Why men clinging to euphemisms like `a simple case of eve-teasing’ and `a feeble no’ may be a sign that they’re frightened of women who are fighting back
The patriarchs are in a panic in India. Wheth er it is in the streets or in universities or in courtrooms or in their homes, women are making their voices heard. And the men are running scared and retaliating. But you also see the women’s refusal to be cowed down. Even a cursory list of recent instanc es shows this: Gauri Lankesh refused to be silent, and they killed her for this.Hadiya (earlier Akhila) from Kerala re fused to give up on her marriage and for this the court -among the most patriarchal of institutions we have, and yet sometimes the only recourse in women’s search for justice -decided that she was `weak and vulnerable’. Marriage, `the most important decision in her life’, they said, could only be taken `with the active involvement of her parents’. Worse, the Supreme Court actu ally lent credence to the fictitious bogey called `love jihad’ and her family locked her up in their home.

Shifah (Stanzin) refused to allow self styled community representatives, the Ladakh Buddhist Association, to call her marriage and her choice of religion any thing other than what it was, her choice. No one, she told them categorically, has the right to interfere in this. She refused to en dorse what she called a `game of misogyny played in my name’.

The women students of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) refused to be cowed down and came out and protested against sexual harassment and intimidation. For this, they were beaten and chased by the so-called upholders of the law, the police. Their women teachers stood by the students and fought with them and spoke up for them. The university authorities, typically, heaped blame on them, the vicechancellor tried to pass things off by calling this serious violation of the students’ rights a `simple case of eve-teasing’, and the police filed FIRs against the students.

Shayra Bano refused to give in to the pressure of the conservative establishment and withdraw her petition to do away with triple talaq.

Despite the attempts of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to stop Muslim women‘s battle for their rights, she, and other women who supported her, fought and won.The irony, and the tragedy, is that none of the five judges who ruled on her case, had anything to say about gender justice.

These are only a few of the many instances of battles women are fighting.Each such battle is evidence that the ground is shifting and women are no longer willing to remain silent.

But equally, each battle also shows the resilience and embeddedness of patriarchies, not only in individuals but in all our institutions.

It could be in the so-called security establishment (as for example when the security guards to whom the student in BHU called out for help did nothing), or the police, who beat up the students and their teachers.

Or it could be in so-called religious and community organisations, as in the Ladakh Buddhist Association which thought nothing of putting a demand to Mahbooba Mufti, the head of state in Kashmir, to annul a m a rriage of an adult woman.How does a personal decision become a matter for state intervention?
Or it could be the head of an educational institution -as in BHU, or earlier at Jammu when Ladakhi women students protested sexual harassment by a senior faculty member in the school of medicine, or at Christ College in Bengaluru. Or it could be our courts as in the Kerala High Court‘s judgment to nullify Hadiya’s marriage on the basis of a complaint filed by her father.As if a 24-year-old woman does not have the capability to make up her own mind.

Or indeed in the recent High Court judgment in the Farooqui case where the court ruled that the victim’s refusal to consent was too `feeble’.

It’s not only that patriarchies are reasserting themselves in the face of women’s claims to their rights and their demands for justice. It’s also that there is a sense of impunity that patriarchal in stitutions carry with them, that allows them to do so.

So while the courts may annul women’s marriages because they feel women don’t know their own minds, they will not penalise institutions that do not follow the law as in, say, not setting up Sexual Harassment Committees; they will not caution self styled community organi sations to stay out of wom en’s personal decisions.

Years ago, a woman called Mathura was denied justice in a case of rape be cause the courts felt she was a woman of question able character. A woman called Rameeza Bee was denied justice because she was assumed to be a prostitute.

One might think then that not much has changed today. And yet, that’s not entirely true. Something vital has. The women. They’re speaking out as never before. And the men are frightened, they’re hitting back.

The battle will be a long one. But it has well and truly begun.

The author is founder of Zubaan Books