Headlines of male violence against women around the country have once again sparked a conversation across social media with netizens questioning when will enough be enough. As headline after headline grapple with the the violence inflicted on female bodies one is even forced to question if the way these news focus more on the victims and not the perpetrators is itself not part of the problem.
It would not be wrong to say that these incidents cannot be viewed in isolation and are a part of a system – rape culture that permeates society. In a country where ministers make claims of ‘men will be men’ and ‘ladkon se galti ho jati hai’ (boys make mistakes) when such instances are brought to light while at the same time claiming women to be goddesses, you begin to question if something got lost in translation?
While these instances are not new and continue to make headlines and sometimes even get lost in print, today we are begging the question why do such instances happen and why do women’s bodies become a sight of constant violence and in many cases, a way of reinforcing cultural and societal norms? (it’s to be noted that this brutality is further heightened when the female’s identity is doubly marginalised due to caste dynamics).
The Code Of Honour
Sociologist Michael Kimmel notes that within society, men are often confronted with the “spectre of the sissy” — it encompasses the fears of emasculation, humiliation, and effeminacy that men carry with them that is responsible for masculine violence, for a ‘real man’ is not afraid to exhibit violence, what psychiatrist James Gilligan backs as “the patriarchal code of honour and shame which generates and obligates male violence.” This code sees violence as the demarcating feature between men and women.
Violence, in many ways, is seen by men as restorative as in the case of rape and domestic violence. It becomes a means of exerting power or rather reclaiming the power that the man feels is rightfully his and more often than not, contradictory to popular conception stems from a place of powerlessness, a place where a man feels he must attain power and does so by violating women and exerting their own prominence.
This absolves men of their complicity in using rape as a tactic of reinforcing societal and cultural norms, of using it as a means to send a message. In a patriarchal society that places the onus of honour on female genitalia, the female body then is reduced to a site, a way of bringing shame and maligning the honour of a community or showing a marginalised community their rightful place.
Male Genitalia/ The Weapon
“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe,” argues writer Susan Brownmiller.
To situate gender-based violence within the Indian context, we need to consider structural violence that contributes to “macro-level patterns of oppression and exploitation, processes and policies” that systematically produce or reproduce “social and economic inequities that determine who will be at risk for assaults and who will be shielded from them,” as mentioned by Jennifer R. Wies and Hillary J. Haldane in their research.
In a Brahmanical patriarchal set up as is the case of Indian society, women from marginalised and lower castes become vulnerable targets. Their bodies are reduced to a spectacle to uphold Brahmanical ideology, the perpetrators of violence guarded by impunity and a system that favours them. This systematic and structured violence ensures that the power structures are maintained and all avenues of judicial remedy are closed to them.
“In reference to the 2006 Khairlanji massacre of a Dalit family, where women were paraded naked before being murdered, Rege argues that due to lack of adequate focus on the caste-gender nexus, violence against Dalit women tends to be marked in ‘either-or’ restriction—as ‘either caste atrocity or sexual atrocity’ (2003, p. 20).
For the Brahmanical nature of violence and exploitation of women, the issue of gender cannot be dealt with in isolation, but only with interaction with our social reality. Indian society is predominantly structured around caste, which is evident through the example of honour killing ... Defying caste norms are considered as an invitation to murder, rape, and such life-threatening risks in a casteist society like India’s,” mentions Sunaina Arya in her research paper.
Power Not Sex
In ‘Rape is about power, not sex’, Jill Filipovic argues, “Rape is a particularly difficult crime because it’s about both power and violence. Rapists use sex organs as the locus of their violence, but rape isn’t about sex, at least not in the sense of being motivated by sexual attraction or an uncontrollable sexual urge.”
If we look at wars between men (since most wars in history have been initiated and fought amongst men), there have been multiple instances of brutality against female bodies, whether we look at the rapes carried out by the Japanese during the World Wars or those occurring in Palestine or by Boko Haram.
Female bodies become collateral damage, a way of exhibiting the power of men of one community against the other. Even though rape is now considered a war crime, no one has ever been persecuted for it. If we look back at the time of the Partition, Arunima Dey sheds light on how “women’s bodies, reduced to the status of a mute token, become the primary targets of horrific violent acts during ethnic warfare between two communities of men.”
Violence against female bodies is also used by state machinery to create a sense of fear and intimidation among a community it wishes to suppress, as is also evident in the rapes carried out under the impunity provided by AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Protection Act). Women in Kashmir and the north-east have been subjugated to the worst forms of mutilation and brutality under its guise.
One of the many instances of misuse of power by authorities of structural influence is the Salwa Judum campaign in the Dantewada district of Chattisgarh which has led to the militarisation of society in this small district of Chattisgarh. Salwa Judum literally means ‘purification hunt’ in Gondi but has gradually come to be known as a campaign for peace.
In Dantewada, Adivasi women have been subjected to traumas of forced dislocation and survival at the mercy of armed men coming under the tags of ‘protectors’. Villagers have been forcibly evicted from their villages by the government and moved to ‘relief camps’ when Sarpanches of the villages were instructed to hold meetings to bring all the villagers to the camp, spreading knowledge that otherwise, they would be attacked by Naxalites which never actually happened.
Instead, men in uniform in the course of the Salwa Judum’s forced evacuation sexually and physically abused women in the villages as well as in the camps. One of the few reports on the case show that 21 women had been killed, three of them having their breasts and genitals mutilated. 37 had been raped and this is from only of the reports.
Similar incidents occurred in Kangla Fort, the army headquarters of the Indian army in Manipur when in July 2004, Thangjam Manorama’s mangled and mutilated body was found, her body battered beyond recognition. Her story is only one of the many amongst innumerable similar anecdotes of inhumane violence inflicted upon women in Manipur under militant outfits. These instances of violence showcase how structures of power like the Indian army misuse their power to inflict violence against the powerless to establish their own power.
The Queen Is But A Pawn
For as long as the lens of history is stretched, female bodies have been a site of trauma, merely reduced to a pawn in the hands of men. We’ve crossed the threshold where these cases can be viewed as isolated instances of violence, they are more than that. They are a product of systematic violence shielded by and granted impunity by the state and it needs to be addressed as that. There is a need to dismantle oppressive structures like Brahmanical patriarchy in the Indian context for annihilation of caste and dismantling patriarchy are tied together. Women’s rights matter and they need to be afforded a space for grievance and redressal.
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