Some love in public, some suffer in private

Paid lesser wages than their male counterparts, women don’t even have the freedom to spend this money on anything.

Are we a nation of hypocrites? When we can rise so effectively and unitedly to support the public display of affection between a man and a woman, why have we not acted with the same vigour to condemn a private display of chauvinism that is safely hidden within the four walls of a home – a man abusing his own wife?

Whether it is physical, mental, psychological or worse, marital abuse is one of the commonest forms of crimes against women in this country. It is also one of the most neglected and ignored, not just in third world countries, but in the most advanced nations on earth.

In India, it goes unnoticed because of the initial premise that a daughter is a liability in her parental home to be safely and respectably married and packed off to another. Whether she is treated with respect and consideration by the man who marries her becomes secondary. If women can protest against moral policing when they demonstrate their love in public, why not protest with the same indignation and fanfare on the lack of moral policing against hidden crimes against their own sex in the most respectable of all situations – the institution of marriage?

If the laws in this country are lopsided, so are the authorities who enforce them. According to Section 294 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, "whoever, to the annoyance of others, does any obscene act in any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.”

What is an obscene act? If a public display of affection is obscene, isn’t a private display of chauvinism more so? If the sight of genuine affection is “annoying” to sensitive minds, why are we not sensitised to the ill-treatment meted out to defenceless women?

If our laws forbid kissing in public, how does it condone wife beating in private? Is it a case of “the mind does not know what the eye does not see?” The organisers of the “kiss of love” who thought of this unique method of focusing public attention on what they felt was an infringement on their rights, would do well to galvanise public support in order to help those who are unable to fight their own battles.

The latest study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) on “Masculinity, Intimate Partner Violence and Son Preference in India”, reveals a shocking prevalence of violence against women within the sacred institution of marriage itself. The idea of masculinity takes on a sinister meaning for the average Indian male whose attitude to women is one of superiority, and worse, control.

The 10,000 men who were interviewed across different states in the country, freely admitted that men were superior to their wives, daughters and sisters who must be controlled and subjugated to the rules laid down by them. Even without the findings of such studies, it is common knowledge that women who are socially and educationally backward are guarded by their fathers, brothers and husbands in the guise of being protected, but are actually victimised and deprived of all rights to freedom.

Lifetime hardship

These women who are voiceless and who endure a lifetime of hardships are the ones in real need of social awareness and action. Social activism must highlight their plight and fight for their freedom because they are helpless to fight for themselves.

The freedom to embrace and kiss in public becomes a non issue when we think of the
thousands of poor, illiterate women suffering a lifetime of agony at the hands of men. Their cause is rarely, if ever, taken up on public platforms. The media does not find anything new or interesting in a drunken husband beating his wife. It is, apparently, as old as the hills for “breaking news”.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) releases a gender gap index every year which shows the status of women in the world. India ranks 114 out of 142 countries, despite its female population being politically advanced. It fares poorly on all other fronts including education, economic participation, health or even survival, for that matter.

The reasons are not far to seek. The majority of women who are poor and illiterate do not enjoy economic freedom even if they are the wage earners for their families.
While they are paid lesser wages than their male counterparts, they do not even have the freedom to spend this money on themselves or their children. Their health suffers due to malnutrition and repeated child bearing. They are the silent victims of male dominance who have no voice. If only their educated and influential sisters take up their cause with the same passion as the present one, our environment may be a better place to live in.

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