Following are the three blogs written by our Team Change Leaders. The themes range from power dynamics to violence against Dalit women and more. Who are Team Change Leaders (TCLs)? They are the young people who Breakthrough works with and who contribute with their creativity, talent and skills to make a world where violence against women is unacceptable!
1. Power Dynamics in Relationships
by Shatakshi Mehrotra
Ever heard your mother use the word ‘aap’ as respect for your father? Ever wondered why that man ogling at you from across the street apologised to your male partner for staring at YOU?
In this article, I’m going to talk about gender-related power dynamics in modern contemporary and conservative relationships. What have we achieved through all these years and what do we still need?
TW: talk of domestic violence, adultery, marital rape
It all started in the house.
I often found myself wondering why my mom calls my father ‘aap’ but he always calls her ‘tum’. Upon asking, she dryly replied that it was a sign of respect as my father is older. It still sounds odd to me, but it is the sad reality all around us.
I went out to inquire and found one couple in my family where the wife was older, but I didn’t find the same ‘aap-tum’ relationship, confirming my thesis that my mother giving ‘respect’ to my father has more to do with gender than with age.
It’s not just in marriages though. Ever heard a man say “she’s my girl” (denoting girlfriend) and a woman says “he’s my man” (denoting boyfriend)? Even in our modern relationships, a woman is called a girl while the man is still called a man (not a boy). One may presume that it is casual and fun. But time and again this has been proven to be untrue.
The Harsh Realities
Power dynamics are not only societal, they can be seen in various forms be it verbal, physical, patriarchal and implied/expected.
Below are some facts that showcase how men have occupied a dominant or patriarchal position in relationships:
- Domestic violence can be as prevalent as 44 per cent in Karnataka (govt data) but is as under-reported as 7.6 per cent in Karnataka. The former data represents the amount of spousal abuse and the latter represents domestic violence by spouse and family that is reported (see picture attached) (source: The Wire)
- A study of over 40,000 marriages between 1961 and 2008 showed that dowry was paid in 95% of them (Source: BBC). Its relation to the power dynamic is that when a woman comes to the house as a ‘commodity’ she will always be treated like that. Her entire value is the money received through her parents, she becomes ‘it’. She is sold.
- A patriarchal household is one where the male members take decisions and have authority. Only 15 per cent of Indian households are run by women (National Family Health Survey, 2017). This shows us that in our society, how acceptable patriarchy and its consequences are.
The fact that one can find the husband’s parents living with the family, but the wife’s parents not having the same access is an indicator of who’s family is seen as more important, and how prevalent the patriliny is. Upon marriage, a woman is supposed to be assimilated into the husband’s family. This gives the husband an upper hand while making the wife ‘an outsider’. Not only that, but the woman is also disassociated from her own family, with terms such as “paraya dhann”, “bojh”, and “liability” being used for women and as soon as they get married it is believed that the liability is now off and no longer a part/responsibility of the family.
Does Indian law encourage these power dynamics?
When all fails, one is promised the protection of the law. But in this case, it might be the wrong option to look for. Even though articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution guarantees equality to all citizens, this is not so in practice.
- In law, adultery used to be something committed by a man with a married woman. It was illegal if a man were to have sexual intercourse with a married woman without the husband’s “consent”. It was a crime against the married man, not the married woman, and consent was only given by the husband ‘for’ the wife, he could give consent to another man to have sexual intercourse with his wife and that would be legal. If a married man were to have intercourse with a married woman, the husband of the woman could legally file a case, not the wife of the man who had intercourse. This kind of law only gave importance to the man’s consent and made a mockery out of the concept of a woman’s consent.
This law was struck down by the courts as ‘unconstitutional’ only in 2018.
- India remains one of the very few countries that have still not criminalised marital rape. Presently, the court case remains pending in the Supreme Court of India after a split decision by Delhi High Court.
- In Hindu law, guardianship is primarily given to the father of a minor boy or unmarried girl, after the age of 5. After the marriage of the girl, the guardianship would automatically shift to the husband, no such thing exists for adult men.
This again proves the concept of a woman being compared and equal in status to a child. Where she is in constant need of guardianship, which needs to pass on like she is from father to husband. Also, the law gives guardianship to the father and not the mother. Why is that? Especially when women are told that after marriage, their prime motive should be looking after the family, then why aren’t they legally assigned as a guardian?
What does research tell us?
Research showcases how a woman feels more insecure in a relationship if she has less power or less dominance than a man would. For a man, an abusive relationship is vastly different to a woman’s abusive relationship.
“When they (women) felt subordinate to a male partner, they perceived the relationship as less stable and less intimate. For men, it didn’t seem to matter whether they had more or less power in a relationship. They felt relationships in which they were dominant were just as stable and intimate as ones in which they were subordinate.” (Source: Quartz)
Research also tells us that the first generation of ’empowered women’ face increased domestic abuse. As it is a challenge to patriarchy and male privilege. What is understood is that women were told they are equal but no one bothered enough to let the men understand equality for women.
Men are also more likely to get remarried than women. A 2014 Pew Research Center report on remarriage in the US found that 52% of women chose to remarry in 2013, compared to 64% of men who had a deceased or divorced spouse. Remarriage is a choice that is rarely made in India; barely even 1% of people choose it. There is a significant gender gap among those who do: Men are twice as likely to remarry than women. (Source: LiveMint). This correlates to societal pressure, stigma and various laws restricting women’s choices.
In conclusion, one can say that the power dynamics in relationships are favourable to men. A man holds more liberty and impacts the lives of women and their decisions. There exist subtle and obvious forms of these power dynamics, both of which are extremely important. The laws of many countries show us how societal thinking impacts the law structure of the State.
The roots of these power dynamics run deep in society and the minds of the people. Some are so deep that they can never see the inequality in this structure.
It again falls on the women to empower themselves and spread awareness as one woman’s awareness can lead to the safety of a hundred.
2. Violence against Dalit Women
by Akshay Biju B.
Sexual violence against women has been used as a tool to control women, especially vulnerable women and their bodies. In India, it is used as a tool to strengthen the so-called upper caste supremacy in many cases. In many incidents, men from the upper caste communities assert their dominance over Dalits through violence against Dalit women. Here, rape is used as a tool for silencing and denying their rights. Incidents of sexual violence against Dalit women are not only cases of gender oppression but are also used as a weapon to invigorate the existing caste hierarchy. Let’s not forget about Hathras gang rape where we saw the evident negligence of human rights.
The caste system in India is frowned upon by few but still applauded by many. As Dr. Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters said in his book: “The Dalit female belongs to the most oppressed group in the world.” It’s horrible that Dalit women in India continue to face different forms of violence. According to the latest data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB, 2021), Of the total cases reported, cases of rape against Schedule caste women (including minors) account for 7.64% (3893 cases), with 2585 cases against Dalit women and 1285 cases against minors. The total number of cases of rape, attempt to rape, assault on women to outrage her modesty, and kidnapping of women and minors was 16.8%. (8570 cases). In most of the cases, men from upper caste communities were the perpetrators of this lion’s share of cases. The highest number of cases of sexual assault against women and girls were reported in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.
Sad as it may seem but now that we have more visibility, we should not only talk only about the Hathras case but discuss the caste issue itself and amplify it. We should also talk about day-to-day sexual violence and other kinds of atrocities against Dalit women where the perpetrators are ‘upper’ caste people.
“Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion; it is a state of the mind.” – Dr. B R Ambedkar.
It has been more than seven decades since independence and there is not much change in the mindset of the general population. As eloquently explained by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the casteist mind of people is firmly rooted in Hindu texts like the Manusmriti. People are not ready to give up the privileges offered by their caste. To completely eradicate violence against Dalit women, the first thing to do is to challenge the prevailing so-called upper caste hegemony. Because the ‘upper’ caste asserts their dominance over Dalits not only by physical violence but by sexual violence as well. The major intention of this violence is to deny Dalit women their right to life, education, quality health care, etc. Ergo, if we challenge them, they will be held accountable. But whenever an oppressed woman or any marginalised person tries to fight back, the repercussions faced by them are insufferable. But still, they have to fight and we all should back them up.
The next step is to educate people. It’s a cumbersome process to educate the adults who are already tainted by casteism. But what we can do is to educate the children and bring the topic of treating every human being with dignity and respect to our dinner tables.
This issue is serious and possibly all of us must address it. We should not raise another generation just like this generation or the previous one. The onus of educating the future generation about sensitive issues like this is on us. It’s the bare minimum that we can do. One stage of learning should begin at home. We should educate ourselves and educate the children and mould their ability to distinguish between what’s right and what’s wrong. Then, the future generation should necessarily surpass the previous generation.
We can educate ourselves by learning from history.
3. Do Subjects Have Genders?
by Mantasha Javed
Throughout our academic years, we are fed which subjects we should choose based on our genders. This is so internalised within ourselves that even the teachers do not find this problematic and mould students into the same kind of system they endured in school. It is difficult to spot a person who has not been subjected to the enforcement of various subjects because of their gender. For instance, girls are pushed into sewing and weaving, cooking classes and basketball courts are open only for boys.
Moreover, those who dare to break these baseless boundaries created for students are mocked by their classmates and are scolded, judged and even humiliated by their teachers and other school authorities.
The good part is, now the times are changing and this change is mostly taking place because students have started questioning the same. Although many students do not find any problem with this system, some feel disgusted by the fact that they are not free to choose the subjects of their choice and are forced into learning ones that they find no interest in which results in the deterioration of their overall performance.
Women pilots, male flight attendants, female engineers, male makeup artists and dress designers, female gym instructors, male nurses and nursery teachers – all seem to be odd for some because of the mindset that certain professions are for males and certain for females and so we should choose the ‘right’ subject in school so that we get the ‘right’ job at the ‘right’ time as per our gender.
This curriculum in schools applies at the early stages of a student’s life and deprives them of progressing in their actual interests along with shaping a problematic mentality among young children which they, unfortunately, grow with and transfer to their children and the cycle continues.
To break the cycle concerning the selection of subjects based on gender, there is an urgent need for the educational institutions to stop giving power to the idea that basketball or cricket is meant for boys because they are ‘born sporty’ or strong or related stereotypes, that girls are ‘naturally attracted’ to activities like cooking, weaving, sewing etc.
The attempt should also include the efforts of students themselves, as soon as students keep accepting the idea that they simply ‘cannot take part’ in other activities involving more physical strength because of being a girl and boys being ashamed for attending the cooking classes, bringing about the change will be difficult. It’s high time that we reconstruct the idea of what a man is supposed to do and what a woman is supposed to do, the idea that what ‘all men are good at’ and what ‘all females are good at’, as it differs from person to person not from gender to gender.
However, we also need to admit that sometimes or at most times students do not have the authority to question teachers, especially in the education system we have, and so there is an urgency to recruit teachers who are well aware of these basic concepts and ideas, they should be trained in gender sensitization, teachers who don’t force children into doing specific tasks simply because students have been doing the same since always and they make children unlearn, reconstruct and recreate their ways of learning based on their capabilities alone.
All this so that some other bunch of girls will not have to sit in a weaving class unwillingly and a boy who loves cooking will not have to play basketball forcibly with the rest of the boys because he will be made fun of if he enters the cooking class and no one gender should occupy neither the volleyball court nor the home science class.
Other than what teachers should teach and the students should do, parents should also take part in bringing about this change simply by letting their children have the freedom to decide what fits them without being judgemental, so be it buying makeup for your little boy because he wants to do some practice before becoming a professional and your girl a set of boxing equipments because she likes it and has plans of becoming a boxer soon.