How many more cases such as the one which unfolded at Hathras are required to wipe out the very existence of women from the map of human civilization? This question frequently haunts the mind. The degenerated and extremely pathological situation in women’s lives is not a new phenomenon. But women are being compelled to face additional problems and concerns amid the pandemic, and this is nothing but a shame for each and every human being composing the societal fabric. It is shameful that we have not been able to change the mindset of the society. A mindset that is deeply problematic because it is embedded in patriarchy, chauvinism and ingrained gender inequality that sees men as unchangeable and women as destined for subjugation and exploitation.
The situation worsens when the woman’s body concerned belongs to a Dalit or someone from the lowest of castes. Women have always borne the brunt of wars and civil conflicts, emergencies and disasters and have often paid the heaviest price in the most venerable of times.
From sexual assault to emotional and psychic trauma, women have suffered and experienced the heaviest blow of societal degradation and inhumanity. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the pandemic has brought about one of the most difficult periods in the life of the country and this is true for the lives of all its citizens, especially its women. The world has been experiencing an unprecedented situation and all domains of life whether it is health, employment, education or women’s lives-have all undergone a drastic change.
What kind of safety have we been able to ensure for our women or what kind of environment have we built for them ? Apart from the ‘regular’ rape cases that have become synonymous to the social fabric of the country, the COVID-19 situation has exposed how violative, exploitative and unjust the domestic sphere can be for women, especially those who live with abusive partners.
I would like to draw your attention to the problems that women suffering from COVID-19 have had to face in the safe homes set up by different states. The safe homes were set up in different states to overcome the crisis of beds in hospitals, but today these homes have become unsafe. Women patients are either harassed or molested in these safe homes.
What is evident is that even amid the pandemic, women patients are being violated and abused adding to the heinous and panful crimes perpetrated on women in India. While there are cases of sexual and physical assault against men, those against women are far greater in number and intensity.
From women being gang-raped, beaten up, being burnt alive to being thrown into drains, tanks and fields- the list of violent crimes against women in steadily on the rise. A newborn baby, a teenage girl, a young woman and an old woman are all potential targets of assault, violence and crime. The situation only worsens if the female happens to be from the lower caste.
The body of the lower caste woman is seen to be purified, if an upper caste male can draw pleasure out of it or even happens to touch it. This is the fate of thousands of women across the length and breadth of the country and it underlines the omnipresence of gender violence in India. The family of the 19-year old gang-rape victim was not even allowed the last glimpse of the girl before her hurried cremation. How many more case such as these will we be prepared to tolerate?
Female foeticide is the basis of all the problems related to women’s lives and we have been living with this misconception that women are incapable, inferior and worthless for ages. If the very idea of having a girl child being born into the family is loathed and devalued then what will the life of a young girl be like, can she expect to be valued and cared for? From abuse in homes, denial of equal opportunities, societal violence and oppression to abuse on social networking sites- women become victims of male directed violence all the time.
A woman continues to be harassed from the womb to the tomb. A society like India, doesn’t even spare its elderly women and they too find themselves unsafe and violated. From multiple cases of sexual assault and rape against elderly women to families deserting them in old age or giving them up to inhuman old age homes where a life of misery and indignity awaits them, the life of women is truly tragic in a patriarchal society like India.
With such rampant violation and indignities being thrown into the life trajectories of women in India, it is paradoxical to come to terms with the fact that this is the same country where women are seen as incarnations of the goddess and are worshipped. But the real woman of flesh and blood is seldom loved, cared and given due dignity.
When would the darkness disappear and when would we witness a new dawn taking away the evils from women’s lives? Would women ever get justice?
Trayee Sinha is Assistant Professor at Bidhan Chandra College, Asansol, West Bengal.