On January 7, a 50-year-old woman was brutally gang-raped and murdered in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh. This happened when she went to a temple in the evening all alone. And if we believe a member of the National Commission of Women, Chandramukhi Devi, that is exactly where the woman went wrong. The NCW member is reported to have said, that the woman shouldn’t have gone out alone and that too in the evening, the hour when men who predate on women’s sexuality cannot be controlled.
The conversation around crime against women has followed a circular path, we begin, we elevate, defy and then we stoop down again to the same point where we started, where women were not safe and had no agency. In that case, did we even move? Did we even eradicate the regressive ideas and strive to make women free? Or we are just moving in circles because women apparently can never be free and safe in a society that believes in absolving a man of his gravest crime and blaming women for daring to live.
BIZARRE: NCW member Chandramukhi lectures women on timings of them venturing out, says the Badaun incident wouldn’t have happened had the women not gone out alone in EVENING!— Prashant Kumar (@scribe_prashant) January 7, 2021
She was sent by NCW to visit the kin of victim in Badaun. pic.twitter.com/jUpltuBtea
This is not the first time when society blamed a woman for being raped. In 2014, opposing the death sentence of four accused in gangrape, Mulayam Singh said, “Boys will be boys. They make mistakes. Should they be hanged for that?” When the Hathras rape case shook the nation, a politician claimed that women get raped because they lack sanskaar. And now a woman politician from National Commission of Women, an organisation who is supposed to protect women’s rights, claims that a woman must not go out alone in the evening.
Why are our politicians and state representatives so insensitive towards rape which is a serious and punishable crime? Why aren’t they questioning the mentality, crime and the conditioning of men in our society who feel entitled to harass and rape women? Yesterday women were questioned for not being religious and sanskaari enough and today a woman is being criticised for going to the temple all alone. If the society feels entitled to question women and expect them to compromise in every situation in life, will restrictions on women ever have a limit? What is stopping the state from taking stringent measures to stop crime against women rather than blindly blaming and restricting women?
To restrict a woman has always been the easiest solution to any problem in a patriarchal society. Low on budget? The girl in the house must drop-out from school and cut down her expenses even if that includes her health checkups. Happy marriage? A woman must compromise and abide by the demands of her husband even if it includes a dowry, marital rape or domestic violence. Rape? The woman must not wear western attires and go out on the streets all alone! But what if she is harassed inside her home? She must not speak out so that no one knows and her character remains pure.
But the idea to question, punish and change the men in our house has never been the agenda to ensure a woman’s safety. This difference is not even seen as something wrong because the gender divide is too deep to identify and question. Society's regressive systems have internalised the idea that men hold power in the society while women are the subordinate genders who must adjust and assume silence in order to live. They have assumed that men can never be asked to compromise and change but women have it in their nature to sacrifice and adjust.
This then raises a compelling question that is a woman even considered as a human who has the right to live with dignity if compromising and enduring the wrong is the cost of her existence?
To live in a safe society and voice out the choices and opinions is the basic right of a woman. To respect the dignity and choices of every woman is the duty of a man in our society. And to ensure the freedom of speech and expression and safety of every individual in the society without any biases is the state’s responsibility. But are any of these groups of people abiding by their rights and duties? If the state doesn’t take the responsibility to ensure a woman’s safety, and a man doesn’t consider it important to respect a woman, will a woman ever be able to live safely and freely?
It is worse if a woman representing women’s rights couldn’t understand her responsibility and standout of the gendered society. We expect women leaders to represent the issues that women face and stand in solidarity against gender oppression. But if they forget their motive and get lost in the tide of patriarchal state and laws, whom should we as women look up to for our safe present and future?
Views expressed are the author's own.