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Women, the other : Deconstructing sexual violence

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Temples are sanctimonious. They house divine powers. We never forget to bow our heads while passing them. We pray, we plead for forgiveness and we try to imbibe compassion whenever we visit this holy place. But, it seems, devils live and breathe the same air as we do. In a recent incident which has  come to light, a 10 year old mentally challenged girl was raped by a minor near Jagannath Temple in Odisha. The accused has been identified as Gurucharan Behera. He reportedly lured the girl with chocolates.

The culprit was handed over to the police after being thrashed by locals. The victim is undergoing treatment at PMR Medical College. As soon as we open a newspaper, we come across similar gruesome incidents of rape, sexual harassment and molestation. Girls are attacked on roads, in their homes and even in hostels. They are made to be ashamed of their sexuality. Something as natural as menstruation is made a taboo and little, school-going girls are ridiculed just because they undergo a biological process which is a part of every woman’s life cycle. In Muzzafarnagar, 70 girls of a residential school were made to strip by the principal of the school to check for menstrual blood. The students were so traumatized by the incident that they refused to return to school.

 

 

Another incident which came to light recently was about a woman in Uttar Pradesh who was forced to drink acid on board a train. This was the fourth attack on the woman. She was earlier gang-raped and attacked with acid over an ongoing property dispute. Such barbaric acts of violence against women are imbued with an obnoxious level of cold-blooded wretchedness. We are left to wonder if the perpetrators of these crimes are really the part of a human society. If we look for answers on what spurs such beastly behavior, an explanation could be found in the conception of “The Other”.

Othering describes a reductive process wherein a person labels another individual as belonging to an inferior social identity just because they do not match the dominant social norms. In a male dominated society, women are generally labelled as The Other for their sexuality. In her 1949 book, “The Second Sex” Simone De Beauvoir, a feminist author says,

“a man represents both the positive and the neutral, as indicated by the common use of [the word] Man to designate human beings in general; whereas [the word] Woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity” .

The ordinate-subordinate nature of Man-Woman relationship is a part of the social reality.

 

 

De Beauvoir says that as a woman enters new stages of biological development she is  gradually demarcated from the society.

“The young girl feels that her body is getting away from her… on the street men follow her with their eyes and comment on her anatomy. She would like to be invisible; it frightens her to become flesh and to show flesh”

This is precisely the truth behind the othering of the woman. In their pre-adolescent years- a girl and a boy are not much different – they share similar interests, enjoy the same passions and dream the same dreams. But as young girls grow up, they develop features that are different from a dominant, patriarchal society. The human mind is trained to treat “The Other” as inferior and hence women are pushed on to the chasms of subordination and humiliation. The taboo around their body, the unwarranted sexualization, their subordinate status in the society – all contribute to their subjugation and hence, harassment.

It is therefore really important to normalize a woman’s body. Breasts are not a sexual tool, it is a part of woman’s anatomy. Menstruation is not an abnormality, it’s only human. Women are equals and not the others, and hence they deserve respect and full rights over their individuality. Until and unless, we are not taught that growing up a woman is not any different than growing up a man – we will not be able to grow up as a society.

 

 

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