November 25 is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
On November 25, 1960, three of the four “butterflies” were bludgeoned to death in the eerily silent Dominican countryside. The butterflies, as the Mirabal sisters were known in the resistance group against the brutal dictator, Rafael Trujillo, became popular icons of resistance.
Years later, in 1999, the United Nations in honour of the three sisters who were killed – Minerva Mirabal, Teresa Mirabal, Patria Mirabal – declared November 25 to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, (the fourth sister, Dede Mirabal passed away in 2014). The UN proposes that the premise of the day is to raise awareness about rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence – including online abuse – that women are subjected to.
It should, therefore, be a day for us as a society to introspect because, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, on average, a crime against a woman is committed every two minutes in India. These are, of course, only cases that are reported, and millions of other cases are ignored, as women suffer in silence. That magnitude of problem can be understood by considering the case of Andhra Pradesh, a state notorious for crimes against women. The state is home to 7.3 per cent of women, but records 11.5 per cent of the crimes reported against women.
The government has done little to ensure gender parity and whatever little it has done is also half-hearted. For instance, in February, the government of Andhra Pradesh organised a first-of-its-kind, “National Women’s Parliament”, and invited women achievers across many facets to share their thoughts and ideas. The stated purpose of the event was to empower women and strengthen democracy. However, on the eve of the event, Kodela Siva Prasada Rao, the speaker of Andhra Pradesh and also one of the organisers of the event, held a press conference where he compared women to cars. He elaborated that when cars are parked at home they are safest and the risk of something untoward happening increases when they are driven fast.
The abhorrent comparison understandably drew a lot of flak and Kodela defended himself with the trite explanation politicians give with nauseating predictability – that he was misquoted by the media – even though his statements were beamed live by many news channels and the clip is still easily available on the internet.
When leaders don’t understand the importance of gender parity and women’s empowerment or the very nature of freedom, citizens can expect little more than event management from them.
Given the abuse of women online, it should come as no surprise to us that there are so many crimes committed against women. The internet is replete with abusive trolls who spew vile comments against women. The comments offer a glimpse of the minds of such people who fantasise violence and the deep-rooted misogyny they harbour. Tragically, some of the most vitriolic Twitter handles are followed by the prime minister himself which emboldens them further.
Trolls should not be brushed off lightly as they are indicative of how deep the malaise is in our society. Abuse has come to be seen as normal and anyone who complains against them are told to keep off the internet and not whine about online realities. There appears to be no correlation between education and propriety. One shudders to think how these people treat the women in their lives.
One of the root causes of this deplorable condition is because our education system is obsessed with marks and children are seldom imparted gender sensitivity lessons. Even in most “co-educational” schools in the rural areas and small-towns children are segregated on the basis of gender and not encouraged to interact with one another. Only when there is healthy interaction from a younger age will people come to respect the opposite gender.
However, with education not given the importance it should be, partially due to paucity of resources and largely due to the lack of a political will, most teachers are ill-qualified to inspire virtues in children. Gender parity and social justice cannot be achieved without aligning our education system, a cardinal agent of socialisation, to the values of egalitarianism.
What we won in 1947 is independence and not necessarily freedom. So long as discrimination, violence and abuse are tolerated, India can never be considered a free nation. As a nation we cannot realise our full potential without understanding the true meaning of consent and equality.
Progress and modernity is not about “fast cars”. It’s about freedom for the “butterflies”.