Over the past few years, the Indian subcontinent has been home to an alarmingly high number of acts of gender-based violence. Two LSE alumni, Anushka Chaturvedi (Tata Trusts, India) and Laraib Niaz (UCL), explore the question of the fragile state of women’s safety in India and Pakistan, and draw an unfortunate parallel between the two countries in the context of violence against women.
On Thursday 28 November, 2019, Indians across the country poured their agitation and fury on social media platforms, following the brutal rape and murder of a 27-year old female veterinarian, Dr. Priyanka Reddy in Hyderabad, India. Approached by four assailants on the pretext of helping her repair her scooter, she ended up not only gang raped by them but also burnt alive to die an exceptionally painful death. Various political figures have since then been questioning the prudence of Dr. Reddy’s decision to call her sister, when scared, rather than the police in an attempt to once again, place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the victim instead of the aggressors.
Meanwhile in Pakistan, Dua Mangi, a female student in her early 20s was kidnapped by a group of five armed men in a car, from an upscale commercial area in Karachi, on 1st December 2019. Subsequently the girl’s family reached out to the police and social media alike for assistance in finding her. Her pictures soon went viral. Little did the family know that the repercussion of this plea would be the wrath of inhumane, vile and repulsive social media trolls. Perhaps, they did know, as evidenced by the fact that their cry for help was accompanied by a request to not judge their daughter. Here are a few of the choicest responses by flag bearers of misogyny in the country:
“Jab mithayi ko khula chorro ge to makhyan zaroor ayen gi” (If you leave the sweet box open, it will inevitably attract flies)
“Kidnappers ne waise haath to acha maar liya” (Kidnappers did well for themselves)
“Ye to hona hi tha, kapre to dekho” (This was inevitable, look at what she is wearing)
“Well done kidnappers… Jo log apni bachio ko be lagaam chor dete hain. They deserve this. (Those who leave their daughters unconstrained deserve this)
Why these women on either side of the border, one might ask? What did they intentionally or unintentionally do to provoke these men? The clear answer is this, if you are a woman, you are vulnerable, you can be targeted, and you can be violated – for no fault of your own. We wonder how many of us then want to bring up our daughters in the future in either of these countries, with such an inimical environment for women.
Having witnessed, years rather decades of male hegemony in society, the continuous emphasis on the concept of “Honour” (remember Qandeel Baloch from Pakistan, or a thirteen year old strangled to death by her own father in Nalgonda, India?), and the normalization of misogyny (yes, politicians referring to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto as a female or calling Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari “tractor trolley” counts as misogyny, as does calling AAP party candidate Atishi a prostitute by the opposition during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections), one would consider no form of misogyny as serving a surprise. However, nothing could have prepared us for the onslaught of congratulatory comments for the kidnappers of a young girl or the proliferation of porn videos with the name of the murdered rape victim.
There have been innumerable debates about how to end violence against women, not only in the subcontinent but globally. The most fitting response to this raging question seems to be to educate and empower women. But Jyoti (Nirbhaya) and Priyanka were both educated and empowered women, who had agency on themselves; yet they were brutally raped, violated and mercilessly killed. Female celebrities expressing their opinion on various social media platforms on burning issues of national importance get trolled and receive rape threats openly, merely for having a voice. Who is then safe? And do women with no formal education, who could be suppressed by patriarchy, have no right to safety?
This begs the question, what else needs to transpire to jolt society from its self-imposed stupor and willful ignorance of the impacts of toxic masculinity and the resulting gender-based violence? There is also this misconception that some spaces, particularly those in elite localities – be it in Karachi or Ranchi, are safer for women than others. However, Dua’s kidnapping occurred in a perfectly posh area, raising the question “are women safe anywhere?”
Finally, ‘Not all men’, they say. But who is to warn women about who is going to hurt them and who is not? The mere existence of women seems to ‘provoke’ men. Their every move is shamed and somehow, it’s their own fault. How long before the residents of the world, and not just the subcontinent realize that the need of the hour, more than to create stricter laws is to educate and sensitize young boys and men? Men need to be aware and sensitive towards the female body and have the conscience to not view it as a commodity. The pessimist in us will keep questioning this – how long before men assume their fault so far that India, Pakistan and the world can hope to become habitable for women, without fear.