It is not the first time and what scares me is that it probably won't be the last. As the calendar changes, we resolve for "New Year, New Me," and yet we are stuck in the same rotten rut and shackles that have bound us for centuries. On the night of 31 December, 2016, while the rest of the world was celebrating New Year's Eve with great gusto, one of the most seemingly progressive and technologically advanced cities of India witnessed aghast the most shameful incident in its already inglorious history.
How do we ensure that people with a patriarchal mindset do not make it to top government positions...?
Thousands of women were allegedly mass-molested on MG Road by herds of goons on motorbikes, shouting obscenities, making rude gestures and groping their body parts in heavily crowded public areas, even as the police force watched, horrified but catatonic. A courageous photo-journalist captured the incident in a shocking series of pictures featuring women sobbing inconsolably as police officers attempt feebly to pacify them. What followed was a stale rerun of the "Blame The Victim, Blame The Dress" drama. The hackneyed, predictable and phenomenally depressing statement from the state Home Minister, G. Parmeshwara was, "Unfortunately what is happening in that on days like New Year's Eve, Brigade Road, Commercial Street or MG Road, a large number of youngsters gather. And youngsters are almost like westerners. They tried to copy the westerners, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing. So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kinds of things do happen."
As the issue gathered pace and much media attention, Bangalore women found support in the outpouring of sheer disgust and empathy from sensible citizens all over the country, courtesy social media. However, if you thought that was that and I decided to write this to simply shake my head in disbelief over the prevalent patriarchy, give my two cents and report the incident then you are wrong. To my (and that of most women) utter repugnance, the final straw was when a lot of idiotically "well-meaning" Indian men took to the internet with the abhorrent hashtag #NotAllMen and tried to "restore women's faith in men". As if the unacceptable statistics for molestation, rape, murder and female infanticide in India do not serve as a confirmatory stamp on seriously patriarchal mindsets, we need to be mansplained by fellows lounging in their comfortable homes, in front of a laptop, with no exposure to molestation or knowledge of gender issues, that molestation is not a "serious issue" and we must turn the other cheek and let it slide.
One way to go about solving this issue is to weave in the subject of gender issues/equality carefully and intricately in our education system.
While the photos delivered a chilling story, they also highlighted the serious questions that the Indian society and the government collectively need to answer. The question which looms the largest is: How do we ensure that people with a patriarchal mindset do not make it to top government positions, wherein they have the power to directly affect the law-making process and/or shape the opinions of the public? One way to go about solving this issue is to weave in the subject of gender issues/equality carefully and intricately in our education system, right from an early age. In February 2015, the Supreme Court of India issued a notice to the Central Board of Secondary Education and the Centre in response to a PIL to issue directions to make moral science a compulsory part of the school curriculum. Additionally, in 2014, the Supreme Court issued instructions to the University Grants Commission to make environmental education a compulsory subject for all undergraduate courses across all Indian universities. In these troubled times and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" ("save the daughter, teach the daughter") movement, how difficult is it to see the dire need of including a compulsory course curriculum on gender equality?
Words fail to describe just how badly all Indians, especially the so-called experienced parents, teachers, law and policy-makers, bureaucrats, ministers and high-ranking government officials, need a masterclass on eliminating patriarchy in principle and in practice. Along with this comes the addendum of ensuring the right teachers for the course.
Let our New Year Resolution positively be: "Smash the Patriarchy."
Measures must be taken to ensure that the fate of gender education in India is not the same as that of compulsory environmental education which was highlighted when MC Mehta moved the court on the issue of lack of quality teachers for the subject. Along with the right qualifications in gender studies, a quality teacher for the course must, essentially, have a feminist, gender-sensitive mindset along with a proven track record of hands-on experience of dealing with gender issues. If successful, the same model can be implemented globally to ensure maximisation of quality gender education which starts from kindergarten and lasts well into college, ensuring a positive symbiotic relationship among countries for tackling patriarchy globally.
The Indian government can lament and express concern over the Bangalore New Year's Eve incident all they want but the focal point of the escalating crimes against women is rooted in the patriarchal mindset. Unless gender equality becomes the obvious norm for the country, all efforts towards women's empowerment would be in vain. Let our New Year Resolution positively be: "Smash the Patriarchy."