The Broken Promise of Equality

Way back in July 2004, around 30 women walked naked in front of the army quarters in Assam with the slogan, “Indian Army, Rape us.” The movement was in protest of the death of Thangjam Manorama who was brutal ly raped, mutilated and killed by certain members of the Indian army. The army has wide powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 including search and seizure and arrest and custody. Women have been major victims of sexual offences under this draconian legislation, in parts of the North East and in Kashmir, in particular.

Rape was also often used to shut down voices trying to resist human rights abuses. Sexual offences against women continue in different parts of the country, in different forms, both outside and inside the home. Although the constitutional guarantee of equality stays intact, the reality of gender relations in India is extremely unequal.

It goes without saying that Indian society is deep patriarchal. Women are by birth automatically at a disadvantage simply because our society treats its women much worse than it treats its men. There are different expectations from men and women in terms of behavioural pattern, conduct, mannerisms and actions. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a feminist writer from Nige ria puts it quite neatly, “We teach girls shame. Close your legs, cover yourself. We make them feel as though being born female, they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up- and this is the worst thing we do to girls-they grow up to be women who have turned pretence into an art form.” Adichie is surely right. She indicates a phenomenon that is generally identified as ‘gender stereotyping’.

Gender stereotyping essentially is society’s expectations and beliefs about the behavioural patterns, roles, activities, characteristics, qualities about men and women and sometimes, the third gender. It focuses on what masculine and feminine qualities are expected of men and women. Society decides the type of toys boys and girls should play with, the kind of clothes they should wear and the kind of hobbies they should have and perpetuates the same through habituation. The role played by socialisation, religion, media and often the law in encouraging stereo types is problematic. Even in educated families, the pressure on Indian women to get married at an early age is a reality. Everybody in a given family gets to have a say in the matter of a girl’s marriage, except probably the girl herself. Quite undisputedly, the independence and career options offered for an Indian female is much less compared to that of men.