Opinions

A doctor’s death and the looming gender problem

Recently, the attack on a doctor and a hospital staff at STNM made headlines across Sikkimese media outlets. It struck me as just another common criminal incident, and I did not bother digging it up. My only concern was that the injured people would recover quickly. However, the news of
the Doctor’s death after a week left me aghast. At a time, when privatization of the health sector is rampant, when private chambers and clinics are financially more lucrative for doctors, the death of a Doctor who chose to stay back and serve the people in a public hospital is highly tragic
and a great loss to the society as a whole. Interested in knowing more about the incident, I watched videos related to it on different social media portals, only to discover the aspect of gendered violence at the root of the incident. Actually, I came across a video (https://bit.ly/3Hx0KWu ) in which the perpetrator was in a vehicle in custody of the Sikkim Police and a journalist was asking him questions as to why he committed such a crime. His response, “…
girlfriend lai jum bhanda manena ani hirkai pathayechhu…” perturbed me and I couldn’t help but contemplate on that statement.

This particular incident was highlighted in media because it happened in a public space and the perpetrator also attacked a senior doctor along with the woman. But numerous such incidents of gender violence happen everyday in private spaces which remain buried behind closed doors
or among closed circles, the brutality of which may vary. Only a handful get reported and the rest are pushed to oblivion. This grim social reality is not restricted to Sikkim but it’s the same in
Darjeeling or in other parts of India, where it could be even worse. And this isn’t going to change for better, if people do not delve deeper into the causes of gender based violence or crimes against women. I think its high time that the society needs to reflect on how to move forward towards a gender just society.

How can the act of attacking a woman because she denied to accompany the perpetrator, be justified in any sense? Where does this mentality stem from? The mentality of not being able to hear NO from a woman. And how does male entitlement enable violence against women? Hitting or harming a woman should be unacceptable whether she refuses to accept a man’s proposal, disagrees with her partner, no longer wishes to be in a committed relationship, doesn’t follow his dictates, or is just being herself or for any reason whatsoever.

But the society is rife with this mentality, to the point where some people even justify such violence. A mentality where women
exercising their agency is considered a crisis for patriarchy. I think this is because the society has always treated women as private/personal property of men. Women are considered to be the flag bearer of the society’s honour, her father and brother’s honour and after marriage her
husband’s honour. Women are either ‘elevated’ to the level of divinity as “devi” or are considered society’s “cheli”. So, does society even acknowledge women’s independent human existence?

When society only views women in relation to men, it denies them their basic human dignity and reduces them to objects that can be possessed/owned by men, and thus subjected to their whims and fancies.

Such patriarchal and misogynist mentality is so deeply ingrained in the society that it is inculcated from the early childhood irrespective of gender. It is evident from the way male and female child are treated at homes maintaining the gender roles intact. For instance, a female child is taught to be polite, dependent, submissive and emotional whereas a male child is  encouraged to be independent, aggressive, dominant. The distribution of chores is also differentiated within household and outside for male and female children respectively. Male children are often told, “keti haru jasto runu hudaina” when they are seen crying as men with such emotional sides aren’t  viewed as ‘manly enough’. As boys grow up, their behaviour is enforced by their parents, family, and friends which automatically translates into normalising a behavioural pattern that seems natural.

Through such a patriarchal upbringing, women are deprived of their dignity and agency as human beings, while men are also dehumanized by undermining their emotional capacities as human beings. Hence, a patriarchal society not only produces and nurtures men who lack basic sensitivity, men who can’t hear NO from a woman but also legitimizes such misogyny, the resonance of which, can be found even in the popular culture. People do not hesitate to promote gendered depiction of women in comedy videos, songs and movies and circulate sexist jokes which demeand women.

At the same time, men are also peer pressured among their friend circle to behave in a certain way. Hasn’t one heard men being called “joi tingrey”, “aurat ko petticoat ma lukney”, “baai lagayera ghar ma bas”, “chhakka jasto beura na dekha” etc in order to ridicule them for not being ‘masculine enough’? Furthermore, popular sayings like “Men will be men”, “Marad ko boli banduk ko goli”, “Eekh nabhako chora ra bis nabhako saanp eutai ho” and slangs
like “jama launey jasto” only embolden the toxic masculinity in men.

These culture of shaming sensitive men and glorifying aggressive masculinity surreptitiously implants and fosters misogyny in the societal common sense so much so that people even use the same to justify and defend gender violence.

I was appalled when I read a comment saying “everything is fair in love and war” in the comment section of the aforementioned video. The fact that one hardly hears about cases of such impulsive violence on part of women manifests unequal power relationships between men and women.

How can someone justify such a grotesque act by calling it love? Love, as I understand, is antithetical to violence. ‘Love’ does not give a license or a free pass to verbally abuse, physically or mentally torture and subjugate women. And such acts of both open and hidden violence in the name of love should not be tolerated by society at any cost.

Most people perceive the aforementioned incident only as an impulsive criminal act and tend to disregard the deeper social reason behind such incident. Likewise, there are people who delude themselves into believing that there is no exploitation or discrimination based on gender in their
society “hamro samaj ma tyesto chhaina”.

However, I think it would be erroneous to assume that there exists an equality among genders just because incidents of gender violence do not take the extreme form. There might not be incidents of honour killing, dowry killing or female foeticide
but it cannot be denied that there have been many incidents of crimes against women in the form of domestic violence, rapes of children and women, open/hidden preference for male child, intimate partner violence. For instance, according to the latest National Family Health Survey (2019-20) data 33 percent men in Sikkim said that wife beating is justified in some circumstances and even among educated men (who have completed 12 years of schooling), 23 percent agree with the act of wife beating.

Hence as a society, it is imperative to reflect on addressing the cause of such problems rather than just treating the symptoms, if such tragic incidents are to be avoided in future. If the diagnosis remains at the superficial level, the solution is bound to be fallacious and futile.

There was also a news regarding how the security at the STNM hospital has been tightened after the incident deploying hundreds of Sikkim police personnel. However, I think more securitization
(more security and surveillance) cannot be the solution to social problems stemming from unequal gender relations. More police, more CCTVs and bureaucratic solutions only reduces the access of common masses to such basic public facilities but does not address the core cause of such incidents. If one goes by the logic of increasing securitisation, all public places like banks,
parks, roads, schools, public transport etc should have such high level security measures and intense surveillance, essentially transforming the society into an open prison.

Hence, such security centric solutions are neither feasible nor desirable. It only addresses the symptom but not the cause of the problem and doesn’t even guarantee that such incidents won’t occur in future. The persistence of such gender based violence despite the existence of stringent laws against it makes it obvious that mere laws are insufficient to deal with such social menaces. So, in order to alleviate the problems generated by unequal gender power relations, it has to be addressed at the societal level. Gender sensitization programmes should begin at the elementary level of schooling. Such programmes could be creatively conducted even at community, villages and town levels.

Government should take serious initiative to launch such programmes as they possess the required human and financial resources. Also at the societal level, a gender just society should be a collective goal and responsibility for all individuals, civil society and state. A movement towards the eradication of gender violence should not be reduced to mere tokenism, but it should be a long term mission towards achieving gender equality.

Also if one were to truly pay homage and commemorate Dr. Sanjay Upreti’s sacrifice, it is crucial for the society to collectively commit towards demolishing the structure of unequal gender relations and deep rooted patriarchy so that such horrendous gender violence do not get repeated in future.

By Marina Rai. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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