As a womxn in India how often have you
Been told to dress a certain way
Been told to walk a certain way
Been told to come home on time
Been told how to carry something
Been told what to drink at a party
Been told what to do when alone, with a stronger, or in a group
Been told to live with a roommate and not alone
Felt unsafe if you were returning home alone at night
Felt unsafe at the train station
Felt you needed to be in a group or have a male companion to enjoy an extra drink on a night out
Carry a sharp object or pepper spray in your bag
Are we, Indian womxn, allowed to let our guard down? What does it feel like to let our guard down? Do we have to accept this as the norm? Do we have to always live in a state of hyper-alertness (arousal) to protect ourselves?
The intention to “protect womxn” comes from the prevalent rape-culture rampant in India forcing most womxn to “limit their movements” under the misogynistic guise of culture, and tradition.
Rape Culture, a form of gender-based-violence, is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against womxn is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of womxn’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards womxn’s rights and safety.
Netflix shows like Patal Lok bring the forefront the prevalent rape culture in India, the aggression shown towards womxn is normalized as the fit punishment for any transgression by womxn or their families. Terms like ”Bada (big work)” indicating rape or “chhota kaam (small work)” indicating molestation reflect the normalization of sexually aggressive language used to “show” womxn “their place”. To be gang raped by 10 men because a person in the family stood up for being bullied brings to forefront the systematic ills of the country, where an “uppercaste” man unquestionably decides the punishment on a women of an oppressed caste without the counsel of any legal system. It further highlights that even the legal system has no accountability when a transwomen is brutally beaten and thrown into the male jail cell. At every count womxn have been traumatized and retraumatized for the ills of those around them, just because of their gender identity. Media crudely portrays reality and the normalization of rape culture as a befitting treatment for womxn.
Womxn in India are “slut-shamed”, “victim blamed” and branded for “inviting trouble” thus normalizing male predatory behavior. Women and girls seen wearing western clothes, going for a drink to a bar, or smoking a cigarette are seen as “asking for it”. The problem society expects the onus to lie with womxn to appear almost invisible, rather than creating systems that are gender sensitized and mandate severe repercussions for the perpetrator. Our measure to protect womxn is by restricting their movement, dress them in a certain way and teach them to nervous smile while walking away from a perpetrator. Societal structures of keeping womxn at the margins does more damage as it is treating them as invisible
42% of Indian girls are molested before the age of 19, and there enough research says that perpetrator is almost always not a stranger.
Sima Mami, of Netlfix’s Indian Matchmaking, is not alone in perpetuating the need for a women to compromise. This subservient belief dates back to mythological times when even Sita compromised as she accompanied her husband into the wilderness for 14 years, had to walk through fire to test her “honour” and then abandoned in the forest to raise her two sons as a single parent. Misogyny, and gender violence is viewed as an expression of culture and tradition. This is a form of trans-generational trauma that begins at the root religious and societal values.
Rape culture is a form of gender-based-violence and this has a variety of short- and long-term effects on the survivors mental health. Many survivors report flashbacks of their assault, and feelings of shame, isolation, shock, confusion, and guilt. Survivors of rape, sexual assault, physical violence, emotional violence and economic violence are at an increased risk for developing complex PTSD, depression, anxiety, disassociation, and hallucinations because of the trauma endured. Their very sense of self is beaten down to being invisible.
Change begins at the root with questioning values passed down through generations and existing structures. Gender sensitization should be taught in school and systems have to be in place to provide gender equality and equity. The UN recognizing 13 ways we can stand up against rape. But transformation is only possible if we stop being bystanders and take accountability to make the perpetrators of gender-based-violence accountable for their actions.
About the author…
She believes emotional and mental health care are at the very core of us experiencing happiness in our life. Her qualifications include a Masters in Clinical Psychology and in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Priyanka enjoys working with young adults and understanding life as it changes with intrusions like the internet and the pandemic. Above everything else her true love is homemade chocolate cake.
Priyanka has attended a Gender-Based-Violence course in Feminist Lawyering conduted by One Future Collective. . Her learnings and awakening at the course has significantly contributed to shaping her thoughts in this post.