Steeped In Tradition

Reminiscences and Reflections

Category: Society

Preventing violence against women

It’s always distressing to hear news of violence against women specially when they are from India, my home country. Prominent women celebrities and associations demand for death-penalty for perpetrators after broadcast of every new rape or crime story that caught the national attention. Emotions run high, politicians make statements (some very stupid), people protest and social media goes abuzz with people expressing their disgust. Sadly there is very little discussion about identifying the root cause and meaningfully solving this issue.

Here is what UN organization for Women has to say about solving this problem:

Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence. Given the devastating effect violence has on women, efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors. However, the best way to end violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root and structural causes.

Prevention should start early in life, by educating and working with young boys and girls promoting respectful relationships and gender equality. Working with youth is a “best bet” for faster, sustained progress on preventing and eradicating gender-based violence. While public policies and interventions often overlook this stage of life, it is a critical time when values and norms around gender equality are forged.

– Source:

Is there any mention of “Death-penalty” as a means to solve the problem? In 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women a document was drafted with “agreed conclusions” on how to tackle the issue. The commission proposes “appropriate punishment”. Again, there are no demands for “Death-penalty”.

The UN Commission has got it right. The issue can only be meaningfully solved by changing the mindset of people, specially the young. This can be achieved by education and encouraging respectful relationships between men and women. Instead, we get pretty much everything wrong in our attempt to solve the issue:

Why is there such a high value set to virginity and sex? Does a rape victim lose something so precious that all meaning in life is lost? As sensitive of a subject this is, the closer we get to considering rape as just another form of physical violence, the easier it will be for victims to bear the social sting of it. Sex is an intimate act meant for mutual pleasure between two people. Without the “mutual pleasure” aspect, it should be seen as physical violence. In truth, even in the most liberal cultures, it may never be considered just as a “physical violence”, not it should. But if victims, instead of speaking out are killing themselves because of self-loathing or fear of society, we have a problem. The violation of personal space and emotional trauma leaves an indelible scar on a victim. We can at least reduce the weight a victim experiences because of society.

I found the harrowing experience of a young man who asked a woman out very troubling. It reminded of an instance from my childhood when an instance of me being bratty was given a sexist spin by a girl and many of her friends(almost all girls in class) rallied to get me punished for misbehavior(I never got punished though). I know several instances of parents and relatives of girls crossing the line for minor misdemeanors on the boys part.

A lady friend shared a story about how a guy once misbehaved with her sister on the street. She ran after him and eventually he was caught and taken to the police station. The pursuit had left both sisters very shaken and her father soon showed up. How do you think the situation would have turned out? The father goes up and knocks a tooth out of the guy? Police stand by, watching as the boy gets hammered. Maybe join in to deliver a few additional kicks before throwing him behind bars?

No. Here is what the father did. He walked up to the guy and says:

These are my girls.
You can look at them.
You can smile at them.
You can even whistle at them.
But you can not touch them.

He walks out with his daughters and the police let the guy go. What do you make of this father? Must be someone from a very liberal country? Wrong. The father is Iranian. This incident happened in a town in the turkish part of Iran, which is actually more conservative than big cities like Tehran.

Men inflict violence on women not because it is inherent to male personality and its not something our gender needs to be cured off. The problem is men aren’t being real Men. Instead of demonizing and neutering the male instincts, society needs to expect manly virtues from all men. The youth must be shown a way to express themselves. They must be taught the appropriate way of flirting, courting and winning the love of a woman. They should learn how much rewarding a consensual relationship really is. They must be taught the value of empathy and honor. How can someone with empathy commit violence against another fellow human being? Specially someone from the physically weaker and fairer sex?

Its not the responsibility of men alone. Women need to realize they are part of the solution. For god sake, you gave birth and raised these men. When you buy into the culture of objectification of your own gender, watch crappy movies that feature caucasian women wearing skimpy clothes, hide and remain silent or on the other extreme subscribe to militant feminist ideology — you are being part of the problem.

We spend way too much time talking about retribution to crime already committed and far less little time wondering how such crimes can be prevented. Over 2/3rd of the female victims knew their attackers, often someone from the same family. The greatest danger women face is not from some stranger on the street but their own acquaintances. Agreed, harsh punishments can “deter” crimes both inside and outside of home. Strict policing can help “prevent” crimes outside of home. But how do you “prevent” crimes inside the home or neighborhood? How do you protect yourself from people you trust? Deterrence alone is not the solution.

Only a Rocketman

There is a song that has been haunting me last few days.

“Rocketman” was originally performed by Elton John in 1972. Many artists have covered the song since then. I like the version covered by James Maynard(Puscifer/Tool) the best. It has a feel of Pink Floyd and gives me the chills every time I play it.

This song is set in the future. It’s in a time when space travel has become common.

She packed my bags last night pre-flight
Zero hour nine a.m.
And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then
I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife
It’s lonely out in space
On such a timeless flight

You can tell from the first two lines how the astronauts flight has become something trivial, just like you would pack your bags to take a bus to the next city. There is a deep sadness and fear in the lines that follow.

And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
Till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I’m a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

Its going to be a long, long time before the astronaut returns back to earth. His greatest fear is that when he returns back home, he will no longer be seen as a brave hero – the astronaut who put his life at risk to travel to the edge of space.

The song was written over forty years ago and yet it is relevant for all times and ages. Professions once seen as noble lose their awe and respect over time. In India, there was a time when a Postman was one of the most respected and educated person in the village. Being a Policeman or Firefighter was something a child aspired to be. A time when soldiers returning to America from the fields of battle in Japan and Europe during the world wars were seen as the finest men. Being a freedom fighter or laying down your life for other people was considered heroic. Being a Teacher and imparting knowledge was a job of great responsibility. Do these people still enjoy the respect they once did?

I wonder if there is any value in trying to preserving old perceptions? I think perceptions in society are like glaciers which inch slowly, constantly changing the landscape. A few well-intentioned people will grieve about the Glacier heading toward their beautiful meadow, they might even dig in with shovels hoping to change the course of it. They should realize the futility of their efforts and accept the change. The only way they will find joy in this change is if they can find beauty in the deep valley that the Glacier has carved behind.

But is there something fundamentally wrong with desire to be seen as hero. In a time when space travel becomes common, how different is being an astronaut from being a truck driver really. I think the struggle in everybody’s life is equally worthy of respect. There are countless heroes who life remains unsung and their courage uncelebrated.

Albert Einstein once said:

If you want to live a happy life,
tie it to a goal. Not to people or things

Our actions cant be guided by the prospects of getting adulation from others.