Might is still the only right
There is something about the epidemic of violence, the ecology of normlessness in India that is worrying. Every day the newspapers enact a fable of violence from an orphanage, a Dalit village that makes readers feel that violence and patriarchy is a part of the normalcy of India today. The Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya is a microcosm of this situation.
Lewdness and violence are fast becoming the new normal of New India
The name of the school itself is ironic, evoking as it does one of the great exemplars of the national movement. The school is an interesting experiment, providing as it does residential education to girls from some of the most vulnerable and marginal communities. It tries to attract and retain girls from Scheduled Caste, religious minorities, Scheduled Tribes, that huge mélange of India which lives below poverty line. Oddly, these schools, despite good intentions, become the focal point of the worst tensions. Change is something patriarchal India frowns upon and change for women is something that threatens one and all.
There is an everydayness of violence and harassment that the girls suffer. Accompanying this are the array of lewd comments, graffiti contributed by boys from the school next door. The girls trained in karate and self-defence objected to such behaviour. Protest by a vulnerable group attracts the wrath of the dominant community. Teaching karate to Scheduled Caste kids offends the masculine codes of the community. Next they may dream of being Phogat sisters.
The ritual of violence becomes almost predictable. A few boys enter the compound of the school to harass the girls, who naturally object both to the lewd advances and the sexual and physical harassment. A victim objecting to harassment is a source of trouble and anger. A mob returns, comprising many of the boys’ parents, and beats up the girls. The mob almost behaves as if it is solving a law and order problem. Defiant girls from minority communities are definitely a threat to the social order. By habit, they are supposed to suffer such violence in silence.
The scale of violence was frightening. Over 40 girls were attacked. The mob tore their clothes and snatched dupattas, in a ritual of violence and humiliation that left the girls in a traumatic state. When mobs legislate morality, children and citizens feel helpless.
Strangely, there is little outrage. Lewd messages scribbled on walls and physical harassment is the order of the day, and violence a point of consensus between male students and their parents. Together, they constitute a mob pretending to perform a policing function of teaching defiant lower castes how to behave. The immaculate patriarchy behind the act is seen as normal. One senses an anomie, a failure of values, when parents abet children in acts of violence and the community watches in indifference. True, it is a remote school in a low literacy area, which is not supposed to grab headlines.
The schizophrenic nature of Indian society becomes obvious. Our policy and laws pretend to be genuinely progressive. Our practice and communities violate law with immunity. Talking about stricter security for the girls does not respond to the issues of change.
But then, one has to answer the deeper question that the incident created little outrage and was read as normal. Today, rape of minors is a fact that would make to the Guinness Book of Records. The more appalling the pathology, the higher is the claims of our sick societies.
One wonders whether one thinks of a child as a special being, with special rights. As rapes increase and sexual harassment becomes the norm, there is an epidemic sense that crimes against minors has an inbuilt culture of indifference and impunity. Adults might have rights but harassing a child is seen as a pastime in our communities.
A child, a girl child, and a girl child insisting on her rights from a tribal or minority community is an unbelievable oxymoron and needs to be suppressed. The whole narrative confronts a strange inversion. The oppressor feels he is the victim, the sense of outrage belongs to the community and parents probably feel they are upholding the honour, the machoism of their boys, who have a right to harass girls from poor communities. Lewdness, after all, is a way of growing up for boys and social codes declare that poor and Scheduled Castes are there only to provide an avenue for sexual release and as an opportunity for harassment. Whatever editorials a concerned activist or journalist might write is brushed of as an intrusion. Girls in school, children in orphanages are dispensable. The idea of rights does not extend to them in this world of patriarchy and upper caste dominance. Where might is still the only human right. Minors do not have rights.
A charter of children rights, especially for the girl child, is too idiotic a thought in this medieval world. India is a strange country. The only book of records we aspire for belong to the world of rapes, abuse of minors and harassment of vulnerable communities. Rape eventually remains a basic initiation rite into masculinity. Dominant castes invent patriarchy in more oppressive and regressive ways.
The community senses the grammar of the locality. There might be a few pinpricks from outside, a few hyperbolic acts of outrage by politicians playing to some invisible gallery. But normalcy as lewdness and violence remains. For girls and for girl students from vulnerable communities, Bihar remains a Hobbesian world, where the life of lesser communities is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, short and brutish’.
Courtesy: The Tribune, Oct 10, 2018