Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dr. S. Saraswathi, If gender violence is symptom, what is the cause?

If gender violence is symptom, what is the cause?

The concept of patriarchal society goes with male domination in letter and spirit, and female subordination in overt and covert forms.  This concept and its practice have  not only   outlived their relevance, but have become convenient cover for unspeakable violence against women in tradition bound families.

Belief in male superiority by birth, widely prevalent in oriental countries including India has led to advantages for men against women in appropriation of rights, opportunities and choices pushing women  to subordinate position.

The special ritual status accorded to male in some societies has furtherenhanced the importance of the boy over the girl. The girl baby is less welcome if not ‘unwanted’ in many families as the man is  still the main bread winner. The worst manifestation of this male superiority is in the form of violence against women to  assert one’s dominant position  though dominance need not necessarily involve violence.

Gender violence against woman is possible primarily due to physical strength of the male and is seen among animals, birds and insects.  Female cats, dogs, and even lions and snakes are subject to violent behaviour of their mates.  In the human world, physical prowess  is supported by cultural factors to justify male assertion and perpetuate female submission without question.  When and where questioning starts with or even without action, the ground for violent reaction of the male is laid.

Some proverbs such as the one in Tamil meaning that it is the hand that beats is the one that caresses is an outcome of patriarchal patronage mentality that establishes the right of the man to beat the woman – generally his wife.  The concept of ‘pativrata’ elevating the husband as ‘the God’ for his wife, notions of chastity and modesty restricted to women, self-denying attitudes infused as typical women’s character are repeated not only in old time stories. and legends, but are alive in cinemas and present day television serials not to mention commonplace observations.  These nullify the effects of equalitarian laws made to correct social inequalities.  In such a situation, wife beating becomes part of normal family life.  Those who retaliate are few.  Vast majority of the victims get only sympathy and advice to be patient to hope for the dawn of better days.  Lack of awareness of their own situation and a will to change this on the part of women are due to defects in early socialisation.

However, gender violence does not happen as a rule but happens under certain  conditions only.   Foremost among these are provocation from the female, and injury to the natural pride of the man.  Lack of understanding between a man and wife, greed and frustration, wants and privations result  in the outburst of violence which may be physical or psychological .  Violence is common in economically lower classes and uneducated and illiterate families which points to a strong link between  poverty and violence.  Desires beyond the economic capabilities of the family, lack of proper priorities in spending on the part of both man and woman lead to marital discord and consequent violence.Such violence is two-edged – mental anguish for both man and woman and physical injury to the woman.   Wife beating goes with alcoholism particularly in the poorer sections and slum dwellers.  The Police does not act on complaints of alcohol caused domestic violence.

Human beings are by nature violent and are tamed by social factors. Where sex determined division of labour beyond biological functions,and sex determined virtues, rights and obligations are not consistent with mutual respect, understanding and cooperation, there is possibility of gender violence.  It may find resistance or silently suffered.

Dr.  S.Saraswathi 

Chennai, 29 November 2008                                                     

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