayats working might be to generate a social distance from the community. Call it a self preservation ideology being followed. Well there are communities that look just outside a nuclear family but within their family tree. And some who don’t care. Atleast try not to. These are ways I believe being followed just to generate longer social distances in that order. I don’t see much wrong in following these. More restrictions/conditions are put just to make this distance short(search easy!). After all how long can one walk to reach your ‘better’ half?? (Note: I am not promoting MINK here. I haven’t watched it.)
    But killing one for the sake of preserving this is completely wrong on all fronts.

    Keep posting.
    Naresh
    p.s: Increase the font from “When a man rapes a woman…..” it will be easier to read.

    Reply

  2. Hina
    Mar 28, 2010 @ 08:05:43

    Hi Megha,
    I agree with you a hundred percent on what you’ve written about.
    We all too often get caught up in cultural discourse and let some of our rights go to deflect any accusations of being a rebel or just shameful. I’ve been born and brought up in Australia but have an indian background and i think its very sad that sometimes we lean towards male orientated explanations and justifications for issues like rape. I think its important that India, with so much advancement in other fields, also work towards changing some social discourses which have been instilled within our society.
    Thanks for the great info

    Reply

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