For years, women activists and organisations waged a lonely battle when they came out on to the streets to protest against rapes and molestations. But the Delhi gang rape incident proved to be a watershed. Finally, society now recognises that such crimes affect and concern each and every individual.
While the teeming crowds at the recent protests in the capital made a glorious sight, the slogans and demands raised seemed limited and violent. The anger was towards ‘others’. ‘They’ — politicians, police personnel and legal luminaries — must do something. But what about us? What about the mindset that leads to violence and considers women as bodies, commodities and targets?
Changing this mindset requires a cultural tsunami. Before we stop violence against women, we need to demolish innumerable religious, cultural, and linguistic practices that are considered normal. For example, words like ‘pati’ and ‘swami’ for husbands must go. These words mean ‘master’ or ‘owner’. In free India, an adult woman cannot — and should not — have an owner. There are many more similar words and expressions that demean and insult women. They, too, need to be purged from our consciousness.
The media and Bollywood stars have come out to show their concern after the incident. But they also need to ask themselves whether they are part of the problem; whether they are not responsible for commodifying women and making men violent. Some of our actors and cricketers promote alcoholism, deception, indecency and immorality through the advertisements of the brands they endorse. They should realise that some of these ads — for example, the ones that promote ‘badtameezi’ (shamelessness) or encourage men to fool women — promote aggressive masculinity, violence in general and violence against women in particular.
If we want to stop violence, establish the rule of law and create a society where girls and women are accepted, respected and given dignity and freedom, then all of us must begin with ourselves. As feminists have been saying for decades, the ‘personal is political’. All of us are part of the problem and, therefore, all of us can — and must — be part of the solution.
Without this inner change, nothing will change. If we want true equality between men and women, then we need nothing less than a cultural revolution.
Kamla Bhasin is a women’s activist. The views expressed by the author are personal.