A Social Experiment on Society’s Reaction to Women’s Empowerment Issues
This past year we saw ‘women empowerment’ become a trending topic; it has been the most popular agenda of any political party trying to get votes in their favor; and women’s safety has been discussed and debated in almost every college society that has held an open debate. So you might think that India is really progressing on the women empowerment front, right?
Let’s just think what would be the major points one would incorporate in a women empowerment campaign:
- free and equal society
- sexual harassment-free society
- equal education
- equal job opportunity
- equal rights in property
- no dowry
Sounds basic enough, and perhaps with all these women empowerment campaigns: the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls – Sabla, the maternity programs, and the campaign logos of course , you must think that at least in the capital, these objectives might have been achieved by now. Well, no.
In a small survey done right in the heart of the capital of India, New Delhi, we found how India still remains bound in the shackles of patriarchy, hegemony and warped ideals, and tightly so.
We asked women about what they thought about the current safety that women experience in Delhi?
The 55 year old lady, just laughed in my face; saying there was absolutely no point in talking about safety. However many policemen you deploy here, it’s no use. Either the policemen are dead scared of the college boys who get drunk and act like “mastanas” (which in the sense of use in the local language means, harassing women after being greatly inebriated) or the police “thullas” (Delhi lingo for policemen) getting inappropriate with the women themselves. Moreover, the best that even the sincere ones can do is actually condemn women roaming around in such localities if it’s not absolutely necessary.
The second question was about women education.
In the same locality, we encountered a very well decorated boutique; so we decided to go in and have a chat with the owner. Well the mother was not there, but we could see 4 small girls all cooped up behind the counter and watching Cartoon Network. Here’s what the eldest one, who was about 15 or 16, had to say:
I do not go to school.
Because my mother’s a widow and can’t afford the fees of a proper school and my uncle wouldn’t ‘allow’ me to go to a government school; because he says it’s not safe.
So are you all able to make both ends meet by simply running this boutique?
She was prompt in saying: not at all. You see, we all listen to “chachu” (uncle) so much because he is the one who gives us some money every month to sustain our livelihood.
The youngest however did go to school. The rest as the “chacha” (uncle) decided did not need any education because all of them ultimately had to get married. The youngest was receiving education because the uncle thought, one just as well may try; there was after all no son in the family.
And what about equal job opportunity? (asked to a very well educated married lady who came in to visit the boutique)
Well that one’s easy, anyone living in India will say that most families do not allow their daughters to work late; plus they do not want their highly qualified and capable daughter-in-laws to work, the reason: why do you need to work, our son already earns enough money!
Do you work?
I used to, not anymore.
Did you give any dowry?
Dowry is just necessary; it’s more of a status symbol, a ritual rather than a frowned upon convention. We had to give dowry. It’s an unsaid rule. No one might ask for it. But they surely do expect it.
We conducted a experiment in the locality; we had 4-5 girls playing volleyball in a residential park in the area. Soon enough, few drunken men started staring and jeering at the girls. For some time, the girls kept ignoring them, but soon enough brazen commenting started by them. When one of the girls told him off, they just got more enthusiastic about it.
The greatest shock was when one of the aunties from the crowd that had gathered around by this time, came up to the girls and scolded them for playing volleyball so provocatively! The others in the crowd nodded their heads in complete unison.
So, the girls who had been instructed to take the next necessary step at each stage called up the nearest police station which was hardly a kilometre away. Fifteen minutes passed, then half an hour, and then passed at least 10 calls to the police station at various levels, which the station kept transferring the calls to.
All this while, the jeering did not stop and the crowd even got in on a little joke, laughing at the girls at their inability to get themselves protected by the police. Two hours later the police finally gave up and said that they were unable to find the spot. Later one of our male team members went in to the group of men as aninterested spectator. The leader of the gang proudly boasted that no police was going to come there, however much time the girls waited, as the gang ‘fed’ the police every day and no officer was going to let go off his daily 100 rupees for a mere case of eve-teasing.
The Regressive Mentality
What is even more surprising is that it is the women themselves who agree to every kind of subordination just to avoid any form of fight. Women are made to behave lest they offend anyone. Her character is the easiest topic of discussion, and discussed by women themselves!
What we have to realize is that, even if the government enforces strict action, the government can only do so much to provide the country with the facilities for a safe environment. However, it is each man, each child and each woman who needs to broaden their perspectives not only about themselves but about others too. It’s our myopic patriarchy that is preventing us from progress.
You might love someone very much, but ‘love’ that keeps you in a cage is not protection; it’s slavery. So the next time someone asks you not to go to the market or college unless accompanied by a male, say no. Women, be reasonable and protect yourself according to your environment.
Don’t be bow down to every overprotective measure like, not going to college on weekends, or never wearing anything other than ‘salwar’ and ‘kurtas’ in order to not tempt the opposite sex; or run terrified between markets at 2pm, fearing someone might look at you and insinuate your character by doing just that. Stand your ground.
It’s high time India stopped criminalizing the victim. You may respect your elders very much, but first you owe it to yourselves and the future generations to set a path for an open-minded society where the women are indeed emboldened. Women empowerment will never be anything more than mere writing on a paper unless it is the women themselves who take charge.
Empowerment cannot be brought by ‘protecting’ women by keeping them locked up in the safety of warped societal norms, but must be brought by letting them face the world and giving them their right to find their own strength.