Friday, 11 January 2013

Changing the Ingrained Culture of Violence against Women

The recent public rage in response to the aftermath of the tragic cases of violence against women in both Nepal and India has thrust in light the issue that has for a long time buried under the cloaks of religious, socio-cultural and customary practices of the indo-Nepali contemporary society. This article discusses some aspects of this problem in the Nepali context.

There have since been a number of protests in Nepal after the above mentioned cases of violence against women. The common message uniting the voices of that public solidarity is loud and clear - any form of violence against women is unacceptable. Our society is still entrenched in the shackles of stone-age attitude towards women. Nepali society outright accepts or turns a blind eye on various forms of violence against women. On a regular basis girls and women are trivialised, assaulted, harassed, or even murdered. Women are forced to live in constant fear.

We don't have to look hard or too far to see the ugly faces of violence against women. Just have a good look around you. All violence against women is not necessarily physical, which is its worst kind. In the Nepali society shouting at one's woman is taken for granted as a man's privileged right. Women by default are supposed to inherit all the duties for life of household chores with males of the house playing the role of bystanders and bosses. Literally, some men even don't break a twig (sinko pani nabhachney) when it comes to household chores

Religious teachings as well as the popular media such as TV and movies frequently portray an idea Nepali woman as a house wife who is submissive with the sole duty of taking care of the whole family. So called customary practices (chaleko chalan) also subjugate women to the role of household slavery as defined by medieval men. More extreme violence against women tends to be those of sexual nature such as tossing an obscene comment, opportunist groping and sexual abuse.

Without doubt, violence against women is a complex social problem. Men as well as women equally are perpetuating this cycle of violence at individual, family and societal level. We regularly come across role of women in violence against women such as in the form of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (sasu buhari) scuffle or silently enduring the fatalistic role of a domestic slave. However, the responsibility of this heinous act of cowardice against civilised society lie with the males our society - both as the perpetrator as well as shutting up after witnessing an act of violence. From my personal observation, boys from families with and without sisters are two completely different beasts. Generally speaking, the attitude and behaviour of such boys towards women are awful. Those ultra-egoistic-super-duper-macho-male-pig-chauvinists have no respect at all towards any women. Consideration or acceptance of women as a dignified human being cannot be found in their vocabulary, attitude and behaviour. 

It is appalling to the degree of utter sickness to witness violence towards women. It is an outright lie when people say they do not know what they are doing. One must be blind to not realise the impact of their violent actions towards women. It is time everyone honestly accepted their mistakes and started correcting themselves. Until then, any form of attitude and behaviour involving violence against women should be outright rejected by any sensible person. 

It is now time to take a firm stand and say NO to any form of violence against women in our society. We must change those shameful practices and habits that are ingrained in our minds and behaviours for centuries. The twenty first century has already left us far behind. If we don't change now, time will not only leave us far behind but we will be going backwards to the stone ages.

Initiation of any change starts with the acceptance of having a problem. One hopes the recent tragic cases and the resulting movements have thrust the light towards the elephant in the room everybody conveniently preferred to simply ignore. The changes will have to come from every institution in the society. Most importantly positive changes have to be fostered and nurtured from the fundamental institution of family in every child's heart and mind - the earlier the better. A childhood experience goes a long way later in adult life - a violent childhood is more likely to breed a violent adult. On the other hand, a child well educated about the right and wrong attitude towards women is highly likely to treat all the women in his/her life with respect later in adulthood.

Contemporary Nepali society has lately been in a dark era for a long time where the ills of society have eroded our societal norms and values rapidly towards a nadir of no return. We can't fix everything but amidst this doom and gloom we need to find some silver lining. Each of us can start small changes from within ourselves. Just like with any societal matters, change to our society's attitude towards violence against women will be a slow and gradual process. It will take time to flush out the centuries of filth stuck in the gutters of our minds. It will take a while to weaken the shackles of religion and culture before they are broken.

P.S. I have learned important lessons in life spending childhood with four sisters in the family. A version of this post was published in on 10 Jan 2013.