In a country like ours where ~99 percent (Source: National Crime Records Bureau) of the rapes go unreported, the success of the #MeToo movement is a happy flip in favour of women empowerment. Indian women are starting to speak up of what is otherwise tucked away under the sheet of shame, and this is proving to be an ennobling act for many.
One woman’s public acknowledgement of sexual harassment is giving another hundred the courage to speak up about their own stories of exploitation, and this chain reaction has brought out in open the many mishaps of our society which otherwise manage to evade the public eye. This is a welcome change, as our prevalently patriarchal society promotes the approach of denial when it comes to issues affecting our female population.
Although, anybody who has been consistently following the developments surrounding #MeToo, must have observed that the woman residing in the rural parts of the country are still holding a loud mum on the topic.
Does rural India relate to #MeToo?
Much of the #MeToo bandwagon is centred in the urban areas where the society is, comparatively, more accommodative of the needs and rights of women, and where women themselves are empowered with the weapons of education, financial independence, and awareness. This sudden uprise of protest amongst the urbane women alludes to the gravity of the matter in the villages. If women residing in the cities are frequently facing incidents of sexual harassment at such large a scale, just imagine how terrible it must be in the rural areas. This disparity is quite an alarm for us as a nation since a huge portion of our population resides in villages.
Villages, the reservoirs of culture and tradition in our country, also happen to be the focal points of female oppression. The girl growing up in a rural setup is socially conditioned to think herself inferior to her male counterpart, and hence is ripped off of the essential sense of equality at a very tender age. The girl child is asked to behave in a ‘girly’ way, which often translates into maintaining a shy, quiet demeanour. From her clothes to her manners to her education, all is tailored by the society with the sharp scissors of conservatism. And such a child, who lives under the strict surveillance of her family, often grows up delusional and unaware of her basic rights as a human being.
In the events of exploitation, girls keep silent out of the fear of bringing disgrace to the family. The many restrictions imposed on them for ‘their own well-being’ do not succeed in keeping away the sexual predators. What’s more surprising is the fact that most of the offenders in the rural scene are either relatives of the victim, or are close friends with the victim’s family. Also, there is a lot of emotional abuse associated with sexual assault, wherein the victim is guilt-tripped into believing that “It was all her fault.”!
Terror-stricken, she tries her best to hide away the signs of abuse, lest she is labelled characterless for getting raped. The married women are not safe either. They are subjected to marital rapes but do not utter a word against their husbands because of the fear of a bad name. All these instances tell us of the diminished status of women in the villages and calls for an upsurge of a rural version of #MeToo, so that we can overwrite the deeply engrained #NotMe mentality. Denial of abuse by the victim has always played a sharp emboldener for the abuser and encourages him to keep on with the atrocities.
Let us now talk about money. If we look into the economic status of rural women, we find that most of them are dependent on the male members of their family for their financial requirements. This too makes them vulnerable to abuse in the form of monetary deprivation. They are seen as dependents and second-class citizens who ‘owe’ their lives to their husbands. Also, they are largely perceived as home-makers, even if they are contributing just as much as their male counterparts in income generation activities. No real women empowerment can take place until we as a society, don’t get rid of the inhibitions against the financial independence of women. Helping rural women gain a stable income opportunity is just the way to go if we want to see an improvement in the conditions of women in India. A regular inflow of money will help improve the social status of women within families and communities.
Starting the real work
The role of women in India has always been far greater than its societal definition which is merely a mirror image of the general bias surrounding gender. Women, along with being the cultural architects of our social fibre, have played major contributors to the economic development of the nation. It is high time that we understand and acknowledge the importance of women, and provide them with an environment which is both physically and emotionally secure to work and live in.
Years of keeping under covers the stories of molestation and its attached consequences brought us no good. Maybe it is time that we do away with the blindfolds and look at things as they are so that the actual repair work can be started.
As someone famously said, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”