Editorial: No Country for Women

Repression of women remains disturbingly routine

Accepted, there is nothing new in what this piece headlines. In fact, it is disturbingly routine. And yet, every once in while we collective dredge the bottom of the barrel when it comes to realities like this and hence arrive moments when we hold up the mirror and stare at our grotesqueness. In the present instance, the trigger is not another episode of misogynist violence but another reiteration of the disgusting straight face with which repression of women has been normalized in our country. The MeToo movement has brought some ugly realities to the fore, but sexual harassment at the workplace was always an open secret. It is hence time that the predators are being named and shamed and the horror of it all being exposed. One must realize those that such attitudes in the workplace manifest from the institutionalization of harassment and denial of women at homes and by institutions and the society. For instance, it was barely a year ago that the government of Madhya Pradesh directed government schools there not to insist on the name of the biological fathers when rape victims brought their children for admission. Seriously? Schools are being administered by such louts that they insist that rape victims give the name of their rapists to their children? And this has been allowed to go on? (the MP govt’s directions did, after all, come only recently). And this, in all probability, was held up as a progressive development, kind of like how Saudi Arabia was celebrated for allowing women to drive. That is how regressive we remain as a country and a society. And these practices continue because we remain stubbornly supportive of patriarchy and all its violent denials. So, we continue to ask for father’s name for all documentations. Yes, some forms also accommodate the mother’s name but it is still not an either-or choice. There is still no official document or identity you can acquire in our country solely on the basis of your mother’s name. This is inexcusable because it perpetuates the belief that a woman follows the religion, community and nationality of the men in her life – father first and then the husband – and has nothing to bequeath her children by way of official identity. When the idea of equal inheritance rights was mooted and passed, its essence was to end such misogyny but it has remained constricted to just a law on inheritance, not an attitude adjustment on how the identity of women is seen and treated. Political and even public discourse in our country continues to see women primarily as daughters and mothers, very rarely as wives and never as friends, colleagues or equal partners. This is clearly a manifestation of a society that accepts male domination and is comfortable only when women are dependent, subservient and controlled. Check all these boxes and then they can also be respected. And from the same attitude springs the normalization of sexual harassment at the workplace. So yes, there is something called Beti-Bachao, Beti-Padhao initiative underway across the country. But that, apart from sheer tokenism as has become routine for the present dispensation in power, also fits in well with the showboating masculinities insistence that women be subservient and dependent. Seventy years since the nation became independent, we really should not be trying to save and educate our daughters, that should have been established on 15 August 1947 itself; by now we should have ensured that they were liberated. But we didn’t. And we have not even kept them safe. They remain at risk not just from the depravity that walks too free anyone’s comfort, but also stand exposed to the insensitive insistence of our obsolete and offensive laws and rules and the acceptance of the fact that most workplaces are not safe.