Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rape: Patriarchy and Freedom

Girl was drunk. She booked herself a cab. She got into the cab and fell asleep. Some minutes after that, she was raped.

Who was to blame? Is Uber culpable? When there are rapes on buses, why aren't the bus-services banned? Are the laws strong enough? Was the girl right in getting drunk and falling asleep in the car? Am I even allowed to have that thought and remain a decent human being? Why did the cabbie rape her?

Let us suspend judgement, take a step back and think.

Background Story

There are coaches reserved for women in metro services and local trains. In the Delhi Metro, there are seats reserved for women, which are sometimes left empty even in jam-packed compartments. Sometimes, I hear women joke about how their "fragility" is being exaggerated. On the other hand, there are rapes in cars and buses.

Women around the country are still being oppressed: girls have curfews, they are being beaten, some are forced into marriage, out of education, into submission... On the other hand, women are being liberated at the highest level: companies have diversity targets, there are reservations for women, the gender ratio in many forward societies is skewed in their 'favour'.

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times?


A friend once asked me - "Must I hold the door open for her?"
Difficult problem. So I said, "Why don't you hold the door open for everybody?"
He did not relent - "Must I run around and open the door when she is getting into my car?"

When I meet a woman alone, on a date, do I take the cheque or do we split? Should I be upset if she doesn't offer to pay? Should I insist on paying if she wants to split the bill?

Given the number of rapes in the country, should women be asked to be more careful? At the cost of their freedom, I mean. Are men in society truly free? Will the bravest man not shiver while walking alone through a dark narrow alleyway?

Am I right in feeling disgusted when a young woman, bursting with energy, demands for her 'reserved seat' which an elderly man, drenched in sweat, now occupies?

Sometimes, when I see similar traits in men and women - like profligacy, recklessness and capriciousness - I often find myself guilty of terming the woman as free and courageous, and the man as immoral and shallow.

There is this girl with cascading, streaked hair. If she sneezes, there will be a dozen men rushing towards her with outstretched handkerchiefs. So, are there not women who can use this scenario purely to their advantage? Is it not a simple matter of leverage?

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times?

P versus F

The 'P' word: Partriarchy
It is not a bad thing; it is what used to protect people from rape and murder.

The 'F' word: Freedom
It is not a bad thing; it is what will protect you from rape and murder.

But what today? - We are trapped between the P and the F.

Like all great dichotomies, these coexist precariously and they supplement each other. In almost every situation, we choose one value over its supplement; this case is no different. We are open in thrashing the 'outdated system of patriarchy', which is seen increasingly as a system developed just to oppress women. We cry out for freedom, without understanding the responsibility which necessarily accompanies it.

And we ask for equality in a game where the playground is tilted.

What Can I Do?

(1) First and foremost: understand. We are not in an equilibrium. We live in a constantly evolving society, which has forgotten yesterday's values and is in the process of forgetting today's as well. Tomorrow has not yet arrived.

The last vestiges of patriarchy need to be appreciated in the sense in which they are intended. Obviously, when push comes to shove, people will resist. I am not advocating different degrees of freedom for the sexes. I am preaching logical restraint. If you know there is a thief hidden in the shadows, don't wear flashy jewellery. Yes, the thief may be brought to justice for a crime he may commit, but what is the point if it comes at the expense of your life?

Hold on to the 'P' until the era of the 'F' is here to stay.

(2) Chivalry isn't all that dead. If she is drunk and the hour is late, please drop her home. Split the bill if you want to, or make her pay. Dropping her home is not just a nice thing to do, it is necessary.

(3) Don't try to be the other sex. There are differences between men and women which need to be accepted - perhaps even glorified - and not compromised upon. We are perhaps not advanced enough to entirely embrace a man with a woman's mind or vice-versa.

(4) Push for stronger implementation: While I have previously championed the causes of restraint, awareness and protection, I am not advocating perpetuating status-quo. The era of Freedom and Social Security will come, and it is our duty to usher it in. Several laws which exist, hang on so poorly that they might as well be absent.

We need to voice our displeasure. Is Uber to be blamed for the recent crime? I don't know, but our Law and Order System has been an abysmal failure.

(5) Awareness: Yes, several men need to be taught to respect women. Objectification is here to stay (we will soon equally objectify both men and women), but it can be done respectfully, I am told. We need to gradually inch towards that F-era. Society doesn't respond well to shock-loading.

There are going to be several more rapes before things finally fall into place. Each rape brings us closer to the justice that we long for. This is unpleasant, like most other things which are real.

Frankly, I only wish for a world with safe cars, an even sex-ratio and trains without reserved-seats. And I hope I live to see the day.


  1. All a matter of how you use what you have

    1. Agreed. An extrapolation of Darwin's theory, I suppose.

  2. I am not sure how "popular" your article will be, but I think you make some very valid and nuanced points. We are in an era when its the best time to be a woman in terms of corporate and Bschool targets. And yet there is real fear for safety which most women,in India as well as other "developed" countries like US, have to contend with. While the ideal situation would be one where women and men have equal rights and ability to move around in society we haven't gotten there yet. And until we do - its prudent to be safe rather than sorry. It would be interesting to hear your reasons on why countries like US which did not have the history of patriarchy that India had/has, reports as many if not more rapes as India (on a per capita basis).

    1. Vahini, let me answer that question for you. It's one of those articles which polarizes opinions, apparently. People accept it completely or they end up giving me a lot of flak.

      I like the way you have phrased my entire argument - brief and exact.

      As for your question about rape-reporting in the west, I think it has much to do with the fact that a lot of rapes are still going unnoticed / unreported in India. This may in turn stem from the fact that it is still a taboo, like most other matters pertaining to sex.

      And it is untrue to say that patriarchy didn't ever exist in the West. Most societies were patriarchal at some point in their histories. But the concepts of women's suffrage and equal rights entered western societies much before they reached South Asia. That "head-start" is probably the only difference between our societies today.