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A new show that hit TV screens this week asks the question, 'What's with Indian Women?'. But given the sheer volume of crimes against women in this country this week, I think the real question should have been: what's with Indian men?
The case of a woman in Kolkata being beheaded to preserve her family's honour, that of a northeastern woman being heckled in Bangalore, the senior citizen being raped and robbed in Mumbai, and the diktat in a Haryana college that has banned women from wearing jeans are all outrageous. They constitute direct attacks on Indian women on the basis of their gender, especially the modern Indian women.
And we cannot argue that they are isolated incidents, or that what has increased is media coverage of these crimes and not the crimes themselves. The statistics tell the same shocking story. For instance, rape is the fastest growing crime in India, with a 700 per cent increase the number of reported rape cases since 1953. Even in Mumbai, touted as India's safest city for women, reported cases of rape have gone up by 16 per cent.
But while these instances and statistics are horrifying in themselves, what is significantly more worrying is the perpetrators' fundamental conviction in each of these cases that what they were doing was not wrong. This is why the molestation cases in the news this week deserve our attention in Jalandhar, in Amritsar, and in Mumbai, the molesters actually thought their actions justified, and therefore had the impunity to attack the men who came to defend the women, actually killing a police officer in the Amritsar case.
This is the real problem. This mentality is what ensures the sheer persistence of crimes against women. For all our claims of being a modern, liberal democracy, the majority of Indian men seem to operate within an antiquated framework when it comes to women.
There appears to be a genuine belief that it is okay for men to wear jeans and drink alcohol, but that women who do the same are immoral Indians. It is a widely held view (rather worryingly, even amongst policemen) that women who are raped or harassed are asking for it when they wear 'provocative' clothes. In the minds of most Indian men, women are objects who exist to be groped or fondled whenever it catches the man's fancy.
And this belief system is all the more dangerous for its widespread nature it is reflected daily across the country, where women are consistently being 'eye-raped', eve teased, or even groped. It is a disgusting system, where women are awarded absolutely no respect. It is no secret either, girls are taught at a very young age (sometimes even before their teens) that such men are to be ignored and not provoked, and that you cannot wear shorts or any skirts above the knee if you are taking the train. Women are constantly being demeaned, and the knowledge of this fact means that very few Indian women consider any city 'safe'.
Where does this belief come from? Unfortunately for those of us trying to change it, this value system is something that men start to adopt as young boys. Yes, it ultimately stems from a patriarchal culture, but more specifically, from the son-worshipping that exists in most families in this country. While extreme stories such as those of female infanticide are the exception, this son-worshipping is very much the norm. It starts with the "boys will be boys" attitude that doting parents and grandparents adopt when it comes to their sons and grandsons, but that quickly turns into "little girls should be seen and not heard" when their daughters and granddaughters dare to question them.
It develops when the children grow up boys come of age with extravagant thread ceremonies or similar, whereas in traditional Hindu families, girls who are menstruating become untouchables who cannot even enter their own kitchens. And this belief only continues when it comes to marriage it is an unquestioned expectation that women give up their careers for the sake of the marriage, or at the very least, stick to a job that allows them to be home in time to cook dinner.
This is not just the case in rural India, too many educated and urban Indians hold the same view.
Clearly, for there to ever be sustained reduction in these crimes in the long term, it is this inherent value system that we need to deal with. At the very least, it is clearly time for stricter laws, and better enforcement of existing ones.
This is not about asking women to wear jeans or drink alcohol, this is about telling the men in their lives to allow them to make their choice, whatever it may be. For those of us who want to live in a country governed by the ideals of the 21st century, this is a message that needs to go out loud and clear. For the sake of all the women in the news this week, and for the men who sought to protect them, this is something we need to deal with now.
It is time to tell men to lose the arrogant conviction that women who wear skirts are asking for "it".
It is time to tell men that sexual harassment is not an acceptable response to woman who parks incorrectly (as they seemed to think in Bangalore this week).
It is time to let men know that women are equals, and deserve respect. It is time to stop this shame.
More about Tanvi Mehta
Tanvi Mehta is an intern with CNN-IBN. She is doing her B.A. in History and Politics at the University of Oxford.
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