Monday, March 25, 2013

Bangalore for Women?


Sometimes you find that what you thought was your world is proved to be so totally wrong that it is shocking. Sometimes what you thought you knew about other people’s problems is shown to be so totally inadequate that it is humbling. The TOI meet on ‘Bangalore for Women’ proved to be one such experience.

It is not that I believed that the problems of women were only exaggerated versions of hyper-sensitive people. On the one end women need to deal with criminal behavior like domestic violence, eve-teasing and its worse manifestation up to rape and sexual harassment at office. On the other end is the struggle for equality – the lack of which denies choices and opportunities to women.

In “A Ravaged Society”, I had tried to explain what attitudes need be changed and what behavior needs to be fostered. In my “Guest Post forRachna Parmar: In defense of Men” I had also tried to point out the fact that the social system also binds men in stereotypes that make it difficult for them to change.

The TOI meet, however, shocked me in quite a few ways. One of the things that I did expect to hear was of the lack of safety for women in public places and I did hear quite a few instances of that. That did not shock me but not because of a ‘Boys will be boys’ attitude on my part nor a dismissive attitude to the complaints. I realize that a criminal element exists and such criminal tendencies are on the increase. What shocked me was the sheer callousness with which ‘normal’ people could treat women.

The one incident that stuck in my mind was that of a woman on whose innerwear a neighboring boy had written lewd comments when it was hung out for drying. She complained to her landlord and the boy was taken to task. The aftermath was shocking. The landlord, apparently, evicted the woman in the middle of the night. That inexplicable callousness shocked me to the core. What was it in Society that made it possible for people to even consider such behavior? Whatever other impression had been created about the woman in the landlord’s mind later what could justify such cruelty?

Society is changing and the position of women in Society is changing. The increasing presence of women in the corporate world and their increasing assertiveness tends to challenge the existing power structures and, in some men, evokes the desire to convert their own feeling of impotence into sexual aggression as a means of asserting their ‘superiority’. Stereotypes about the character of a woman based on how she dresses and comports herself appear to give these men license – the ‘she was asking for it’ defense. Add to the mix the increasing influx of rural people to cities in search of employment with their prejudices about ‘good women’, the increase in of woman-targeted criminal activity is explainable.

It can be explained but it certainly cannot be condoned. But, if the so-called ‘law-abiding’ members of the Society will feel comfortable about acting in the manner that the landlord behaved with the concerned woman, it is time for serious introspection. It has become common for the ‘common man’ to refuse to intervene in cases of molestation or even in blatant cases of rape. This inclination to stay away from involvement is bad enough but to also become active participants in harassing women is certainly the sort of change that needs condemning in vigorous terms.

In times of Social change, the management of the attitudes of Society ought to be done by the leaders. Given that Society is moving towards more equality to women, outmoded ideas about their role in Society as well as ridiculous attempts to categorize them based on how they dress need to be changed. Unfortunately, we have a lot of leaders who are themselves incapable of changing. Even the well-meaning ones have this incorrigible habit of putting their feet into their mouths with great frequency.

I mean, if there is a major robbery at, say, Anil Ambani’s house, is that the time for a leader to mouth off about amassing of wealth? You may have your attitudes about wealth but to say that at that time is to condone the robbery. When you realize that you can't blame the guy whose pocket was picked for tempting the pickpocket by carrying money why does it seem so easy to blame a woman for tempting a man into molestation? At least from ‘leaders’ I expect that they need to keep their personal opinions aside when it comes to condemning crime – instead of giving the appearance of lending social sanction to the crime.

Changes in attitudes are difficult and take a long time in coming. That is not to say that attempts to do so need to be abandoned. The point, however, is that changes in behavior can be enforced and government needs to put in place the systems and procedures whereby, no matter how inclined a man is to molest a woman in a bus, say, he is constrained from doing so. The problem is that government sees it as only a problem of making laws – when the real problem is in the enforcement.

There is a serious disconnect between the law enforcement agencies and the ordinary citizen. All the women in the TOI meet seemed reluctant to take their cases to the police or, indeed, believe that any action would result. The government cannot merely put up its hands and say that if they will not approach the police, it is their problem. Managing perceptions is as much the job of government as any politician ought to know.

Attitudinal changes are necessary and should be pursued. Given the short attention span of the public, I think that any specific action plan should target the putting in place of some system whereby there is more assurance that improper behavior will be punished. If that can be done by a dedicated help-line of the Police department for women and prompt action on their complaints - coupled maybe with an NGO which works specifically as an interface and a watchdog – then pushing for that now would be useful. If the deterrent can be in place, then we shall have the leisure for changing attitudes without paying a high cost for the delay in doing so.

The developed countries do not have lesser people with criminal tendencies than we do. It is just that the law can be invoked by the victim without fear and the criminal faces punishment with more certainty than obtains here. Let us, at least, move forward on being developed in this one area for a start before aiming to become a super-power.

50 comments:

  1. Well said Suresh . Indians simply love talking ill of someone and in the case of these victims it's like 'she is already bent, y not stamp and climb her back ' . As u said a HUGE attitude change is reqd

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    1. I certainly agree, Jaish! But I think first let us ensure that, whatever their attitude, their behavior is controlled. Easier to stop a man from committing murder than to stop him thinking of committing murder.

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  2. A very inspiring post! I am from Bangalore too,and while reading your post some lines just shocked me. It is good that at least people are realizing this is wrong and holding meets and spreading awareness.

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    1. Thanks Bushra! You should have come to the meet.

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  3. I am hopeful for a change because now I see increasing number of men like you taking our side, seeing the logic and not just blaming women for everything that goes wrong.

    It would take a long time, maybe we won't live to see the real change but at least we are seeing the beginning.

    You put some really valid points!

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    1. Not your side, Akanksha! Our side! It is the side of the law abiding decent citizen against criminals.

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  4. You've put across, without resorting to jingoism or blindly-"righteous" indignation, points that frustrate me about our society. It is not just the criminal or anti-social element that is to be blamed, but our everyday attitudes that are responsible for the increasing violence against women.

    Be it the workplace, the erstwhile dominion of males, where women have made their mark and are resented for it, or the deeply-biased psyche of our social/religious/cultural set-up that has restricted the role of women and defined behavioural norms to the extent of what a woman should wear, say and do, it is the common man, the everyday citizen who is responsible for discrimination and for fostering an environment that is unsafe for women.


    The sad part is that our politicians, the elected leaders of our country, are still stuck in the Dark Ages. Recent comments by them during the anti-rape law debate revealed that most of them condone a "Boys will be boys" attitude and put the onus on the girl to act "properly". Considering the fact that most of them, though well past their prime, are still clinging like limpets to their political seats, I can only place hope on the common man to lead the change.

    I am glad that awareness is increasing now, and more and more people have come to realise that change must come from within each and every one of us, and not just by making stricter laws against criminals.

    Thank you for sharing your experience of the meet and for writing this piece.

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    1. Thanks Mixi! I am glad that this piece struck a chord with you.

      As an aside, since you have taken over the mantle of being the humorist you leave me scant choice but to write seriously :)

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  5. A very logical coverage Suresh. Like you, I was really shocked beyond belief about the blogger who was thrown out of home at the middle of the night. Unfortunately, people do hesitate to approach police for help. I have twice lodged complaint with police in my life and both the times the action has been prompt and successful with the people responsible for trouble being punished. I just wish the event would have given more time for the bloggers to voice their concerns. So many of them had many other issues which they wanted to talk about but could not.

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    1. There is certainly a perception issue there, Farida! Not to mention that these women tend to be from outside B'lore and that adds an additional layer of disconnect.

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  6. Rightly said Suresh. Invoking the law is a basic necessity of any person be it man or woman living in a democratic country like India.

    I am amazed just like you with what that landlord did. His action will encourage the boy since he will think he did nothing wrong and his actions are fine as it is the woman that has created the problem. There needs to be an overhaul in the attitude of people.

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    1. That shocked me utterly when I heard it, Vinita! I mean, criminal behavior from criminals you can sort of understand but criminal behavior from someone who thinks he is law-abiding?

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  7. I agree Suresh. I have faced some safety issues too in Bangalore and even in other cities. As you pointed it, it must be mindset change with better governance and confidence building measures as well on the part of law enforcement agencies. And there is a need to take along like-minded people especially men in this cause to hopefully bring about change. I did a post too on the issue. And I never knew that outsider or immigrant is actually a cuss word now :(.

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    1. That 'outsider' problem has become all too common. It is only a variant of the Shiv Sena plank and all. I am afraid it is concomitant with prosperity coexisting with poverty. The poor local tends to think of the 'outsider' as having taken away his job. With gender stereotyping the way it is a woman - local or otherwise - is anyway akin to the 'outsider' taking away the local's job. What can one say about an 'outsider woman'? Double whammy! This problem is not going to go away in perceptions at least. The only way out is law enforcement for a long time to come.

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  8. Attended it too but unlike you I wasn't shock when the lady said that the neighbors didn't do anything when she was kicked out by her landlord. It's become normal in our society to turn a blind eye and deaf ears and just mind our own business attitude.

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    1. I was not shocked by the neighbours not doing anything - I know about our apathy. I was shocked by the landlord and the time of the night when he chose to evict her.

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  9. Interesting to know a man's perspective on the subject. The 'Anil Ambani' analogy is very apt.

    All those who attended the meet would have been pricked for sure. I hope all this just doesn't stop with talking.

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    1. Hmm! That is the real problem - that it stops with talking!

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  10. women do hesitate to take help , not just from the police but also from anyone else, for the fear of being victimised....that's the mental pressure to bow down and accept what comes your way...when people you know don't support you, what can you expect neighbours, police etc to do?

    im not even talking about heinous crimes, a simple incident like a hit and run, and everyone I knew told me not to file a complaint against that guy! for the fear of what he might do later....

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    1. Hmmm! Quite true - but somewhere a first step needs to be taken.

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  11. absolutely, managing perception is also the job of government. i don't think too many landlords would actually evict a woman in the middle of the night but the mentality which prompted that person to act in this pathetic manner has been firmly ingrained in our society. when we come across an extreme case, we hear few scattered protests here and there. but the problem is the lack of sincerity or rather honesty when we raise our voices.

    people coming from rural areas is also not helping the situation for women in cities, which also indicates what women in rural areas have to go through on a regular basis.

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    1. Sincerity, Staying power - all are issues, Debs!

      Such a detailed comment on a serious post!

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  12. Suresh jee

    Nice write up. But I will tell you whether its crime related to women or any other incidents , people are shouting, crying, amassing and protesting via gatherings, media, writing articles and blogs. Solutions are discussed by citizens, Media Persons,Politicians to even foreigners . But not even a single is solution is implemented.

    Nothing is going to happen unless a Revolution happens which will eradicate vote bank politics and corruption. And I doubt about that.I am afraid , but this country is going to become a deadly hell in near future. Jai Hind .

    Travel India

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  13. Well we still have hope as long as we have people like you who realize that we need to change. Lets hope for the best and keep trying in our own small ways. :)

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    1. People like us I would have thought, Puru! :)

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  14. Well summed up and i guess when men speak the world sits up and notice. I liked the comparison you drew with Anil Ambani. However we are only talking and much needs to be done, which won't happen soon. Only wishing for a better world for our future generations. Being a woman is tough but being a mother to a girl is tougher!

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    1. Let us all hope for that better world tomorrow.

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  15. I'm shocked to read the Landlord incident. Honestly I don't see anything good happening in near future. In fact the number of such stories is increasing day by day.

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    1. True Saru! But I am only resting my beliefs on the hope that more such incidents are being reported now instead of being hushed up.

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  16. Inspiring and a well written post.

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  17. I wasn't shocked by the incident you mentioned merely because I have witnessed such incidents happening to people around me. Where the victim is blamed instead of the aggressor. The one thing that stuck to my mind was the plight of the handicapped women, who are so vulnerable to sexual assault. If the plight of normal women is such, what more can be said for them?

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    1. The victim being blamed instead of the aggressor is also not all that shocking to me, Ash - having seen it happen in worse cases like rape. What shocked me was the lack of minimum humanity in evicting the woman in the middle of the night.

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  18. Glad that you wrote this post, Suresh. Such words coming from a man is the beginning for change to happen. But this should not stop here. I just wish more and more educated men become aware and realise. I was shocked on reading Rachna's post on the meet. you are right, many women filing complaints is good. But I know, they won't stand till the end of the case, seen the pace at which things happen in our country. :(

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    1. Many educated men do realize - but the bane is that we do nothing!

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  19. I had mentioned an incident on my blog where 2 software engineers were discussing that how 95% of the rape cases are consensual. The landlord you have mentioned in your post comes in the same category. They are literate and still illiterate. Their education has imparted nothing in them other than the ability to earn money.
    I somehow feel that if the government takes an initiative, things can really improve. It is all about drilling sense in the brains of the citizens of this country.

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    1. At least ensure that the stick is potent, if not the carrot.

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  20. Thanks for your balanced views and separating attitudinal and behavioral aspects. But the grater issue - not only in the present context, is that of governance and speedy disposal of complaints and cases. The starting point is to ensure registering a case as well as speedy trial (and the way it is conducted) Else, not merely women but all law abiding people will hesitate to approach law enforcement agencies.

    But the positive side is that post-Nirbhaya case, there are more people willing to come out and complain and initiatives like special Helpline setup along with fast track courts. Hope attempt will be made to close all such pending cases.

    Still I cannot help being cynical, we live in a world where mobile connections are made tougher to get because some criminals have miss used it (although it is more easily tracked) or where wearing costumes is banned (and not the guns) because a lunatic killed people on the first day of a popular children's movie ..
    While action is important, a public debate and outrage are very important. At least they partially make a potential criminal think twice.

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    1. Public debate is what gets the government on its toes first, Sudhakar!

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  21. Well said, Suresh. Changing attitudes and behaviours needs to begin with us.

    You mentioned that, "All the women in the TOI meet seemed reluctant to take their cases to the police or, indeed, believe that any action would result." I was one of believed in this till about 4-5 years back, until an incident on the local train forced me to call up police. Not only did I get prompt response and help, the police followed up with me for a week. This incident changed my perception of the police, and while I will will not say that they are 100% helpful most of them

    Yes, attitudes and behaviours need to change but this has also to include the perception that the police will not help.

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    1. Which is what I stated as the reason, Sudha - the perception! in bangalore it is further aggravated by the fact that the women tend to be from outside and do not know kannada and, thus, tend to feel further doubts about the reactions of the police.

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  22. I think that reading or hearing about such incidents will shock me but seems like I am slowly becoming numb. A simple glance at 70% of the comments on TOI articles or blog comments tells me we live in the midst of such mentalities. Though everything in your article makes sense to me, two things have me nodding. "The problem is that government sees it as only a problem of making laws – when the real problem is in the enforcement." and "The problem is that government sees it as only a problem of making laws – when the real problem is in the enforcement." We push for stricter laws but what's the point if they do not get enforced until 20 years later when half the perps might have died an easy natural death after having enjoyed their life on earth having comitted more crimes while the survivor struggled with her nightmares and dealt with demons? Justice delayed is justice denied, until and unless we can swift action - there's no point in pushing for stricter laws. And this applies to every crime. Not just crime against women.

    You say that "Changes in attitudes are difficult and take a long time in coming" and " we have a lot of leaders who are themselves incapable of changing". I agree. Simply put, not just leaders, there are many amongst the common public who are now beyond the point of no return. They have lived their life with mentalities which can no longer change. And for such people, fear can be the only detterrent. Fear of strict, stringent, swift punishment. According to me, attitudinal shifts will only come in play with the newer generations of children, if raised well and in line with the changing face of society. Until and unless such children growing into adults offset the other kind, enforcing law will be the only way to restrain such acts.

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    1. It is the same people who bring up those children Deepa! That is why Societal change always takes so long - children need to fight the upbringing to change and not all do.

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  23. First of all, congratulations for another well deserved win!
    While reading this, attitudinal changes and values led by the leaders of society, I had a mental image of how this might work. Just imagine Sushma Swaraj or Jayalalitha break away from conventional stereotype and show up at work wearing jeans and tank tops. I urge them to defy convention and break the mould!

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  24. Linguistic Mathematics of Misandrist Media
    Let’s take a look at how the media equates similar emotions of men and women with some live and real examples.

    Woman (read wife) committing suicide = Dowry Death.
    Man (read husband) committing suicide = Irresponsible Husband.
    Wife deserting husband = Estranged/Separated Couple.
    Husband deserting Wife = Woman deserted by man.
    Wife killing husband = Liberated woman.
    Husband killing wife = Crime against women increasing.
    Husband abusing wife = Domestic Violence.
    Wife abusing Husband = Marital Tiff.
    Woman approaching man = Woman expressing her love.
    Man approaching woman = Woman molested.
    Wife contributing to family expenses = Economic Violence on wife.
    Husband contributing to family expenses = Responsible Husband.
    Angry and Violent woman = Bold woman.
    Angry and Violent man = Criminal.
    Wife calling husband at workplace = Loving/Caring wife.
    Husband calling wife at workplace = Insecure Husband.
    Wife Demanding Money from Husband = Her Right (Stridhan as well).
    Husband demanding money from wife = Dowry.
    Talking of women’s rights = Gender Equality.
    Talking of men’s rights = Misogyny.

    The mathematics goes on like this. These are just some examples.

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    1. Hmmm! Yes! Society is actually weighted against a man who ends up in a physically or emotionally abused situation. Women do get more sympathy - but, as far as I have seen, the sympathy exists only as long as she is suffering the issue and not for her decision to leave the husband - yet. Urban values have changed to an extent but semi-urban and rural values still remain in that mold.

      For the most part - as long as actual physical abuse or abuse of the legal process is not concerned - it depends on the character of the people concerned and their strength to uphold their own self-respect. Society can and should step in only when physical abuse is in the picture and the legal system has to be even-handed. Thus far I agree.

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