In many Indian households, women are always under the scrutiny of the male members of their family. Any decisions pertaining to women's lives are taken by these “figures”. Challenging these predetermined choices is often seen as an act of rebellion, leading to ill consequences. One such dictate is the amount of access young women can have to phones. From internet usage to call details, patriarchal families keep a close eye on how much women are using their phones and for what.
Let's look at this scenario for instance: If a man is using a mobile phone at 2 am, it won't create any tension or suspicion in his family. But if we turn the tables, and a woman is ‘caught’ using a mobile at the same hour, her family will spare no time to cast questions on her character. The family will then contemplate about the ‘need’ to use mobile at an unreasonable hour. What were you watching? Who were you talking to? Why were you texting so late at night? There are chances that her family will take away her phone and intrude on her privacy by going through her chats and call logs. And if they find something that they don't like, the woman will not only lose her phone but her freedom as well.
It is a widespread practice in Indian households to guard the daughter's honour and preserve her 'innocence' by placing restrictions on how and why she uses a phone. For instance not uploading pictures on social media, using phones outside the home, limiting access to the internet and social media, and setting a time limit for access to phones.
Women using mobile phones: Why does it scare society?
A study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School also found that unmarried women in India are not given mobile phones because it is against the traditional norms and women who use mobile phones before marriage are labelled 'impure'. Society's obsession with morality and good conduct only wraps itself around women's lives while men get a free pass. The worse part is, men get to impose conservative norms on women and police their lives.
When a man audits a woman’s mobile, he acts on the idea that women are inferior to him and that’s why she could be controlled. He doesn’t do that to keep her safe, but to subconsciously impose gender dynamics in a household and ensure that she understands her place in the hierarchy.
The daily/weekly/monthly or even surprise mobile checking happens, to keep a woman in control, both literally and subconsciously. Do they care about how many photos you took in a day? NO. They care about when, where, and with whom you took those photos and what are you wearing in those photographs? They don’t care what name you used, to save for a particular contact, but the face behind that number, and sadly, their gender, caste and religion too. Because women's choices and decisions scare patriarchal men. They fear losing control on life and routine of women around them.
It is an unending fight for control. The only way to break free is to educate men and do so early on. We need young boys to understand how patriarchal control on women's life is imposed and how they end up playing a role in the ordeal. Once they can see through patriarchy's manipulation and can overcome the sense of insecurity with love and empathy, they will no longer resort to policing women's use of mobile phones.
Views expressed are the author’s own.