New Internationalist

The hypocrisy of sexism in India

Mamata Banerjee
Many feel Mamata Banerjee is dismissive of sexual violence Biswarup Ganguly, under a CC License

In Aligarh, north India, Gunjan, a 20-year-old college student lies injured in hospital. Her crime? She wore jeans to college. Her mother died defending her. Gunjan’s neighbour, by all accounts a disagreeable woman, taunted Gunjan and her family about the fact that Gunjan’s clothes were objectionable and her parents should stop her dressing in modern, offensive (to some sections of society) clothes. Non-traditional western garb is okay for Bollywood, but frowned upon in conservative Indian circles.

The young girl told the older woman to mind her own business. Enraged at the insult – in traditional circles it is unheard of for young people to answer back – the woman returned with a group of men wielding sticks and knives to teach Gunjan manners, according to newspaper reports. Neighbours who tried to intervene, were attacked too. By the time the police arrived, Kamlesh, Gunjan’s mother was lying in a pool of blood. Hit on the head with a heavy object, several times. The doctors pronounced her dead on arrival at the hospital. Gunjan and a few others are now hospitalised with serious injuries.

Our society, never fails to astound. Our logic is incomprehensible. The same people who attacked Gunjan probably live on an unadulterated diet of bad Bollywood films and serials, many of them lewd, and crassly vulgar in the extreme. The women in many of these films dress in tight, supposed-to-be-provocative, sexy clothes. Unabashedly pornographic dance numbers which leave little to the imagination are allowed past the censors. And children watch these movies with the entire family, grandparents included.

But in a country where female strength is revered, in the famous Kali and Shakti cults, there is the other side of midnight. A totally hypocritical attitude to women. The perfect woman is idolized as Sati-Savitri, in our literature. Yet ordinary women face hell on a daily basis. We have dowry deaths, and all manner of vile attacks on women, recently exacerbated because of a surfeit of cheap government sold alcohol and porn let loose on our streets via mobile phones. Apparently, porn can be viewed on mobiles for as little as 10 rupees a download, according to recent reports. $1, as I write this, is currently 58 rupees.

Women’s groups have been shouting themselves hoarse for decades. But, things seem to be getting worse, not better. I grew up in Calcutta, now Kolkata, and took pride in the fact that if a woman was molested on a city street, one scream would have a mob rushing to her defence. That seems to have changed now, with West Bengal branded one of India’s worst states. Gang rape has become common and the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee who rode to power, with sloganeering on women’s issues and myriad promises to make life better for Bengal women, now passes irresponsible remarks, dismissing rape and sexual violence as the opposition trying to carry out a smear campaign against her party. She publicly protests that the media and women’s groups are being paid to malign her to all who will listen. Women’s groups are outraged and frustrated that the first woman Chief Minister of West Bengal state, where the Hindu goddess Durga reigns supreme, is such a disgrace to womanhood.

The National Commission for Women, noted with ‘dismay’ the transfer of two key officers involved in investigations of the now infamous Park Street gang rape case and Bankura case ‘for reasons best known to the state government.’ Even when they are spelt out, ruling party politicians manage to hush-up rape cases where their party men are involved.

Bengali women pride themselves on being strong and feisty. Women’s groups are banding together to fight back. And their shakti (strength) is not something to be trifled with. May the force be with them.

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