candlelight vigil
People participate in a candlelight vigil to protest against the death of Unnao rape victim, highlighting the rise in incidents of crimes against women, in New Delhi (File) Image Credit: IANS

That there has been another gang rape in the state of Uttar Pradesh is no longer shocking, since I started writing this piece, a 19- year- old has allegedly been raped and thrown from the terrace of her house. She is battling for survival, while a pregnant 15-year-old rape survivor could not make it.

Nor are allegations of police apathy in handling the case in the village of Badaun where a local priest is the prime accused surprising, this is the same police that a few months ago forcefully cremated a 19- year- old gang rape victim in the dead of the night without allowing her family a last glance.

The revelations that steel rods were used to assault the 50- year- old woman who disappeared during a visit to a temple may break our inner compass but sadly, this too has played out earlier and not just during the assault on Jyoti Singh. (Nirbhaya)

In India, a woman gets raped every 16 minutes says the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB). Sometimes it isn’t possible for the outrage to keep up. Other times, the candles stay unlit, personal safely wins with the hope that at least our own have our back.

So, when Chandramukhi Devi, a member of the National Commission for Women — a toothless statutory redressal body — says the assault could have been avoided had the victim not gone out alone in the evening, we know we remain in a dark place and not just because our taxes continue to flog a dead horse.

It is often said that a woman is a woman’s worst enemy, but when the stakes are this high — India holds steady as one of the most dangerous countries for women with an 86% increase in crimes in the last decade — every regressive word encourages a flawed system to flourish. These days, it needs little encouragement.

The phrase ‘patriarchal bargain’ was coined by Turkish author Deniz Kandiyoti who described it somewhat as the Faustian bargain in societies where patriarchy is more than an echo.

While accepting the dominance of men and gender divide as paramount, it refers to those women who find individual power within this set-up, propping themselves up at the expense of putting other women down.

Domination as an identity remains ingrained and aspirational even in those who are subservient and Chandramukhi Devi seems to have learnt this from her boss.

The Chairperson of the Commission Rekha Sharma has in the past not even spared Mahatma Gandhi from her wildly misogynist rants. She may have scrubbed her twitter handle clean, but women rights were never in more dubious hands.

Strident and sexist narrative 

Our myopic lens is conditioned to blame the woman, victim shaming is more the norm and even more a reality. The only difference today is that a toxic social media allows no refuge from the manufactured humiliation of fake news. Many sections of the media spearheaded by women journalists have added fuel to the fire, zooming in to espouse a narrative that is strident and sexist.

In September last year they questioned the character of a 19- year- old Dalit (lower caste) girl who was gang-raped and murdered in Hathras (another village in Uttar Pradesh) by upper caste men.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath whose state tops the NCRB data of crimes against women called the rape an international conspiracy. Those who were hoping that Women and Child Development minister Smriti Irani would defend her own were disappointed.

She chose to react first as a politician and then as a woman. For days she remained silent on the Hathras rape while ironically addressing a United Nations Conference on Women.

The ‘patriarchal bargain’ then resonates in Smriti Irani’s silence — she is one of the most outspoken ministers — just as much as it does in the endless vitriolic outbursts of actress Kangana Ranaut who disguised behind today’s black and white nationalism spews such venom on other women that it is hard to believe she is one of them.

At the best of times there is a thin line that separates this strident nationalism from toxic masculinity, Kangana has crossed over.

Like many of the poisonous news anchors on Indian television, she too has understood that a hate filled narrative that attempts to put someone, anyone down is what pays today — look no further than her government mandated Y-plus security with more than ten personnel guarding her at all times. Ironically while Kangana victim shames other women, she doesn’t hesitate to play the victim card herself.

From calling fellow actress Rhea Chakraborty — whose very public witch-hunt was nothing but the full might of a patriarchal society on display — a “small time druggie’ to labelling veteran actress Urmila Matondkar a “soft porn star” Kangana’s arrogance also found no filter when she accused a 73- year-old lady protesting against the new farm laws of being bought for Rs100.

Her swift takedown by the Punjabi actor and singer Daljit Dosanjh trended but the actress continues to revel in her new avatar — of being more loyal than Caesar’s wife to her masters’ voice.

Author Kelly Valen’s book ‘The Twisted Sisterhood’ that talks of women maligning and sabotaging each other has a sequel — the ease of becoming part of the system instead of fixing it. And, in a society that remains unapologetically and casually sexist, it all trickles down.

The educated urban households are far away from the violence of caste dynamics of rural Uttar Pradesh, but they are equally complicit in allowing this culture to flourish.

Objectifying and slut-shaming

The ‘Bois Locker Room’ controversy last year saw an Instagram handle run by urban Delhi students objectifying and slut-shaming schoolgirls in a way that should make our heckles rise. The name of the handle though was misleading, there were many teenage girls who were also part of the group.

They were on par with the boys in calling for physical violence against minor peers. When a society treats respect as dispensable, children are but a mirror.

Bollywood which remains the biggest influence on young minds echoes it with its silence barring a handful of usual suspects. On the other hand, it continues to churn out box office hits like Kabir Singh that celebrate toxic masculinity and physical violence.

In the 1970s as cases of rape increased in Israel, suggestions were made to implement a night curfew for women. Golda Meir, the Prime Minister responded saying since the men were the attackers, if there was to be a curfew they would stay at home and not the women.

Back home, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (save the girl, educate the girl) was a much- publicised slogan by the government six years ago. Today there is hardly any mention of it.

Even living within boxes, many children and women like the recent victim in Badaun or the teenage girl in Hathras are merely allowed to bide time — to exist, without really being allowed to live.

Rallies were taken out in support of the upper caste accused after the gang-rape in Hathras. The real tragedy is that India’s daughters die many times over. The deepest cut though is by their own.