inequality and development in society
Pushkar Raj, General Secretary
of Delhi State PUCL
Recently released film Bawandar, based on the true story of Bhawari Devi
of Rajasthan again puts in focus the treatment of women in our society.
Notwithstanding the personal trauma and public humiliation that the hapless
woman went through, the law too disappointed her while she was seeking
justice. The judicial pronouncement and the accompanied commentary underlining
the basis of the judgement that acquitted the accused are a telling statement
on the mindset of male dominated Indian society. It is surprising that
instead of providing for a woman judge while hearing a rape case the state
should feel it expedient to transfer the judge who had been hearing the
case earlier. Bhawari Devi's case is now pending before the high court
for the last five years. Who knows whether she would get justice in the
high court. Or the case would not come before the Supreme Court where
it might be delayed to the extent that by the time the case comes for
hearing Bhawari Devi is dead! Given the fact of pending cases at all the
levels of our judiciary the aphorism 'justice delayed is justice denied'
has lost its meaning for us.
The irony of the rape cases is that after such a crime is committed against
a woman the society, police, and judiciary all play a very negative role.
The lawyers in the court behave like sadist villain in Hindi movies and
women's organizations play up the issue for cheap publicity. All this
puts the victim in such a situation that instead of being a person who
is wronged against she is inflicted with a burden of guilt that gnaws
on her for rest of her life.
Logically speaking this guilt should be the curse of the man who perpetrates
the crime of rape against the woman. But paradoxically it is the other
way round. Due to the social conditioning of women from the onset of their
birth and deep societal perception of the woman as someone subordinate
and inferior to the man society condemns a victim and in turn de-humanizes
and de-empowers itself.
Much of the problem lies with the old and baseless stereotypes that are
still being inculcated in the garb of religious teachings in various parts
of the country. Women are presented as more like a piece of mirror. They
are more likely to be impure, polluted or sullied. They only need to be
more virtuous, guarded, less interactive and self-contained. If they do
not they lose their womanhood. Hindi and regional popular cinema has played
particularly reinforcing role in this field. Besides the widely circulated
and subsidized religious literature of Hindus (as well as Muslims) sets
forth a prejudiced code of conduct for women. It inspires a hackneyed
image of woman in the vulnerable groups of society that runs counter to
rights and individuality of women as an equal entity in the society. Gita
press of Gorakhpur for example with its morality manuals upholds sati,
denigrates rights of girl child and talks of purda as a sign of virtuous
Buttressing with a
1919 study of an American journal Hanuman Prasad Poddar in his book `Nari
Shiksha' (Gita press) tries to prove that women while they menstruate
are impure and even the food they touch goes impure. Hindu manual of conduct
for women maintain that before marriage a woman is property of her father,
after marriage she is under her husband's guardianship and she should
bear the violence from her husband as her fate.
Mohammad Ibrahim Palanpuri
in his book Hidiat-Nisa (gift to wome
n), that forms the part of Jamia Islamia literature series, says ` a woman
should not read the Koran when she is in her menstrual cycle. If she is
doing the namaz and starts bleeding, then the act of Namaz is invalid.'
Similarly in Tohfa-un-Nikah, Palanpuri states 'if a woman does not listen
to her husband, he can beat her a little, but not as violently as he can
beat a servant.
Being a deeply religious society and in the light of a wave of revivalism
in which old is less questioned and more glorified the effect of any teaching
that goes with a religious label is well imagined. With mushrooming of
madrasas and shishu mandirs in all parts of the country whose curriculum
is not regulated, this type of indoctrination makes it difficult to secure
women's rights in the society.
The impact of these teachings is in form of bruised personalities that
accept marital violence as something acceptable and normal. According
to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-2) conducted between 1998-99
by the International Institute of Population Sciences, 56 per cent married
Indian women think that there is nothing wrong if their husband resort
to physical violence. The issues involved could be as trivial as going
out of the house without informing the husband or her inability to cook
properly or failure to respect her in-laws.
Due to Gender inequality the whole of society is affected, not only just
the girls or women. In fact a society that is arched from the middle (due
to one half put to passivity by deprivation of their rights); and a society
that does not take conscious and resolute steps to bridge the gender gap
through the change in the societal perception will continue to lag behind
in the ladder of development. A recent in-depth report called Engendering
Development released by the World Bank earlier this year suggests that
the gender equality is key to effective development in any society. It
states that the societies, which promote women's rights and increase their
access to resources, enjoy lower poverty rates, faster economic growth
and less corruption than countries that do not. On the other hand societies
that discriminate on the basis of gender pay a significant price-in greater
poverty, slower economic growth, weaker governance, and a lower quality
There is a need for de-learning drive in Indian society so far as the
perception about the women is concerned. Much of the learning that a child
acquires about gender status and gender relations in society is through
informal interaction. It is not a part of formal education curriculum
in schools. There is a greater need to incorporate material in mainstream
school curriculum that focuses on the prevalent gender misconceptions
and lack of women's rights in the society and stresses on the gender equality
and accompanied payoff to the society as a whole.