Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dr. Shweta Krishnan, If gender violence is a symptom, what is the cause?

If gender violence is a symptom, what is the cause?

When the last century dawned on India, there were 972 women for every 1000 men, a ratio -adverse as it may be- has, over the years, begun to look like the best we have had in a long time. In 1951, four years after our tryst with destiny, the sex ratio had fallen to 946; in 2001, it steeped further to 933. Whereas countries in the west, are recording a healthy ratio (female to male) of 1.05, India is not only well below the mark, but also sinking quickly, with estimates telling us that over a hundred million girls are missing from our population, of whom at least ten million have been lost in the last two decades alone.

What do these missing girls have to do with gender violence? Biologically, the female child is a better survivor. In any healthy population, male infants outnumber the females 105 to a 100. But more females survive to adulthood and the ratio reverses (105 women to a 100 men). So an adverse sex ratio and that too one as shockingly low as in India, is a clear indictor of two of the most unpardonable practices in the country: sex-selective abortion and female infanticide.

And ask the women named ‘Draupadis’ (yes, named after the celebrated and often misconstrued wife of the Pandavas of Mahabharata fame) in rural Punjab, and they will tell you how the survivors of – what I can only call a- holocaust are being forced to enter polyandrous relationships with men, leading to a life of domestic violence and sometimes captivity, in order to make up for this shortage of women.

Here, I must mention that Punjab and Haryana, with disturbingly adverse sex ratios of 793 and 819 women to a 1000 men respectively are among the richest states in India. So, if poverty – the often alleged companion to crime- cannot be indicted as sole accomplice in this one, then what other forces actuate this persisting and ineradicable epidemic that threatens to rank woman high on the list of endangered creatures in the country?

In the list of aetiologies everything seems secondary to a more fundamental – alternatively condemned and celebrated – cause for gender violence - the belief that the male child comes with the promissory note. Parents hope that by having a son they will have someone, who will not only carry on the family name and inherit the family assets, but a person who will give them a home when they are old and take care of them until they die. Some people go as far as to believe that when he lights their funeral pyre, he will give them moksha and set them free from the strenuous karmic cycles of life and death.

This renders the male an unjustifiable upper hand in the society and at home. Also, according to our beliefs, the woman’s identity becomes subsumed under her patriarchs, automatically making her the ‘weaker’ sex in need of protection and also in the eyes of the ‘stronger sex’, the easy target for violation. This subsumed identity makes her answerable to the men in her lives, often the cause of physical and sexual abuse at homes. Again, the illegal but rampant system of Dowry only adds to her list of vulnerabilities.

The general assumption that man is better and stronger than his female counterpart, presents itself largely in the society as various forms of bullying including forms of harassment and violence against women as well.

There is only one way to eradicate these beliefs. Education. And I hope that in time we will learn to accept that both man and woman are equals in the eyes of law and nature, and it would be a huge mistake to believe otherwise.


No comments:

Post a Comment