Women under fire

The language of protest against moral policing is currently heavy on policing and not on the definition of moral                            

Vinutha Mallya, Hardnews

The events in Mangalore, Bangalore, and now Sullia in Karnataka seems to have unified a class of urban Indians, who until recently were happy to turn the other way.

Not a day goes by when "moral policing" is not inflicted upon a woman and we don't read about a Dalit woman being stripped naked and paraded, or a woman burnt alive for daring to fall in love, or a foetus that is killed even before it could be born a woman. But, it had not mattered too much to an entire generation of Café Coffee Day and Barista loungers because it was out of sight. Until it hit home in an ugly way.


The discussions that the incidents generated have now reached the corners of the globe, thanks to the world wide web and Facebook. If the new-found unity and the reinforcement of an "Indian woman" identity loses its steam after this dies down in Bangalore, it would be a loss to the women's movement in India. If the sensitisation does not extend to examining the larger picture of the position of women in India, all the hulla will go to waste.

The Blank Noise campaign and more recently, the gandhigiri-inspired Pink Chaddi campaign, which have unified and sensitized large numbers of young urban women via virtual social networking, although promising, are in the danger of remaining just virtual. It's not that the urban women have ever felt safe. They are randomly eve-teased, beaten, molested, raped and, even murdered. Or, attacked with acid. What brings the recent incidents to the fore is the frequency, the intent and the rhetoric which supports these acts. And, the horrified anger it has produced in women.

The language of protest against moral policing is currently heavy on the policing and not on the definition of moral itself, making it easy for self-appointed guardians of culture to give direction to the debate. These are acts of violence, not "policing", and unless they are called such, they won't be taken seriously by authorities.

Although the news of the recent attacks on women in Bangalore and the enforcement of a non-burqa dress code in a college in Sullia taluk of Mangalore district did not make it to newspapers in Gujarat. Though Ahmedabad has been witnessing violence against women. Earlier this week, a former journalist and animal rights activist Alex Sandra Jhala was attacked in her home by neighbours. Even as she lay in the hospital with her skull stitched up, she identified all her attackers. Yet, not a single arrest has been made in spite of wide publicity given to the violence.

A few months ago, another journalist and her friends were attacked for being friends with someone and partaking non-vegetarian food with them on Eid. She was molested, abused and threatened on the road and her male friends ridiculed in the police station. The police station in the city refused to lodge an FIR. The report was eventually registered, but not before her character was smeared publicly, implying that her right to be protected from harm needed a certification of chastity. This rhetoric is close to arguments against girls hurt outside the Mangalore pub.

The rape of a student by faculty members of a government college of Patan did not elicit even a murmur from the ruling party in power. None of these incidents has caused any public outrage. In the clash between the forces of globalisation and fundamentalism, the spotlight is on the urban woman to face the burden of "culture". It took an attack on girls in a pub of Mangalore to unify the "I-am-not-interested-in-politics" lot with the "Oh-but you know-as long as the government allows industry to go about its business-it doesn't matter who is in power" variety. Lesson learnt. It does matter.