CS Sharada Prasad | politics
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What should India’s priorities be?

When India succeeded in its Mars mission, I had mixed feelings in my heart. Where are our real priorities? Yes, it is important to focus on understanding what happened on Mars. But how important is that? The reason I am questioning the magnitude of importance is that I am confused about the priorities of India, a nation with limited financial resources at its disposal. When India needs to focus on basic things such as building toilets, providing safe water, and making health and education more accessible, spending money on space research looks not so rational to me. Yes, it makes sense to launch satellites that help our farmers with better weather prediction, our civilians with better navigation, and the country with robust communication systems. But Mars mission is not what India should have focused on.

Yes, India succeeded in sending a probe to mars at a fraction ($74 million USD) of the money spent by USA ($617 million USD). It does say a lot about how good India is at creating and reusing indigenous technologies. It will make any Indian proud. But the effort and resource could have been used to focus and fix problems that are haunting our country. The money could have been spent at understanding how fast our Himalayan glaciers are melting, how to avert disasters that occurred in Uttarkhand last year and Jammu and Kashmir this year. With the money spent on Mars mission, India could have built half a million toilets, supported the annual education of at least 1 million children, constructed several hundred schools or a good number of hospitals in the rural areas of India.

Initiatives like Mars mission are a reflection of the priorities of the society that clearly ignores the needs of the majority of its people – poor, illiterate, malnourished.

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India’s rape culture

Why do people rape? I wish the answer was as pithy as the question. But some of the solutions that have emerged to end rape culture in India are short-sighted.

The most touted of all the solutions is introduction of harsher laws. Some people even stoop to the level of listing a few countries with tighter laws as examples India should follow. The irony is that those very countries also have strict laws to oppress women. For a law to be effective, its enforcement should be facilitated by an efficient police force and a prudent judiciary. But in India, rapes occur inside police stations, and lawyers, judges, and police ask demeaning questions to the victims in public. Indian state itself has been accused of using rape as a weapon in Jammu and Kashmir, North East, and regions affected by Naxalism.

Building toilets is not a solution either. No doubt, building toilets upholds the right of people to live with dignity, and reduces diseases due to water contamination, but, sadly, it cannot stop rapes. The fact that women with access to toilets are also harassed and sexually abused negates construction of toilets as a solution.

Installing Closed Circuit (CC) cameras in public areas and schools is not a solution because CC cameras cannot be installed everywhere, even where they are installed, there can be blind spots. CC cameras cannot always be used to identify the perpetrator, and they cannot be monitored all the time. CC TVs are an expensive and ineffective solution.

Signing online petitions won’t stop rapes. Such things are good for asking the government to extend bus timings, fill up potholes, and clean up a ditch in the neighbourhood. Online petitions have been effective in other countries. But in India, they have not been effective in prodding government to provide better governance. The heights of the naiveté of India middle class lies in sharing and liking posts on social media. Such things work well for kitten pictures, not for social change. The change happens on the ground, in the sweltering Sun. Social media has aided change by being a tool of effective communication and organization. But till people assemble in person, demonstrate, and exert demand, change remains elusive.

There are people who clearly understand that the above solutions don’t work. Such wise people, with deeper understanding of Indian society and culture, have listed radical reasons and solutions for thwarting sexual crimes. These people, mostly right-wing fundamentalists, blame women for aping western culture by wearing skimpy clothes, media for airing provocative images, and internet for facilitating access to pornography. Putting the burden on the victim reflects not the ignorance of these fundamentalists of the fact that women have been the victims even during the pre-public media and pre-internet era, and even when they are fully clad, but the shrewdness behind perpetuating male patriarchy and female oppression. This is also an evidence of the double standards of current Indian society dominated by fundamentalists who brag about the details depicted in Kamasutra and Khajuraho temples but supress expression of sexuality, one of the most natural human tendencies.

A person commits sexual violence for various non-sexual reasons. Though drugs, and alcohol top the list, sexual violence is used to vent pent up frustration and insecurity, and assert gender and caste superiority. The frustration could be a result childhood abuse, high school bullying, or disappointment due lack of upward mobility, and the perception of superiority could be the result of existing social structures. While the rape cases have been increasing, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, displacement in the name of development is increasing, migration to urban areas is raising, communal hatred and religious fundamentalism is growing, sexual expression is contained in the name of moral policing, middle class is becoming more and more self-centred, politician’s understanding of social issues has hit a new low, and judiciary continues to be slow and inefficient. Some of these factors might be strengthening existing social relations or manifesting themselves into frustrations and insecurities.

Increase in the number of sexual crimes is a reflection of the health of the society, not just of the individual who commits crime. As a society, we need to introspect. Together, we should work towards reducing income inequality, creating safer and educated environment for the interaction of men and women, providing opportunities for people to express their sexuality confidently, building better sanitation facilities, improving childcare and nutrition, treating men and women equally, eradicating caste system and other types of discrimination and exploitation, creating stronger democratic systems, providing employment opportunities, and eliminating of moral policing. As always, it is important to address the cause, not the symptom.

It is time to invest in future generations. Men, from an early age, should be taught to treat women as human beings and not as sexual objects. Men are not entitled to women. Unfortunately, the fact that forced marital sex is still not considered as rape in India legitimizes such entitlement. The oppression of women in Indian families in the name of traditional values is so sophisticated that the oppressed are not even aware of such an oppression. A married Hindu woman carries more external symbols such as mangal sutra, toe ring, and sindhoor, than a married man, that depict her as a property of some man. The confidence among girls needs to be boosted by reassuring them that they matter to the parents, and to the society, irrespective of their profession or complexion. The emphasis should be on girl’s independence and not on obedience to husbands and in-laws. She should be educated to make her realize her innate worth. She is more than a person who just bears a son for the family she is married into.