THE ECONOMICS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
At a time when companies are under fire for not handling sexual harassment allegations that happen within their premises, RAVEENA JOSEPH discusses why it would be in their best interest to care about violence in an employee’s home
WHY would work places care if a women is abused and beaten up at home? More importantly, how would they know? In this country, sexual harassment in the workplace is hardly cared about — in INBAs 2017 report, only 31% of respondents (male and female) complained to the Internal Complaints Committee about sexual harassment in the workplace and of these, 66.7% felt their complaint was not dealt with fairly. So how would stories of domestic abuse show up on their radar?
The economic costs of intimate parter violence causes a big dent to the economy. Think about it: a woman who is beaten up at home isn’t going to be able to perform at optimal capacity at the workplace. There’s a loss the company incurs here, as does the country when we take into account her health costs, the cost of her children’s physical and mental health, school drop out rate, legal expenditure, etc. In the United States, the annual cost of intimate parter violence was estimated at $5.8 billion according to a 2016 report by UN women. In Canada, this cost is estimated to be $1.16 billion, $11.38 billion in Australia and $32.9 billion in England and Wales. So why should work places in India care?
A 2014 Lancet report stated, “(Sexual violence) is estimated to affect 27.5million women in India. Only 1% of victims of sexual violence report the crime to the police.” Obviously, stigma, among other factors, greatly bungles the reported numbers. Yet, according to the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, one in three married women reported spousal violence in India — 4% of respondents even said the violence occurred during pregnancy. Apart from the cases which aren’t reported, there are many instances where the violence is so internalised, that it isn’t even seen as an offence; it is just how a woman is treated in her home.
But, for every incident of intimate partner violence in India, the UN study said, a woman can lose at least five paid work days on an average. So for workplaces, the repercussions of this statistic will be most pertinent, when we look at the economic loses they incur. That is, if they choose to take cognisance of it. With human, economic and legal resources at their disposal, a work place is well poised to give people support — whether with medical care, legal recourse, or rehabilitation. But, that is admittedly a utopian expectation in a world where workplaces hardly address the transgressions that happen within their own premises.
Given that we are at a time when stories of misbehaviour and sexual misconduct have surfaced years after their occurrence to question the status quo and culture that allowed such acts to occur, workplaces would do well to take the wellness of their employees into account to create an inclusive and positive work culture. Forget aspects like employee loyalty and goodwill — even if corporates were to calculate the economic costs of harassment and violence, they would realise that they have reason to deter the same amongst their employees.
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DON’T USE PLASTIC; BE ELASTIC
Giving up plastics is going to be hard, admits RAVEENA JOSEPH, but says it’s time we start thinking about the long term repercussions of our actions
ONE day, soon after the Tamil Nadu government announced the 2019 plastic ban, my mother came home with three plastic bags filled with plastic products. She had bought cups, gloves, strainers, shower caps, and a whole lot of plastic we don’t need or use, simply because she feared that it would no longer be available. A case of ‘typical-Indian-mother syndrome.’
Laugh as I did at this, it made me realise that the war against plastics still has one formidable force to tackle: the average human being’s resistance to change.
Let’s be fair: plastics make our lives super easy. Over-ordered for lunch? Get the food packed in plastic. Need to eat on the move? Pack a few plastic spoons and forks. Maybe carry plastic plates too. Thirsty on the highway? Buy a plastic water bottle. How do you carry all this? Find a plastic bag.
We have been tuned to turn to plastic as a no-fuss means to package our life. It is cheap to buy and easy to discard — though they clog waterways, cause harm to cattle, and never degrade, at least we don’t have to lug them around after a single use. Out of sight, out of mind. Admittedly, things have been changing and environmental consciousness came out on top in 2018 — the brand I buy my clothes from now sends me away with paper bags; my healthcare store uses cloth bags; the last cafe I visited used glass bottles, wooden cutlery and cellulite covers instead of plastic ones. Restaurants and retailers are gearing up to go green this year, even as plastic manufacturers have been fighting the ban for the fear of loss of livelihoods.
While it is inevitable that people employed in a certain industry might face duress, this shift also affords increased opportunities to other industries — copper (to replace plastic bottles), lotus and plantain leaves (to replace plastic packaging), ceramics and bamboo (to replace plastic cups and plates), edible cutlery, jute and cloth bags, earthen pots, etc. When economic stress is placed on using plastics, these products will increasingly become more appealing.
Beyond the ban, the power to make the shift to a more environmentally conscious world rests with individuals and communities. Plastics which are not banned, but those which aren’t necessarily the best choice for our health and our environment’s well-being, need to be consciously replaced. This behaviour change is going to cost us time and money. But this is our chance to move away from that which harms us, one PET bottle at a time.
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ANIMALS ARE PEOPLE TOO
Going by what Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” one can say that India cannot ride the proverbial moral high horse, as yet, says
WE have laws that need to be strengthened and we need our empathy to be boosted for the larger good of the society. There have been enough of studies that shows a correlation between animal abuse and human violence. If we need to teach humanity, we need to begin with dignified interaction with the most vulnerable – animals. We hardly do that. For the New Year, I wish animals get a better deal. I would like 2019 to see:
IMPLEMENTATION OF BAN ON ANIMAL CIRCUSES: There is a notification to this effect, but this needs to be implemented. In fact, not just circuses, let’s ban animal performances completely.
THE END OF BATTERY CAGES: Young hens and roosters spend their entire lives in cages that give them no space to even spread their wings. Young male chicks are ground to death when still alive. Free farm eggs and chicken, where the bird is free to roam in a farm till it is slaughtered, is an alternative with lesser cruelty. Though, being vegan is the best.
THE PROMOTION OF LAB GROWN MEAT: This is a healthier, cruelty-free alternative. If you must have meat, it is possible to now grow cultured meat in a lab. This should be promoted so that no one has to die for us to relish a meal.
A COMPLETE BAN ON ANIMAL FIGHTING AND CULTURAL ABUSE: People have been using the culture angle to restart animal fighting. I refuse to believe that our culture is so weak that to define it, we have to overpower animals or get them to fight with each other to death. We need to rise above these violent cock-and-bull stories.
PROTECT WILD LIFE, BAN JOY RIDES: Why are elephants being used for joy rides and as tourist guides? Does anyone give a thought about how a wild animal that lives in a pack gets isolated and trained? The elephants in Amer Fort need our attention. We need to join Humane Society International’s India-based campaign #TakePrideInNoRides
INCREASE FINES FOR ANIMAL CRUELTY: #NoMore50 said animal welfare activists all across India, because `50 is all that you pay for animal abuse. Hopefully the fines would increase in 2019 to an amount that would act as a deterrent.
In 2019, I really wish, we don’t have a beef with anyone who eats beef, instead extend our empathy to all animals beyond the cows. Even when it comes to holy cows, truth be told, you cannot kill for cow-love while consuming commercial milk. It’s quite moronic and oxymoronic. Maybe, this year, let’s all try and be a little bit more ‘woke’?
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THAT DISCONCERTING D WORD
Doing away with the term Dalit doesn’t undo the injustices done to a people. By not facing a demon, we are, in fact, empowering it, says RAVEENA JOSEPH
While having a heated argument with one aunty about the need for the reservation system, she, quite dramatically, closed her ears with her hands. I was unsure what evoked this Gandhian symbolism, till she said: “don’t say that word.” What word, I wondered. “That D word,” she said, looking decidedly disturbed.
D, ofcourse, for ‘Dalit’. D for do not identify a people whose identity has subjugated them. D for doing away with a unique political identity and history. D for the most abased form of discrimination by birth — and, even, demarcation by death. D for division in social life. D for demarcation of everything from love to labour. D for discomfort.
For a lot of us, who live in urban privileged spaces, where we have the education and option to flip through lifestyle magazines such as this one, caste lines may seem blurred. “Why talk about caste? Who really cares about caste anyway? Caste is outdated.”
In urban India, the struggle is based on class. We see cases of people from affluent spaces, who claim opportunities based on their caste identity. We are angry, because we feel in an egalitarian society, this opportunity could have belonged to us. But, we forget, that we don’t live in an egalitarian society. We forget that we can’t have equal rights for unequal people. We forget the disconcerting difference between equity and equality. Most importantly, we forget that we have the privilege to not be trapped by an archaic social system that is still at play.
In 2010, while studying at the University of California, an American classmate waxed eloquent about radicalisation caused due to racism. “But…but..,” I stuttered, “didn’t America emerge as an egalitarian society in the 60s?” She scoffed. The previous week, she told me, a white American man had taken over the announcement mic at the popular store Walmart, to ask all the ‘niggers’ to exit the store and the country. I was shocked.
Today, given the power of the internet and the excellent entertainment value of their President, the racism in American society is laid thread bare for the world to see. But back then, for an Indian student fed with Western pop culture, the American social order seemed aspirational.
Our urban understanding of caste in India seems similar. The emergence of Dalit narratives have just started making a dent in mainstream media. The stories are just becoming a part of popular consciousness. Yet, the Dalit voice and identity is still niche. Dalit artistes and intellectuals who wear their identity on their sleeve, do so to shed light on their distinct social identity, political opportunity, and cultural proclivity. To refuse to see this, to refuse to proclaim the identity that they’ve reclaimed, is to refuse to acknowledge the insurmountable odds they continue to conquer.
Do away with demarcation, that’s progressive. But not acknowledging its existence is just prohibitive.
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The current revival and redefinition of masculinity is essential to us becoming whole again, opines
The common refrain these days, is ‘that masculinity is under attack’. Let’s get real, folks. Only toxic masculinity is under attack — the power-hungry and controlling patriarchal structures around us are being questioned — and those at the helm of them, are finally finding themselves not invincible anymore. The everyday, helpful masculinity inside of all of us — the purposeful, providing, courageous masculinity — is seeing a revival. Also, a man who embraces his femininity, the ‘gentleman’, is not only being accepted, but celebrated.
The patriarchy — the most evident manifestation of toxic masculinity — has had to look inward, and it has not been comfortable for many. And that discomfort is showing up clearly as denial, with varying levels of aggression — from absurd ‘light-hearted’ jokes to the wanton use of power and privilege to demolish the resistance. Denial coincidentally is also the very first stage of metanoia, signalling that we are in for a change. Despite what men may say to themselves and others in their defence, questions are sprouting up in their minds, like little seeds in fertile ground.
Questions such as, ‘how many times have we talked about women like they were objects?’, ‘what kind of world do I envision for the men and women I respect and care for?’ and ‘does what I think and say and do, create that world every day?’
It’s time powerful men get used to the discomfort – they have had a history of protecting privilege and doling out discomfort (even to their own gender). Everybody will get a piece of the power pie – and that’s how the interests of our future will be balanced. A world which we have all been yearning for – where we can be whole, and not be typecast into our roles is now in the making.
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NOT A MISTER, NOR A MISSUS MEET MX. MENDONCA
Daniel Mendonca represents the ‘I’ in the LGBTQI, and has been a vocal activist for this community that is rarely represented. He speaks to RAVEENA JOSEPH about his incredible life and the invisible intersex community
Even before adolescence, Daniel Mendonca spent eight years in a hospital room, so that the world could understand him better. Statistically speaking, he is one in a 1000, having been born with ambiguous sexual organs. His father, unable to accept this, tried to sell him to the hijra community. His doctor, deciding his gender for him, decided to preserve his male parts. His mother, who stood by him through many troubling years, feared for him because, at the Sacred Heart Boys High School, Mumbai, where he studied, he felt like he “was the only girl among all the other boys.”
When he was nearing 10 years in age, Daniel’s biology decided to catch up to this inconsistency he experienced. He started menstruating. But his male anatomy had no way to naturally release this blood. A series of serious complications later, he was admitted to the St. Andrew’s Hospital, Northampton, UK, because doctors in India had no experience or knowledge on how to treat intersex children. “It was like hell. Imagine 8 years of your life doing nothing; you are in a room and you are a method of study. But I had to live and I had to understand myself. I was 9.5-years-old when I was put there and I was 17 when I finally understood myself.”
After having identified as male for so many years, Daniel was not keen on sex reassignment surgery. When he finally understood his mental and genetic make-up, he decided to return to Mumbai. He was 18 then. “It was not an easy decision. I was teased, bullied and raped by the time I was 9.5 years old, so I knew it was not going to be easy to come back. But I wanted to fight for my community.”
Today, Daniel, 27, has become the first intersex person to have graduated from the University of Mumbai, with a silver medial for his bachelors in Social Work (2017). That year, he even wrote the syllabus on gender to ensure it moved past the binary. “The college didn’t let me attempt that paper because I knew the subject inside-out,” chuckles Daniel.
In 2014, he addressed the world at a UN Conference in Geneva, and continues to speak for his community in conferences every year. He works with college students and community youth, and works on creating safe and inclusive spaces in Mumbai. “It requires guts to come out as an intersex person in India. People ask so many questions, and even I feel lost sometimes,” says Daniel.
But many of these questions are bound to vex, because they pertain to intimate issues revolving around sex. “I don’t ask people what they do in their bedroom and how, so why am I asked these questions? Some questions are exasperating, but others I’m happy to answer because unless I do, there would be no change.”
Daniel finds that many people are willing to be kind when he explains that he was born this way, biologically. But, they aren’t as accepting of people who experience gender ambiguity despite biological conformity to the binary. “When children are born with both genital organs, the doctors determine which part is more valuable. But what if the child grows up and identifies with the opposite gender? In many cases, people don’t know that they were born as an intersex child because parents box them within a certain gender identity. This creates conflict.”
When people grow up with this internal turbulence, they never know why their bodies and minds react the way they do. “Intersex children should be allowed to grow up the way they are, so that they can decide for themselves, when they are ready.” But in a society where the first question is, “Is it a boy or a girl,” the stigma, parents of intersex children face is immense. And, there is no official procedure to medically accept and help such children.
There is so much about gender and sexuality that we don’t understand. The chromosome dice can be rolled 26 ways — intersex babies can grow up to identify as male, female, trans or gender queer. It is the stereotyping that causes them a lot of mental trauma. But as a society, we are more keen on boxing people into the binary we understand, and bullying those who refuse to conform, instead of attempting to understand those who are different. This merely makes us create a perverse and intolerant world. Why else would the older boys in Daniel’s school pull down his pants to see his private parts while he was still 9-years-old?
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WHY HAVE WE STOPPED TALKING ABOUT HIV?
Asks RŌMAL LĀISRAM, at a time when the number of HIV +ve cases are increasing rapidly among gay men across cities in South India
Few years ago, the government of India decided to cut down drastically on its funding for HIV prevention and awareness programs across the country. The reason, we were told, was that HIV awareness was now a reality among many people across different economic strata and the government felt that so much money needn’t be pumped in anymore.
What the government didn’t know was that HIV and its prevalence among young Indians wasn’t over. Yes, most programs and initiatives were driven towards people from lower economic backgrounds and in those areas amazing change could be seen. Sex workers across the country were more aware about HIV than your regular educated urban teen — and that’s where the problem began.
Today, in metropolitan cities like Bangalore and Chennai, far too many young gay men below the age of 35 are HIV +ve. In my very own circle, 2 out of every 20 males I know, in this age group, is positive or has had an HIV scare in the recent past. So, why is this happening? It really defeats logic that HIV prevalence has increased so rapidly among the educated urban.
Well, the reasons are many. Here are some of them listed below based on conversations with several HIV positive young gay men across Bangalore, Kochi, Goa, Hyderabad and Chennai:
1) IT’S NOT THAT BIG A DEAL
Most people do not realise that over-education and the need for people to tell you that “it’s all OK,” can sometimes work against the greater good. As 20-year- old Ramesh* opines, “I realised I was HIV +ve when I was 18. I spoke to many people from the LGBTQIA+ community who seemed far more informed about it than my peers. I identify as bisexual. I don’t think of HIV as a big thing anymore. As long as I keep my viral load** under control, and inform my partners, I think it should be fine.”
2) GET IT AND THEN DEAL WITH IT
Many younger people feel that the fear of getting the infection is much worse than actually getting infected and so choose to get it and then deal with it using medication. This sounds strange, but it is a reality among several urban groups across these cities.
3) BEING +VE IS REQUIRED IN MY CIRCLE
As unbelievable as that sounds, several young sexually active HIV +ve men feel that they will only be comfortable in circles with other HIV +ve men and so younger men are choosing to get themselves infected for love, companionship, comfort and the likes.
4) I DIDN’T KNOW
Many young gay men claim that they didn’t know they could get HIV through oral sex or unprotected sex. Some of them also say that their partner didn’t look like ‘someone who could be HIV +ve’. This clearly shows the lack of proper information within these circles and the propagation and presence of silly stereotypes. “It’s often a class thing. I, myself, often believed that someone who was as well-to-do as me and looked rich could not possibly be HIV +ve. I was proven wrong when I discovered I was HIV +ve too. The partner who probably gave it to me, refuses to get himself tested or agree that he is HIV +ve,” shares Sameer*, a 27-year-old software engineer from Hyderabad.
This is a reality that we’re refusing to acknowledge. We need to be talking about HIV more and also looking at more viable options to stop the spread of the virus. Many people can afford medication to keep their viral load under control, but for many others HIV is still a cause of death.
for basic information on HIV/AIDS please visit www.hiv.gov
*names have been changed to protect identity
**viral load refers to the load of HIV +ve virus cells in the body
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CAN I FIRST BE ALLOWED TO VOTE, PLEASE?
Democracy is often defined by the constitutionally-assured right to vote. RŌMAL LĀISRAM problematizes the Indian electoral system that has denied him the right to his vote, for over two decades
What defines a democracy? No really, I want each and every one of you reading this to ask yourselves that. What defines this amazing form of self-governance that we all hold in high regard —celebrating it to be the best thing to happen to human beings since fire? Many of you will throw textbook answers at me and I will fully agree with you — yes, democracy is for the people, by the people and of the people. It is a form of governance that holds humaneness in high regard. It stands for all that is good and just. And yet, the biggest democracies in the world fail miserably at it!
Let’s focus back to India. We take pride in being one of the largest democracies in the world and yet, we cannot say with any confidence that every Indian has a voting card. I represent a large number of young Indians who have been denied a voting card for the silliest of reasons — lack of a permanent address; you don’t have a passport and now the latest and most annoying: you don’t have an Aadhaar card.
Yes, on paper, these things shouldn’t be happening to me. But, as someone who has lived in Bangalore for more than 10 years (and I have proof of this) and pays tax promptly (somehow getting a PAN Card was so much easier), my repeated attempts to enroll under Karnataka’s electorate lists have failed miserably.
I was registered under the Jaago Ré campaign four times, and nothing came of it. A bunch of women came every year to my home in Ejipura, Bangalore and registered me, and yet, my name never made it to the voters’ list. At one time, I was casually told by a senior journalist that I was never going to make it to the electoral lists in South Bangalore because I had a ‘Michael’ in my name. Apparently, South Bangalore was a BJP-area and so, every election year, Christian and Muslim names conveniently disappear from lists everywhere. I don’t know if there’s even a semblance of truth to this rumour, but it sure seems believable.
Experts often point to the fact that I do not have a permanent address. This irritates me as I am someone who has ancestral ties to a part of this country that still doesn’t have road names or a post office. My permanent address to this date is: L Romal M Singh, S/O L. Kamdev Singh, Grandson of L. Khomdon Singh, Sagang Village, Churachandpur District, Manipur, India. Please direct me to any government office in mainland India that will actually accept this address as proof of anything (and I have it on government documents too). I have tried and none do.
That’s the problem in India. We have half-baked identity-backed services like Aadhaar that exist in some realm of imagination. A tax-paying citizen like me cannot avail of Aadhaar services legally unless the system first gets a real idea of what India is. I have to resort to illegal means to even access an Aadhaar. But I digress. Before we talk about anything else in this country – can I first get my voting card, please? A true democracy respects the vote of every individual. It shouldn’t be so hard for anyone to exercise this constitutionally-assured right. My voting card should have been sent to me, I shouldn’t be the one begging for it.
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SHUBHA CHACKO celebrates feminism for what it truly is, and what it means to her
I came to feminism achingly. Feminism, for me, has remained a way to make sense of my world — to understand why people are devalued, discriminated against and even decimated because of their gender. It helped me shape answers to questions that had troubled me — why are widows considered inauspicious? Why are we told not to go out in the night? Why are our ideas always dismissed with: but she is only a girl? It also encouraged me to forge deep friendships and allowed me to dream about another future. The struggles of countless women in myriad ways have resulted in progress on the ground — especially in the field of education, health, legal protection, and professional presence. There is larger visibility of women leaders and achievers from a variety of fields including politics, science, sports, films, art, literature and music. Women’s scholarship is gaining broader acceptance and glass ceilings are being shattered.
And I am proud to be a part of the women’s movement in India. A movement that is particularly vibrant and multi-stranded. A movement that is also interestingly poised today.
Issues like violence against women that the movement has grappled with since the Mathura and Rameeza Bee rape cases of the late ’70s, are centre-stage again, albeit in contemporary forms, with the #MeToo movement. It was the feminist movement that was among the first to establish the devastating impact of militarisation on society, particularly in Kashmir and in the North East of India; issues that have, unfortunately, not yet disappeared. Environmental degradation, that spawned the inspiring Chipko agitation, has assumed alarming dimensions today and women are once more at the forefront of these struggles in various parts of India as they face shrinking livelihood and employment options. The triple talaq judgment, the rape of nuns and the entry of women to Sabarimala brought the realm of religion and culture again into sharp focus.
As the ‘familiar issues’ have assumed more modern forms, so too has the resistance. Distinct organisations of women workers, especially in the informal sector, have emerged as the nature of work and labour have changed drastically. Women have also adopted innovative campaigns including ones like Pinjra Tod or Pink Chaddi.
The proliferation of various digital technologies and media, which currently govern our relationships with each other, the State, economic systems and other institutions have deep implications for women. Besides lagging behind in access to these technologies, it has additionally become spaces of oppression and violence. But they simultaneously allow for greater information sharing, decentralised organizing, and building solidarity links.
The women’s movement too has changed because of the activism of women at the margins – Muslims, Dalits, and transpeople have challenged and expanded the movement considerably. Women with disabilities, sex workers and surrogate mothers have also brought into focus issues around bodies, sexuality, and control. The misogyny of the political arena, that early women leaders from the freedom struggle articulated, is still stubbornly present, and there is an added vigour to counter this. Added to all this has been the knowledge and tools of analysis that women and queer people have brought in as academics (where women’s/gender studies have become recognized as legitimate fields of academia).
In these times of divisions and discord, women’s movements offer hope to not merely include women, but to embrace all those who are excluded and oppressed, and allow us to redraw a future that is more just, sustainable and peaceful. The feminist movement can shape a world in which everyone can be who they are, without feeling burdened, isolated or shunned. And we all can perform a role in shaping (and being shaped) by these movements.
I end with a story that feminist and publisher Urvashi Batliwala recounted:
Thousands of years ago it was said that Mara the devil (and a man) came upon a bhikshuni deep in meditation. He scoffed. What does she think she is doing? He asked. All she needs is two fingers of meditation for that is what is needed for her work in the kitchen… she was unmoved for she knew that what she was looking for was not two-fingers worth of peace but akasha: the sky…”
Her words are a prophecy for women existing now and to come: “we will reach for the sky and claim it as ours.”
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SHARING LOVE, DIVIDING LABOUR
In households where women also bring home the bacon, shouldn’t men help in cooking it too? Why is it that our men won’t take responsibility and do their share of domestic work, asks
In modern India, women comprise 26.7% of the rural workforce and 16.2% in urban areas (2015-2016). For a majority of this country, it is considered dishonourable for a woman to work, especially a married woman. Many spend their lives confined to their homes, preoccupying themselves with housework and childcare, and allowing their education and any ambition go waste.
In many cases, women are educated cautiously, so there is no chance of them out-qualifying a prospective groom or asserting their agency post marriage. Their lack of literacy traps them further in a patriarchal system that makes them financially dependant on men — first father, then husband, and eventually, son.
Given this context, for educated women who do work, it is considered a privilege, and one rather readily credited to supportive husbands. But the support ends there. In most households, women wake up early to cook and pack lunch for the family, make breakfast, sweep and mop the house, do the laundry and get the kids out of bed, all while the husband sleeps. He wakes up and reads the papers, while she serves him coffee. They leave for work, slog all day, return. In the evenings, he watches the news/meets friends/hits the gym/relaxes, while she chops and stirs their dinner.
The equality narrative surrounding working women is about workplace sexual harassment and the gender wage gap. There was also a rather brief and heated debate about whether women deserve a day off on the first day of their period. There is no acknowledgement, however, of how women who have the ‘privilege’ to work, have no equality at home because men refuse to take responsibility.
Most women negotiate their power within the family structure by pandering to the patriarchy — they actively dissuade boys from doing household chores or even learning how to, while girls are trained from a young age to cook and clean, to impress future husbands with their ability to do the same for them. As such, most women are instrumental in sealing the fate of other women within the kitchen, and painting male inadequacy and ignorance as “cute helplessness.” Supergirl, superwoman, supermom… all these are flattering words that fail us as we fight for an equal division of labour at home. Women are expected to be ‘super’ while men relax after a long day at work.
Decidedly, things change when young men leave their maternal homes to live independent lives and women question patriarchal notions which require them to mother their spouses. But, how fast is this change happening and how far does it go? The scales are woefully tipped, and it’s time to restore the balance.
In 2015, a popular detergent brand ran a campaign called ‘share the load’ to put the focus on how despite both parties working, the burden of housework is still borne only by women. The ads featured urban women in seemingly high strung jobs who still had to do the laundry and tend to children. These ads still hold true and reflect the reality of many young adults of this generation, who grew up in homes where traditional patriarchal practices still remain unchallenged.
By not questioning it now, this generation is merely propagating these staid gender roles which were designed for a time when work was equally divided — women laboured at home, and men laboured outside. So now when women too bring the bacon home, shouldn’t the men help in cooking it?
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THE TREE OF ABUSE
Abuse endured as a child can have many repercussions in the life of an adult. VAISHNAVI SUNDAR chronicles her own experiences to emphasise how important
it is for parents to stand up for their children
One weekend in August, as all the members of my extended family gathered to celebrate my ageing grandmother’s birthday, I publicly called out a relative who sexually abused me as a child. The family cut all ties with me later that evening.
I did not report my case, therefore my abuse is not part of the national statistic. I couldn’t have reported it because, as per Section 468 of CrPC, incidents of child sexual abuse must be reported within three years of occurrence IF such a report could lead to three years of imprisonment. Absurd as it may seem, Union Minister Menaka Gandhi recently proposed to increase this reporting age to 30. I wonder how the ministry arrived at this number. I am 32 now, so even if the bill passes, I don’t qualify to take the complaint forward. This means, my abuser is a free man, despite my willingness to take on the corrupt and toothless Indian criminal justice system. So basically, there is no legal recourse for Indian women like me.
According to the 2016 NCRB data, a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India. This is an 82% increase from the 2015 data, and Tamil Nadu has the dubious distinction of having the third highest incidences of such crimes. These are merely the reported cases; the actual numbers could be far more horrifying. We can argue that — with its rampant misogyny, low literacy rate, poverty and population crisis, and poor governance — India’s label of ‘rape capital’ is very fitting. But things are not very different in developed countries either. Child abuse — like any other abuse — is a systemic and silent problem, irrespective of the rate of a country’s economic or cultural development. Therefore, it must be addressed outside of the scope of these factors too.
What my family, like many others, couldn’t comprehend, is the long-term effect abuse has on a person’s mental health. And, how such an incident can play a huge role in all the crucial decisions we make as an adult. Research shows that children who were abused, engage in alcohol/drug consumption to cope with the trauma. Some end up choosing bad partners, who further abuse them. And some, even end up taking their own lives. I have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a mental illness that is a direct consequence of the many abuses I have had to endure. It is also important to note that not all sexual abuse involves rape/penetration, but the trauma is just as critical.
As a young girl, I was taught to be “nice” and was forced to kiss or sit on the lap of family members when they visit. This is utterly traumatising. When such a family member tries to do the same thing with me while I am alone, I will not think about complaining because such behavior is normalised by everybody, including my own parents. There is such a stigma around talking about child abuse, that I ended up believing it was my fault.
The only way we can help mend the situation is by creating an atmosphere of open conversation around abuse. To start with, we need to teach children the concept of consent. Many child welfare organisations, with the intervention of POCSO, have implemented programmes to educate and empower children by talking about ‘good touch, bad touch’ — this has proven to be successful. But considering how 94% of abuse is perpetrated by a family member, this perception of ‘good touch’ leaves a lot of room for ambiguity.
Aside from providing a safe and congenial home for the child, should there ever be a situation where your child is abused, you must believe them. By believing, you are validating their abuse, and reaffirming the trust that the child blindly has in you, as parents. Never talk of the abuser in casual conversation, make it known that you’re intolerant of such a person and their behavior. Because, if you continue engaging with the abuser just because they are family, your child will fall into an abyss of self loathing and mistrust. Never ever reduce your child to this experience alone, tell them that it is not their fault and that they have their entire life ahead of them.
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DO WE REALLY NEED AN ENEMY?
Have you ever wondered why we politically define ourselves only by differentiating ourselves from our perceived enemy? RŌMAL LĀISRAM deconstructs these identities that divide us.
You’d say I am naïve to think that the problem is so small. That international politics and the identity of a nation require us to differentiate ourselves from other people around us — but is this really necessary. Does Pakistan have to be the ‘evil’ for us to be the ‘good’?
I often wonder how we politically construct enemies. And if we often construct these enemies just to ensure we are able to define ourselves better. The Tamil-Kannada conflict that had plagued the ’80s, ’90s and continues now into the 2000s too is based on silly identity politics. The River Cauvery gave politicians on both sides of the border the perfect enemy. A simple disagreement on sharing of the waters of a river has now turned into a mutual hatred for the other culture — slightly more pronounced on the Kannadiga side.
I have heard absolute juvenile arguments from: “they’ve stolen our water,” to, “they’ve stolen our jobs,” to, “they’re too full of themselves,” to, “they are so obsessed with their language.” And these arguments are used on both sides much to my amusement. At every possible opportunity, politicians from the Cauvery districts in Karnataka (the erstwhile Mysore State area) jump up in arms against the Tamils who are purportedly making their lives miserable.
I wonder if the only ones benefitting from this hatred are the politicians, because in a city like Bangalore, where Tamils and Kannadigas have coexisted for generations — the hatred isn’t as palpable. It only raises its ugly head when some politician throws in a few more coals into this already festering fire.
But why do we do this? Does it allow us to ignore our own shortcomings by blaming someone we cannot really see, the invisible enemy, maybe? Sometimes, I feel the same can be said about the India-Pakistan conflict or the new Assam-Bangladesh conflict or the Myanmar-Rohingya conflict or any cross-border conflict in the recent times.
Maybe we’ve become comfortable blaming others for all our problems instead of looking inwards for solutions? It’s okay when we’re talking of individuals doing this — what worries me is nations behaving like this too. It has to stop somewhere, no? Do we really need an enemy to be at peace with ourselves? Maybe we actually do. Or is there another way?
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