Beyond protests: Questioning the cause of #VAW

( Warning : This entry details some instances of violence against women.Do not read if you find them disturbing.) 

Sometimes, in fact most times even barring PMS, it feels as though to be a woman is to be in constant emotional turmoil. Here, I am referring to the gamut of things around us that constantly trigger emotions like fear, hatred, anger, disgust and frustration.  Every instance of violation of the female body in particular feels like the victim is you. When there’s  female feticide the foetus could’ve been you. A young girl raised as a son in Afghanistan is you.  When the woman in Accham gives birth to her 6th child, a daughter, risking her life  and the husband doesn’t call the sad woman is you.  A woman sexually harassed in the streets of Guhawati, the woman is you.When there’s a gang rape, iron rod inserted in the vagina, intestines pulled out feels like yours.  When authorities in Puducherry come up with the prescription of an overcoat for ‘safety of women’ that woman clad in overcoat in the humid Puduchhery heat could be you. No wonder, women in the streets of Delhi carried placards that read “I’ll smash that iron rod on your head’.  Because it isn’t one woman that’s violated it is all of us. Solidarity, in this case, stems from  the fact that patriarchy puts all us women in the same group where we are nothing more than our breasts and vagina that need to be hidden under shawls and overcoats as though the patriarchal mindset doesn’t derive pleasure in getting rid of it and violating us time and again.

If patriarchy had a form, I wonder how many seconds  it would last before angry women all over the world smashed it with iron rods. Indeed, to be a woman is to feel so angry at everything that I would like to go to a place now and then where I can break a few things. Yes, I have might have gone crazy  reading,  thinking and observing everything about the Delhi gang rape case and the protests/debates  it has triggered in India and elsewhere. This might lead you to think that I would be in the front row of protests demanding an end to VAW. But I am not.

I have nothing against protests per se. More so in the current context where these emotions of mine are also an outcome of the protests in Delhi against rape which has done the commendable job of instigating  a debate on patriarchy. I just think that we could learn something from the Indian experience and jump to the questioning patriarchy part. It’s not to say that Delhi protests suffice for Nepali issues, but we, unlike our Southern neighbor are well acquainted with the effectivity and limitations of protests.
Back in 2006 I was a part of protests (Link in Nepali) in front of Singha Durbar demanding a 50 percent reservation for women in politics. The extent to which that particular protest pressurized the government to reach a 33 per cent reservation for women is uncertain but the degree to which an institution like the government can make a difference in an issue such as VAW is clearly limited. The demand to end VAW is not like a demand for a separate state where the state says Ok and a new entity is created. It’s not even similar to demanding a 50 percent participation of women in politics. It is far more intricate and complicated. For someone to stop VAW it requires interfering relationship between a man and a woman.  And there is a limit to what the government can do. Stronger regulations, laws might be able to deter people from indulging in VAW.   But the question remains, to what extent can it reduce the incidence of violence? The government can’t come peeping into people homes ensuring no VAW ever happens, can it?  Is it laws alone that put a cap on instances of violence? Is it the only question we should be asking? Why does violence against women occur in the first place? What makes it acceptable in the minds of men (or women) that they can beat, hit, rape, kill a woman when she does not act in accordance to their demands? And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that both men and women indulge in VAW? Why is it so?

When the problem is impunity delivery of justice is a solution. When the problem is patriarchal mindset (that manifests as VAW) stronger laws are a necessary but not sufficient condition to be termed a solution.

If the issue is justice alone, the Government of Nepal (GON) has assured us that it is punishing the accused in the multiple cases . But as the larger issue of VAW has already been evoked we must think beyond?

This leads us to the more uncomfortable discussion about patriarchy. I was looking at the picture of women in Dhading (Link in Nepali) demanding an end to VAW,  protesting in the office of the district development officer. While the decentralization of protests definitely made me happy, I wondered if all women in the protests led a life they wanted to free of violence within their families? For me, the greater concern after her recovery,in the case of the woman whose husband  fire in her genitals as she refused to have sex with him, was why did she keep changing her report to the police to save her husband? (पीडितले श्रीमान् बचाउन बिहान, दिउँसो र साँझपिच्छे बयान फेरेकोसमेत उनले जनाए ।) And what does it take for a husband to kill his wife ( Link in Nepali) just because she refuses sex?
It is easy for us to comprehend that the man’s understanding that a woman must grant him whatever he demands is central in all of it. He beats,assaults, rapes,kills because he’s a storehouse of power the patriarchy has bestowed on him on the grounds of the penis he possesses. It manifests as his access to education, income and greater access to resources while the other sex devoid of all of it is dependent on him. He becomes the sole provider of her needs, while she in return of her subjugation as the lesser sex and on providing him the pleasure of sex receives whatever he offers her: money and beatings alike. So, how do we stop someone from committing violence against women in the first place?

Anger against VAW is easier than questioning its source: patriarchy. No wonder we have never had a women’s movement in our part of the world. Part of the problem is because it is so deeply engraved in the minds of us women ourselves that we just don’t realize what we are perpetuating the very thing we oppose. Also, the so-called women issues related NGOs must accept their role in trivializing women issues in Nepal. Uncomfortable questions have been asked only within the four walls of well-facilitated halls in resorts and hotels hosting ‘gender workshops’. No sooner the training ends and the trainees step out into the real world, the women and men go back to their gendered roles because ‘such is life’. Questioning any issue prescribed by patriarchy would be ruining the sacred family hierarchy!

But what would you want? Providing medical treatment to women who have been victimized or have men and women alike instilled in their minds that VAW is simply unacceptable? So a serious fight against VAW requires asking uncomfortable questions, serious soul-searching. And it involves questioning everything around us, in our bedrooms, our home, universities and work.  We need to ask questions that jolt us out of the status quo. Why is a woman supposed to have high-in-fibre cornflakes and happily look for her 35-year old husband’s socks ?  Why does the Jhandu Bam trademark become the more important aspect in a song that what Munni says,does, advocates in the song? Do you as a man, comfortably man, ever bother to think how your wife manages your home, children plus the cooking and cleaning while you are busy tweeting time away? Do you ever stop and think how difficult it might be for women to think of their ‘husband’s’ home as theirs? Why do you see it as obvious that women cook, clean while you eat? What makes you suggest your friend that he should get married for good food? Or are you a sexist that lectures women now how they haven’t done enough for their liberation? And does protesting serve any purpose if we as women come back to the gendered space of our homes and are unable to question any such practices? Do we go to protests and come back to a home where our brother does all the roaming around and we do the housekeeping? Do we question it? Do we question our father when he doesn’t move a muscle in the house while  mother does all the cooking,cleaning plus goes to work?

Do we have the guts to challenge the status of the men we love (husband, brother, father, in-laws) in our house? Or do we despite our innumerable attendance of gender workshops, fancy degrees in gender take everything that happens to us, expected of us as a gradual phase of a woman’s life because we must not let go of traditional values and compromise for the *preservation* of the status quo? No matter if the status quo benefits us or not. Sacrifice, might as well be our middle name, we wouldn’t dare question anything.

All this while I have used the ‘we’ to talk of our responsibilities. But things get murky in the guise of ‘we’. Lamenting that the society is such and how ‘we’ hate to be associated with it is mundane.We make the society. Therefore, it’s a question of what ‘I’ as a person is doing against it. Does the portrayal of women in the media worry me or not? Do I as a person have the courage to dissociate myself with the people/institutions/attitudes that subjugate women or not?Do I protest anytime someone makes a sexist remark or not, at the risk of being dubbed a bore, uncool or ‘feminist’ (the most dreaded word for some God knows why)?

In the end everything boils down to one ‘I’. Fulfilling one’s responsibilities  no doubt, is more crucial than the assurance of  justice.


(P.S I started this entry 2 weeks back and have written different parts of it in different frames of mind and moods. Perhaps it shows. It seemed like an never-ending entry ranging to almost 4000 words. This is the most ‘beautification/editing’ I could do given the time I have and energy already spent on it. And, thanks for reading.) 

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6 comments

  1. There are a few things I wanted to say about this post when I first read it but for now I’d like to point out that the 2006 protest that you participated in wasn’t the sole reason for the 33% reservation for women. Among others -as some would tell you – it is the result of years of lobbying and rejections faced by those very women’s rights workers you seem to dismiss in a sentence. Despite their ‘faults’, (and based onmy limited knowledge about this)I think credit should be given where it’s due. This leads to another concern I have about this post – though I agree with the main message there is quite a bit of generalizations in there. But then again, these are your own musings and not a formal write-up.

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