PUCL Bulletin,

October 1997

Indian woman in a man's world

Our society, for centuries, has been unjust and iniquitous towards women, the deprived section of the population, and the minorities. They have either been non-persons or made to remain under the chhatrachhaya (umbrella shade) of the dominating sect. Whenever some of them made attempts to assert their identities and refused to remain under the overall chhatrachhaya, they have been put down. They have always been marginalised.

This writer has had the privilege of interacting with a number of the women's movement at the World Conference of UN Human Rights Conference Vienna 1993, and subsequently in Europe, USA, and Canada, and also with activists from third world countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh where women's organization have made their presence felt in a significant way. A number of them lamented that in spite of growth of a worldwide movement of women, this world remains largely a man's world.

Look at the recent tragic death of Princess Diana for which aggressive intrusion by photographers into her private life has been blamed. She was tormented after her disenchantment with her adulterous husband and subsequent divorce. But no one pursued her ex-husband, no one people into his bed room for a peep at his sexual life. (However, the reaction of the average Briton as manifested by the millions who attended the funeral and mourned her death - one wonders if any other funeral was attended by so many persons - - indicates that the western society has made a significant progress in that it is no longer the moral guardian of women).

The Indian scenario is dismal. In spite of constitutional provisions and a number of legislative measures, Indian womanhood continues to suffer enormously. Women in our country have been, more or less, non-persons for centuries because of, among other factors, scriptural sanctions. The woman's duty is to remain "pure", a sati savitri. She must find her fulfillment to him, and producing children, and then looking after the children and the family - - no more and no less. If women violate this discipline, there will be utter chaos and disaster, and the society would be shaken if women expressed dissatisfaction with the treatment accorded to her. The alpha and omega of our heritage is that if a woman violates the scriptural sanctions she must be punished by society which has been "appointed" as the moral guardian of women. Instances of such "punishment" are reported almost every day.

It is against this background and societal scenario that we should view recent incidents of human rights violations and torture of the worst type that two women have suffered in Rajasthan.

In one case a prominent Jain mani (sadhu), Lokendra Vijay Jain was reported to have raped a 37-year-old woman in his ashram at Bhinmar, Jalore on 6 September 1997. The unfortunate victim came all the way from Mumbai to see her teenage son who initiated as a Jain muni by Lokendra Vijay Jain. According to her to the police, when she entered the muni's room, as directed by his disciples, to enquire about her son, he closed the doors and raped her. Later she and her son were forcibly taken in a vehicle to a distant place in Gujarat and thrown out.

What followed is a commentary on how Indian womanhood is treated. It is all the more tragic because it happened in a society which claims to have respected women for centuries.

On the basis of the complaint, the police had taken the muni to the police station for questioning. On hearing this news, the entire Jain community, thousands of them, gheraoed the police station. The police turned their face - - they released the muni. The ostensible reason given by the police is that they wanted to avoid major confrontation. However, in a situation of a similar kind in Mumbai, the police opened fire and killed 11 people - - all Dalits. Here the demonstrators seemed to say, "such things happen", but their muni's honour must be protected!

The second incident took place in a girls' hostel of Rajasthan University at Jaipur on 5 September 97 in which a girl was gangraped by eight men, all very highly connected. Which explains why none of them has yet been apprehended.

Given the "moral sanctions" of our society, these two women are almost certain to face social ostracism. Does any one - - like the NHRC, the National Commission for Women, Women's Organisations, human rights groups - - give thought to our social practice and outlook which is the primary source of inhuman, oppressive and cruel treatment of women, and realise that societal evils cannot be eradicated by legislative and administrative action alone, and also that the creation of a better society will never be possible without enabling meaningful participation of women, - - R.M.P., 10 September, 1997.

Postscript: It is reported (after we wrote the above note) that Muni Lokendra committed suicide after questioning by the police. The Jain community later decided that they would prevent the cremation until the police superintendent who was handling the case was suspended. The Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Mr. Sekhawat then announced the SP's suspension in the Rajasthan Assembly.

Later, a number of organisation called a bandh in Jalore and three other towns. The police said that the town enforcement earlier deployed in and around Jalore has been replaced by Army men. (Source, H.T., 15 September 97).



Home | Index