October 07, 2008

Because, of course, you must teach us our place

TWO WEEKENDS AGO, my cousin and I had a girls’ night out and ended up watching the late night show of Rock On. After the show ended, we hailed a cab, hopped in and sang like wannabe rock stars all the way home, between squabbling about who was the hottest man in the movie. She dropped me off with a loud “Rock on!” and a wave and rode away in the same cab toward where she lives with her husband and daughters. It was 2 am. And I came home and realized I should send up a silent prayer that I was safe.

Being a woman in any Indian city comes with its own clock: your physical self must not see the later hours of the night. Avoidable when you’re working, and ridiculous if it’s merely for pleasure. “Good girls” are home early, safely cosseted from the elements of the dark; never mind that the city parties until dawn. Which is why, it angers but doesn’t really surprise me when the Honorable Chief Minister of Delhi has this to say about Soumya Viswanathan’s commitment to her profession:

“All by herself till 3 am at night in a city where people believe…you know…you should not be so adventurous.”

And of course, since Ms. Dixit’s government runs on the mandate of the people, and the people believe Soumya Viswanathan was “adventurous”, it’s all her fault, right Chief Minister? You clearly can’t be taking responsibility or action and remarks like this had better teach us women our place in the world. Don’t go out there. Don’t meet your deadlines. If you use your head to contribute to society, you might just find a bullet shot into it.

No, I don’t advocate roaming the streets in the wee hours just to prove a point. I am aware that as much as we’d love the world to let us feel like regular citizens instead of scuttling second-class ones, it isn’t happening right away. Perhaps I won’t see or hear of it in this lifetime. But to have come this far, to have women stepping out everyday, contributing to the workforce and then being blamed for being out there instead of booking the culprits, is regressive, anti-feminist and throws us right back to the previous century. The least the CM can do is shut up and get cracking instead of using her position of power to encourage people to keep their wives and daughters indoors.

In the absence of state-provided security facilities for all citizens in the country, I do realize that we’ve got to take care of our own safety if we are to avoid becoming another statistic. My question is: how far do we go in the bid to stay safe and where do we draw the line? If it were up to Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan of Saudi Arabia, we’d all be walking around looking at the world with only one eye, because “showing both eyes encourages women to use eye make-up to look seductive.” If it were up to Ms Sheila Dixit, we’d all be home watching prime time television, never mind that late night shift or upcoming deadline or special edition the next day. No partying on New Year’s Eve, because your anatomy will invite trouble. And of course, it doesn’t matter that you’re only 11 years old. Being a woman-in-waiting is reason enough to be hauled off and raped. It’s all our fault for being adventurous enough to have a vagina. Wouldn’t you agree, Madam Chief Minister?

11 comments to Because, of course, you must teach us our place

  • You know, I’m curious about why everyone is assuming this was a gender crime. To the best of my knowledge there’s no reason to believe that sex was a factor – shooting someone in the head isn’t what I would usually think of as a sex act. If a woman gets shot going home from work does it have to be because she was a woman? Maybe she got killed because she was a journalist and knew something or rubbed someone the wrong way. Maybe it was a robbery attempt gone wrong. In either case, it could just as easily have been a man as a woman.

    I think we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of defining women first and foremost by their gender, which is, of course, a fundamentally patriarchal perspective. Not only because it perpetuates a regressive way of thinking, and is a negation of the victim’s individuality, but at least in this case, because it blinds us to alternate possibilities that need to be seriously considered. It’s convenient for everyone to pretend that this could only happen to a woman, but I don’t know why that’s true. I would argue this is not about a woman getting murdered, this is about a person getting murdered. And as such it threatens everyone, not just women.

    None of which is to say, of course, that violence against women isn’t an issue, or that Dixit’s remarks aren’t beyond the pale. I just think it’s useful to remember that not all crimes against women are crimes against Women.

  • Ishaaney

    I came across this blog by accident… but I must say that you are correct. No one in their right mind walks around streets at 3am unless s/he is Shenshah. We got work can’t help it , maybe they are not used to the word “work” coz of the utter lack of it at government offices. I swear it idiotic, a girl gets killed and you say why was she out of the house? , I mean do all the girls stay at home and cook because someone might kill you or rape you! Give the country to langurs and this what you get !!

  • apu

    Well said, Dilnavaz! While each individual would naturally see how they can ensure their safety better, the CM has no business blaming the victim. As it is, the poor investigation procedures ensure that few crimes are solved quickly. Rather than focusing on that, how convenient to blame the victim.

  • D

    Adventurous indeed! It’s always the wome who do stuff – roam the streets past midnight, dress sexily, work late, get raped. Makes men seem so redundant!

  • Hi

    I stumbled upon this website by accident in pursuit of information related to gender mainstreaming. In South Africa, we are piloting a gender mainstreaming course for national government and I could not help but notice the similarities between our societies. I am a South African Indian woman living and working in Pretoria and the harsh truth is that although we have a very transformative constitution and legal system ito legislation, these are just paper rights.

    Women are demoralised for having a social life. Many women, especially women of colour undergo the same restrictions of ‘good girls stay at home’. I mean, lets be serious, this is the 21st Century!

    I say, go Dilnavaz, go girl! The only way we can pave the way for other women is if we start breaking the stereotypes that our socialisation process instills in us!

  • MaTRix

    I stumbled upon this blog while searching for news articles related to the gruesome murder of Soumya Vishwanathan. Pretty thorough and practical info posted here by Dilnavaz. The comments from honorable Chief Minister of Delhi do not come as a surprise to me. After all, who listens to politicians nowadays? They’re the rotting lot who degrade themselves lower & lower by the day. Let me introduce myself as a male from Kerala, God’s own country that has gone to the Dogs over the years, a state ruined totally by the policies (or lack of it) of the state Govt. Politicians & their public remarks are governed only by the number of votes they will be ‘earning’ in the next polls, NOTHING ELSE!!

    I stay in Bangalore where you see citizens struggling to earn their daily bread, working day in & night out, a land of BPOs and Software Giants where women are forced to work late. After all, you cannot shy away from professional responsibilities just because you were born into the fairer sex. These women require security to pursue a living. Imagine your own mother, wife or sister returning home at 3:00 AM. Wouldn’t you be concerned? Well, in a country like India, ‘concern’ would be an under statement. The Police as well as the Govt are least bit bothered about the safety of citizens. Who ensures this? Can you take away the basic right of an Indian citizen to earn a living?

    And for all of you who believe in ‘teaching a woman where she belongs’, could you please specify where actually DOES she belong? Can you imagine a society where women are confined to kitchen work, reproduction & looking after kids? Would you like India to be another degraded, disgusting replica of a society like Saudi Arabia? If not, learn to respect your women and to realize that women exist not just for a man to enjoy sex!

    Having said all this, I refuse to be convinced by the rumor that Soumya was killed because she was a woman. After all, why would she be shot in her skull if the motive was sexual assault? We are here staring face-on at a crime where a young, vibrant media person was killed just because she was devoted to the job she was doing. In a month, this news will fade away from our channels, these newspaper articles will be events of the past, people will move on in life, but can anyone replace the departed? Can anyone replace the daughter her parents lost? Can any amount of consolation bring back a sister? Will the real culprits ever be brought to justice? Let’s wait & see.

    My heartfelt condolences to the family of the departed. May her soul rest in peace.

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    Falstaff: And I’m curious about why you assumed everyone assumes this is a gender crime. 🙂 I cannot speak for “everyone”, but this assumption was certainly not the basis of this post. My rant was about how it was made out to be a women’s safety versus outdoor hours issue by none other than the CM herself. I am in agreement with you when you say that being shot through the head is hardly indicative of a sex crime. It isn’t. The REACTION to the crime is what gets my goat. Had this been a man being shot in the head, Ms. Dixit certainly wouldn’t be calling him “adventurous” and sending out a Stay Indoors message. The crime itself wasn’t gender-specific, the ensuing reaction was.

    Ishaaney: I’m not quite sure what species of animal I prefer when it comes to running the country, but welcome to the blog. 🙂

    Apu: Thank you. It’s always situational variations of the same theme, isn’t it?

    D: Oh yes. They don’t enter the picture at all. 😉 Your redundancy comment reminded me of something I read on a blog recently, which went like this: Instead of having women walk around with one eye covered (refer to the body of this post), why not have men walk around with both eyes covered? The issue is resolved at source!

    Nitasha: Thank you and welcome to our blog. 🙂 Sadly, women the world over face varying degrees of the same brand of discrimination.

    MaTRix: Strong sentiments against the political system being voiced in response to this post and I’m not surprised. Like I mentioned above, this post isn’t about a crime against a woman as much as it is about the official response to that crime. I also suspect that Soumya Viswanathan received the extensive media coverage she did because she was one of their own. Not that the media doesn’t cover other crimes, but something tells me she may have been relegated to the inner pages after a while, if it weren’t for her profession. BPO workers usually end up as little blurbs after Day 1.

  • I really like this post. You’re right… I would not tell any of my girl friends to roam the roads of Delhi at 2am, even though we definitely, totally should be able to do so safely. But the fact that we can’t do so safely is not a reason for the CM to give for Soumya’s murder. It’s not safe, so make it safe! Don’t try to solve the problem by telling women to not be so “adventurous”.

    I live in Singapore currently. And I have a friend who won’t let me walk home alone after 10pm. In Singapore!! He doesn’t see why I get so mad when he does this. He doesn’t see how small and utterly helpless it makes me feel!

    Also, I think Falstaff is right… why is the fact that Soumya was a woman out at 2am even under discussion? Her murder may not have anything to do with the fact that she was a woman, “adventurous” or otherwise. So, whether she was out at 2am or 2pm should also not be a factor, right?

  • diarymilk

    well….lots are there to say things like. she shouldnt have been there at these late nights of the day,………….. well. i say……….. things that come ur way…..cannot be…. changed… her fate was that…….. but….this fate was a brutal case of murder…….
    only at times people talk of it. after weeks or even after days. she just remains to be an adventorous person on field………….. no one knows wat exactly was the reason for the murder………….

  • sam

    If Soumya knew the fact that delhi is unsafe then she should not leave office at 3:00 AM and her act was indeed adventurous.But some people do not use their brain and try to calculate risk of their act.If senior citizens tries to give a message that advice you to take precaution,we just criticize them probably thinking that providing security in delhi is trivial thing and government is not doing anything.

    Dilnavaz- If you are really concerned about unsafe delhi do something at your end to make it safe instead of just enjoying the freedom and safety at the cost of efforts from others.This indeed will prove Delhi CM that what you have got something apart form criticizing brain and a vagina.Apart from that you can enjoy your next nightout knowing that safe environment exist because you have created it.

  • arun

    i reach on this blog accidentally…….n it is really great to study the mind n thinking of different people over here…….Let me clear u one thing stop using the name INDIA for every this type of crime . It happens everywhere all over the world .I respect Dilnavaz ‘ s views . But everyone must understand that roaming past midnight is not safe for both male n female its not a matter of sex ONLY but a matter poverty , unemployment etc. It is just like we r hungry (have no money)n find a meal (male or female) at 3am and if it is delicious(girl) then who can stop. This is just a feeling n its common around the world with different people with different color , different origin etc. Not only in india it can happen anywhere . A country can provide only security n can make tough punishments for such a crimes thats it.
    But it all doesn’t mean we have no respect for females n they should be confined in a home only.Just like male they are also human beings n have all the right to roam everywhere n anytime but when the security persists . Dilnavaz u must understand roaming at 3am is not safe for males too.
    My heartfelt condolences to the family of the departed. May her soul rest in peace.

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