Abuse On Women- Whose Fault?
By Stree Mukti
An Open Letter to Shri S.R. Nayak Chairperson, State Human Rights Commission, Karnataka and Chief Justice Cyriac Joseph of Karnataka High Court
Ninth February 2009 is a significant date for women of Karnataka… significant in a negative sense as both of you, who are public luminaries, and in positions that are crucial to ensuring gender justice and upholding the human rights of women, chose to express at different public fora, opinions that blamed women for the violence they face in our cities.
We are deeply shocked that decades of work of organisations like ours across the country to bring violence against women that was hidden as personal in to the public realm has been totally trivialized by such opinions expressed by both of you. This casual dismissal is a callous denial of the sacrifices of countless women of all classes who dared to name the violence and raise voices against violations in the name of culture, social norms and religious practice at the cost of their lives, livelihoods and reputations. It is a shame that at this point of time when women are slowly opening up spaces in the public arena for their participation and when the public arena itself is slowly adapting itself to the presence of women, you as public figures are closing up these spaces by expressing opinions that perhaps even your own forefathers did not possess!
Opinions that you have expressed can not go unchallenged; opinions that only help towards closing already petty minds apart from public spaces for women. And a closed mind only gathers bias and more prejudice. Towards opening minds like yours to new wisdoms and insights obtained through hard and difficult negotiations with reality that perhaps you are unaware of, we who are groups and organisations working with women, would like to remind you Sirs of your respective statements and push you towards thinking a little more deeply of the implications of what you have so carelessly and callously spoken.
Shri S R Nayak, State Human Rights Commission Chairperson speaking on "Human Rights and Lawyers' Role" at a programme organized by the Vakeelara Sangha, said (as reported in Indian Express dated 9th Feb 2008), "…. yes men are bad … but who asked them (the women) to venture out in the night... the women should not have gone out in the night and when they do, there is no point complaining that men touched them and hit them. Youth are destroying our culture for momentary satisfaction…"
Dear Chairperson we are not aware of any law – social, ethical or legal that prohibits women from public spaces in the night… are the night hours reserved for men in this country? What is it in the public mind as amply illustrated by you sir, that refuses to see the injustice of putting the onus on the women to be safe from men and not find any anomaly in the behaviour of the men who attack women when they find they can get away with it?
Why when you are able to understand so well the baser instincts of some men to attack and abuse women, are you unable to understand women's need to expand their lives to live without fear either of men or of the dark?
It might shock you Mr Chairperson to know that the level of abuse and violation of women in homes and in family which are assumed to be "safe" spaces for women are not so safe after all. In Bangalore city alone, on a daily average three to four married women are killed or are driven to kill themselves within the so called safe confines of their homes only because they were unable to bring in sufficient dowry…..or because the salt in food was less …or because the woman refused to serve food or because she answered him back or because they happened to wear flowers in their hair …. for many such trivial reasons. We wonder whether you would you hold these women responsible for being in the home and "allowing" themselves to die?
Regarding your comment on the youth destroying our culture for their momentary satisfaction, we wonder, Sir, if you have ever wondered what has driven the youth of this country to put lucre above all else; whose economic policies have driven them to run after material and immediate satisfaction rather than building and enhancing the ethical and moral fibre of this country?
Culture, Mr Chairperson we are sure you will agree, is not only about language, dress, food or rituals… it is also about how one generation facilitates and works to help the next generation to live in harmony and in peace. Do you ever wonder whether we are doing this for our coming generation in our mad rush to "develop" and become a Singapore or an America in the shortest possible period?
And now from issues of violence against women that somehow they themselves are the cause of and the inexplicable degeneration of cultures let us come to the more curious issue of womanly modesty the lack of which poses a threat to men's loyalty to the lord. Honourable Chief Justice Cyriac Joseph, at another public event in which you were giving a speech on the topic "Supreme Court on Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955" (as reported in The Hindu dated 9th February 2008), very kindly urged women to dress "modestly" for the "safety and security of the people." You went on to elaborate your stand by coyly confessing that "Nowadays, women wear such kind of dresses even in temples and churches that when we go to places of worship, instead of meditating on God, we end up meditating on the person before us."
Let us try to understand you a little more deeply. Are you actually suggesting that if what they wear, where they are, how they look and what they say in a public space provokes men to be abusive and violent, then women be banished from all such spaces only so that men can be safe from becoming perpetrators of crimes against women?
We wait to hear your clarification.
meantime Honourable Chief Justice, we are sure that in the course
of your long and illustrious career you would have come across cases
of the rape of children who are just five or six year old and in some
cases even less. Sometimes by strangers, most times by neighbours
and relatives and sometimes even by fathers. You must have also heard
a few years ago of the horrifying rape of a mentally challenged girl
in full public view in a local train in Bombay. As a matter of curiosity
we would like know whether you think that children and physically
and mentally challenged girls have provoked their violators by dressing
So much for the cases of rape and sexual assault that are reported and draw a lot of public indignation. What about the thousands of rape of poor and dalit women, whose lack of clothing has little to do with their lack of modesty; women who do not dare voice their attacks against such atrocities lest they are subject to more brutal attacks. Like the women in Gujarat who were victims of orchestrated gang rapes even when they were fully clothed in burkhas. Or the nuns who fell prey to sexual violence by fundamentalist goons in Madhya Pradesh and who were more than modestly attired in their habits.
Honourable Chief Justice are you aware that the shocking reality of the increasing numbers of acid attacks on women in Karnataka……most caused only because they said "no" to an obsessed man? We wonder if you really think that they were provoking their attackers by saying "no"?
And now finally with regard to your wonderfully humorous comment about men's discriminatory sartorial tastes that you also seem to subscribe to where you say that often times in a place of worship you end up meditating on the person in front of you instead of meditating on God….. We would suspect that more than being a comment on the revealing nature of the attire that we assume the woman in front of you was wearing, your comment reveals more of the frailty of your own faith that you could get so easily distracted!
Dear Chairperson and Honourable Justice we hope that this letter from many of us who found your comments more than a little objectionable will push you to introspect and recover your sadly diminished public stature by apologising for making such puerile statements in public.
As men of public office you can not continue to justify this inhuman onus you place on women to protect themselves against not only men's carnal but often criminal sexual instincts that have little or nothing to do with the clothes that women may or may not wear. As the purveyors of justice and human rights need we remind you that it is your duty to go beyond stated opinions to the unstated politics of power that underlie such sexual attacks in order to ensure that justice is done to the victim and not to the perpetrator of the crime
Or would you prefer to sit in your own ivory towers of power and prove to the world that justice is truly gender blind?
Hengasara Hakkina Sangha, Alternative Law Forum, Karmikara Munnade,
Garment and Textile Workers Union, Samanatha Mahila Vedike, Aapa Ki
Adalat, Urban Research Centre, Anita Cheria from Openspace –