The fate of being a ‘Cheli Beti’ in Sikkimese society

The concept of ‘cheli beti’ binds us to accept our fate that comes with being born a woman.  Rinzing Ongmu Sherpa The events that occurred on August 10th 2020 were no less than that which happened on December 16th 2012, when a young girl – Nirbhaya – was brutally raped and murdered in a moving […] The post The fate of being a ‘Cheli Beti’ in Sikkimese society appeared first on The Sikkim Chronicle - Sikkim News.

The fate of being a ‘Cheli Beti’ in Sikkimese society

The concept of ‘cheli beti’ binds us to accept our fate that comes with being born a woman. 

Rinzing Ongmu Sherpa

The events that occurred on August 10th 2020 were no less than that which happened on December 16th 2012, when a young girl – Nirbhaya – was brutally raped and murdered in a moving bus at South Delhi. The murder of a 20-year-old girl hailing from West Sikkim, triggered the same chill down the spine.

She was stabbed 14 times by her ex-boyfriend while returning home from Geyzing Bazaar, after having filled up admission forms for colleges, in pursuit of fulfilling her dreams of higher education. The same girl had been awarded a meritorious scholarship by the Government of Sikkim, which had availed her education in Gangtok’s Tashi Namgyal Academy (TNA). 

Just five days after the incident, the assault of a 13-year-old minor, who was continuously assaulted sexually, made rounds. The accused, Rup Narayan Rai, a former Chairman of Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (STDC), assaulted the girl during her one month stay at his residence, in the hope of being provided better educational facilities there.

A similar case was heard of in the month of February, where a 13-year-old minor again was raped by her 39-year-old stepfather, at West Sikkim, until she found herself pregnant. Last year, a 19-year-old girl from East Sikkim was found raped and murdered, while on her way to a nearby forest to collect firewood. 

When we usually hear of such atrocities against women, we intentionally or unintentionally, tend to associate it as happening rampantly somewhere in other parts of India. We need to realise that Sikkim is not any safer.

Such gruesome instances overtime only further makes us question – are our womenfolk are any safer in our home state or worst so within our own homes?

According to the 2011 census, women in Sikkim constitute 47 per cent of its total population. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report of 2009, found Sikkim as having the lowest number of crime rate against women in the country.

While a survey by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, reported that 16 per cent of women in Sikkim were victims of domestic violence, one in every six women had experienced sexual violence from their spouse, 19 per cent of women in the age group of 15–49 years had experienced physical violence, while 4 per cent had experienced sexual violence. The report also states that women, whose husbands showed alcoholic tendencies, were more likely to commit such crime.

According to a recent article by The Sikkim Chronicle, there has been a huge rise in crime against women and children “those who come from broken homes or live with their abusers are at a high risk of emotional, physical and sexual abuse” after the lockdown. With no serious Government intervention, such violence only seeks to increase.

Coincidentally, just a few weeks back, I happened to ask my father on his views on violence against women, given the backdrop of ongoing black and white photo challenge on the internet. I asked if he was personally aware of any such cases, which went unheard of. He casually replied ‘well our society is not like that chori, it believes in equality let alone violence against women’.

It wasn’t that I was unaware of the plight of women in our society. I simply wanted to have his point of view, as he is someone who travels across for his field visits, schools visits and inspections. Except I forgot at that very moment is that despite his liberal upbringing he is, after all, a man who would unconsciously and unintentionally want to protect and safeguard his power dynamics. My father has tasted the ‘power’ that comes with being born male. 

The social structure has a huge role to play in bringing forth and perpetuating patriarchy, misogyny and violence against women. 

There is no denying that from the very time a girl is born, we often have a ‘male patron’, call it a brother, a father, an uncle or a grandfather, someone to guard and protect us. The heavy baggage that comes with being born a girl or so-called a cheli beti is put on our little fragile shoulders from a very young age.

The due ‘respect’ that comes with the term makes it synonymous to being a cage with a set of rules, which if broken, entitles the girl to be shattered into pieces by the same society. Being their cheli beti also entitles them to disrespect us, humiliate us, subjugate us and confine our capabilities and independence as and how they please to. The concept of cheli beti binds us to accept our fate that comes with being born a woman. 

Patriarchy and its facets vary across geographical boundaries, so I would not agree to when people proudly claim that our society believes in gender equality. Of course, we do not have instances of female infanticide or dowry-related deaths, but that does not mean our society isn’t patriarchal. The study conducted by Society for Promotion of Art, Culture, Education and Environment Excellence (SPACE) highlights that 50 per cent of women in Sikkim are battered by men and almost 4.8 per cent by their in-laws or relatives. 

The norm of giving unconditional respect to one’s in-laws is inculcated in us from a very young age. I am sure most of you must have also heard of the proverb dankeni chalyo saath gaon halyo, or a woman often being called out as a dhanga napugeko keti meaning she is not a gharelu keti. Such sexist folk proverbs never really exist for men.

I was often called out by my grandmother on several occasions and she would say that my future in-laws would never be accepting of my not so gharelu behaviourism. I would never blame her as she was merely furthering the idea that women are never to forget their inferior and insignificant status alongside their male counterparts no matter how educated she is. It also reflects on how my grandmother and many other women had so cautiously guarded, followed and passed on patriarchy to the following generations. 

The concept of respecting elders, irrespective of who or how they are, also encourages such violence and abuses. It has been instilled in us that thulo manchay are never wrong and that thulo manchay ko kura mannu parcha. Such age long notions raise serious doubts. After all, who is this thulo manchay? As a person can be thulo or big, irrespective of their age and more so by their rational and progressive views.

I have myself undergone hardship and self-doubt to live up to certain expectations, which now seem as futile and hollow as our society. If you do not agree with me, well at least you may observe that most of the crime mentioned above in our state, surely comes from a thulo manchay, with the victim only trying to assume that this thulo manchay can never be wronged or cannot be questioned.

It is high time we look beyond such hollow practices guarded by our society. As merely arguing, being opinionated and pointing out when a thulo machay is wrong, does not equate to disrespecting anyone. However, if you continue to follow this notion, despite its futility and its harmfulness, in the long run, you are only disrespecting one person instead that is yourself.

The use of alcohol and indulging in the usual conversation of politics over a drink is also usually seen as a male prerogative. In most of such gatherings and get together, women ‘choose’ to keep themselves at bay. They usually lock themselves up in a kitchen or a separate room, secretly taking a sip of wine, which they consider as being a feminine drink, not worthy of ‘defaming their character’.

The age-old tradition of never interrupting men amidst their conversations has made them doubt their credentials. They grow up believing their opinions and beliefs mean little and are not worth discussing or pondering upon, thereby living up to the proverb pothi baseko ramro haina. These practices seem so normalised and inculcated that it strengthens women’s traditional belief of their inferior status alongside men. 

Women who do indulge equally in every such practice, considered ‘masculine’ and preserve their autonomy without a patron are looked upon with suspicion. Her independence over herself and her sexuality often puts her under radar of being ‘slut-shamed’, a concept used over the years as a tool to silence women further and stigmatize them. 

Such social structural practices have been an important reason why sexism and misogyny have so deeply spread its root in our everyday society. In between being brought up amidst a patriarchal environment, to justifying violence against women with sayings such as “keta haru testai huncha”, men have constantly furthered their superior status as being the ‘head of the household’ or more so the ghar ko bau or ghar ko lognay manchay. 

The choice of our cheli beti seems to narrow until made invisible. Her choice does not come easy to her, it never has, when our society has made her presence synonymous to her absence. 

The author is Rinzing Ongmu Sherpa, a Doctoral Candidate in Centre for Study of Social Systems (CSSS) at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She can be reached at rinzing.ongmu93@gmail.com 

Disclaimer: Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.

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