The fight for gender equality has to constantly tackle one major problem: the sense of entitlement of the man and his perception of the woman as a weak object, a property to be owned.
A common crime that has been on the rise in India and has blatantly exposed the privilege of the Indian man is an acid attack, against an ex-lover, wife or a woman who has refused to acknowledge the sexual advances or a marriage proposal aggravating the masculine need to get what he wants at whatever cost and assert his power. Possessiveness, territoriality, insecurity have been entitled to men in a patriarchal society where they are seen as the custodians of women’s bodies and their rights.
We have been rocked by innumerable incidents of acid attacks in the past which has shown an increase from 83 in 2011 to 349 in 2015 (Research by Acid Survivors Foundation India). India has the worst convictions rates for acid attacks and much like the other crimes against women, these cases are treated with societal indifference and official apathy.
Revenge crimes are born because of this misplaced sense of entitlement and power. An incident that shocked me recently happened in Kottayam, Kerala where a jilted lover barged inside the classroom at the School of Medical education with a bottle of petrol pouring it on his ex-lover and setting her ablaze. The attacker who was a student of the same medical school then got out of the classroom and set himself on fire. The girl and the accused were admitted to Kottayam medical college where they succumbed to their injuries.
According to the victim’s friends both had been in love with each other for some time until the girl backed out because of her parent’s opposition to the relationship. The accused, a resident of Kollam stalked and threatened her on several occasions after which he retorted to this extreme step.
Entitlement is a privilege in a patriarchal society where women do not have the agency to refuse. Revenge is sought for rejecting a marriage proposal or sexual advances. Women are also been attacked for not bringing enough dowry, for bearing a female child and for not cooking a good meal or the refusal to do it.
Every crime against a woman is based on the deeply rooted bias that they are dependent humans who do not have the liberty to exercise the freedom to live their life which is a fundamental right. Women are struggling to claim their subjectivity as a fully formed human subject who have the right to say a no to a man.
What is required at this stage when women’s rights are being talked about and not brushed under the carpet is the urgent need for gender sensitization to eliminate this sense of masculinity and male privilege. Son preference that stems from the idea that women are a burden eliminates respect for them or their right to be treated at par with the man. When women do play this role of being vulnerable, is when the protective privileges of the man get threatened forcing him to burst out in aggrievement and commit crimes to punish the woman, for daring to stand up for herself.
In the Kerala case, the questions we need to ask is that why is it that a woman can’t give up on a relationship and move on if she wants to? Can’t she exercise her freedom to choose a partner? Why could the man not deal with the rejection? Why was his recourse violence?
Law reforms for violence against women have been happening but sadly it has not helped in any way to arrest the rising levels of crimes against women. As a society we are blameworthy and we must recognize as to what is leading to the spurt of gender violence. We need to take responsibility and raise sons who won’t be nurtured with privilege and superiority instead would be sensitized to see women as equals who have the liberty to live as independent subjects, and not as vulnerable objects.