By passing the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013, Indian MPs have not only paid a tribute to women’s movements but also tackled the challenge of centuries of social conditioning. Any change is frightening, especially those that could affect established political and sexual norms. So I want to reach out to men and reassure them that the new law will not destroy Indian family values, marriages or for that matter, romance. In fact, gender inequality is breeding violence and repression in our society and we must constantly look for ways to tackle them.
Unfortunately, for many of our boys, violence begins at home when they see their mothers face domestic abuse. Such upbringing grooms them to accept and perpetuate violence, finally leading to their participation in organised violence. If Indian MPs, especially those from the marginalised castes and minority religions, understand this interconnectivity perhaps they will look at marital rape in a new light. I believe that if we can deal with marital rape and domestic violence effectively, then we would save many marriages, reduce violence against women and strengthen our community.
Better security for women will also set men free: if more women feel safe to join the workforce, men will no longer have to bear the sole responsibility of supporting their families, join armies, and bear the strain of power and duty. If more women take up financial responsibility, and the idea of ‘masculine’ jobs change, men would feel free and live longer. In fact, the artificial cult of masculinity, which propagates that manhood depends on violence and victory, has alienated men from the very pleasure of physical intimacy and friendship with women. Rape is not about sex, but about domination. The cult of masculinity is forcing men to be dominant partners and many are ending up expressing themselves in a destructive manner: anger and frustration are leading to violence. To their credit, most MPs understand that security for women will ensure safety for men because when men take to violence, they damage themselves also.
When Mulayam Singh Yadav was expressing his reservations about this anti-rape law, he was not being a misogynist. He represented a fear that anyone from a SC/ST and OBC community is bound to feel: the fear of the police misusing certain sections of the law. So if we need to curb violence against women, we also need to reform the police and ensure that nobody feels intimidated by the force.
Gender tends to be our first lesson in dividing human beings into active and passive, subject and object, the leaders and the led. We learn early on in life that it’s fine for one group to eat and for another to cook; the women’s movement and social justice movements now need to make common cause for police reform. Access to justice is an unmet reality for both.
Here is the answer to the question that may be lurking in many male hearts: “What if women will treat us as we have treated them?” I want to tell them we are not seeking revenge, we want justice. If we wanted revenge, we could abort male foetuses. But we don’t do that, do we?
Ruchira Gupta is founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide
The views expressed by the author are personal