Misogyny and sexual violence

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The performance of Indian sportspersons in the just concluded 20th Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, finishing fifth in the medals tally with 15 gold, 30 silver and 19 bronze for a total haul of 64 medals behind England, Australia, Canada and hosts Scotland is now being overshadowed by the news of the secretary-general of the Indian Olympic Association getting arrested for an alleged assault on women. Another unattached wrestling referee has also been arrested for an alleged sexual assault. What one can infer from the reaction to the alleged incidents is the manner of immediate response. Latest emerging reports say that the two have been let off for lack of concrete evidence. Nearer home, we have had disclosures of a coach molesting and harassing five students at the Sports Training Centre at Takyelpat which came on the heels of an earlier incident when Ng Dingko ended up beating students at the Sports Authority of India, Manipur complex. But no stringent action has been taken apart from condemnations and transfers. With the Ng Dingko case, it was the aggressive stance taken by civil society groups that led to the police case being taken up against him for there were efforts to go soft on the boxer.
 
With growing incidences of elected representatives going on record to threaten that women should be raped, that women who get sexually abused or harassed are calling for such against them because of the way they dress, where and when they go etc, that men get aggressive because of mobile phone use or eating chowmein; the reports of sexual violence on women and children getting on an increase is no surprise. There is a strange misogyny prevalent in the Indian society that deems fit to put ‘women where they belong’, to bracket women into water tight compartments that end up restricting movement and social interactions, with the end result that the emphasis on what women can do and cannot do leading to ‘just deserts’ for women who go foul of these dictates. On the face of it, women have more ‘freedom’ and ‘equal rights’ but the reality is that societal prejudices, concepts and tolerance of what a woman can and cannot do have not really changed much.
 
A vast section of young and not so young men in the country today deem it completely ‘normal’ and accepted to indulge in the practice of what is known as ‘eve teasing’ that in reality translates into harassment. Worse, women who are subjected to ‘eve teasing’ are supposed to feel privileged with the attention so showered and any complaints, to such cases are mostly met with amusement rather than a positive response to take swift action against those indulging in the said act of eve teasing. One only needs to see what happens to girls and young women who take a strong stand against being eve teased or being ‘followed’ in the form of vicious attacks and the use of acid, leaving many disfigured. If ever a study were to be taken up in Manipur with regard to the nature of eve teasing and its trends, the result would indicate a not so surprising fact that it is often men in security uniforms who indulge in the act. Another lesson in irony where those in positions of power and authority to take action in cases of sexual violence are the ones who are perpetrating it further.
 
Yes, laws with regard to sexual violence in the country have been strengthened in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a para-medic student in New Delhi in 2012 while the police and legal systems have been asked to step up in terms of their response to cases of sexual violence against women and children. Yet, these developments have not deterred any perpetrators of sexual violence but worryingly led to a spurt in cases of sexual violence against minor girls. While stringent action needs to be taken up against those indulging in sexual violence, the real game changer will be an attitude shift vis a vis the place of women in the society. This in turn, can only come about when there is a conceptual clarity of gender norms and practices.
 

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