Michael Foucault, the French scholar, and father of Post Modernism said the panoptic eye watches us—even when we think no one is watching us. It maintains the balance of power and controls us even when we imagine a state of complete freedom and rights. All females have experienced it in the Indian social milieu, every time we stepped out of our home or stayed inside. The panoptic eye maintains the norms. A key norm is gender roles, which are in transition due to the aspirations of girls and their household. Thank god, it is no longer a boy's privilege or burden to build aspirational identities. We wouldn't have Sindhu and Saakshi otherwise. Women's aspirations have been the saving grace of the madness of the liberal, consumerist culture. The problem is the unmonitored and unmindful panoptic eye; the social collective now has no parameters to judge, control or prescribe behaviour norms and belief systems.
If the panoptic eye kept women in control for so long... surely we can have enough social power to reconstruct a male identity that fears being seen as an abuser, as a rapist...
I am proposing a panoptic eye with a reframed focus to fit our changing social milieu. It is time to watch the men like we once did the women—immigrant labourer men, rich spoiled lawless men, impressionable college and school men, drug/alcohol/porn-addicted men, coworker men. The women are busy, busier than they have ever been, raising kids, nurturing families, having taxing career and work graphs. There is nothing to watch there... lots to do for their wellbeing, but nothing to watch. Women will eventually figure out the norms for the next century of Indian womanhood, better to leave them alone to do it.
However, creating aspirations alone is not enough, reminders to look out are not enough, teaching self-defense is not enough...until our rural social economy adjusts to the emerging urban market, we need to watch the men. Because men who rape, stalk, assault are looking for the woman who is alone and for spaces where no one is watching them. The rapist is an opportunist whose mindset is that an accessible girl is available for sex, with him. Women are visible and thus accessible to him in offices, in schools and colleges, in malls, in cars driving home late at night, travelling home from interviews in trains, returning from schools.
Each and every man or group of men found leering, staring, pushing, pinching, hitting, following, pulling, harassing, making lewd remarks or gestures towards a girl should be watched. No police, government, or law can do what social control can. If the panoptic eye kept women in control for so long, making them survive only within homes and in relational identities, surely we can have enough social power to reconstruct a male identity that fears being seen as an abuser, as a sexual miscreant, as a rapist... What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Next time, you see a mother driving a scooty, her child in front, his school bag on her shoulders, don't look at her, she is the norm—look at the men staring at her.
Where are the women who complained about the dresses of girls, or questioned neighbours on the girls hanging out with boys? You are not out of a job yet ladies. Ask questions now of the boys instead. Where is he, who is he with? Does he drink? Does he do drugs? Whose car is he driving? Where does he go late at night? What is he watching on his phone all the time? Why does he whistle at the domestic help? Is his friend a rapist, a murderer? Why does he make sexist jokes, share misogynistic things on Facebook? When school girls are being regularly stalked, made to drink acid, committing suicides because their classmates, teachers, and neighbours are making video clips of their rape and then shaming them...it's Kalyug all right. The hallmark of Kalyug is the absence of the panoptic eye. Like when Draupadi gets disrobed, numerous compulsions of gods and god-like men stop them from intervening and controlling the injustice. Only Krishna intervenes. Next time, you see a mother driving a scooty, her child in front, his school bag on her shoulders, don't look at her, she is the norm—look at the men staring at her. One or several of them are potential rapists. A watchful, controlling, focused eye on the mass reaction of a patriarchal society coming to terms with women's equality is a must.