Understanding the Male Principle. 21/1/2017

Published by LIVEMINT

Today Bangalore, yesterday everywhere, tomorrow anywhere.

Every few months, yet another incident of sexual harassment or
assault somewhere across this vast country grabs the attention of the
media and triggers a fresh outpouring of genuine public outrage and
anguish, accompanied and intensified by patently absurd, predictably
obnoxious comments from politicians, police officers and others in
supposedly responsible positions.

Most incidents that elicit a
nationwide outcry tend to take place in a public space in a big city,
even though they are not representative of the over 130,000 cases
involving sexual offences (about a third of all crimes against women)
documented by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2015—including those
that are inappropriately termed “assault on women with intent to outrage
her modesty” and “insult to modesty of women”.

In
the aftermath of high-profile cases of sexual harassment or assault,
the primary focus is typically on the specifics of the particular event
(buses in 2012, New Year’s eve celebrations now) and what, besides
swiftly bringing the guilty to book, can be done to prevent such
occurrences in the future: better policing, crowd control, streetlights,
public transport, more CCTV cameras, helplines, panic buttons, apps…

Public
figures and others who question the wisdom of the women under attack
being where they were when they were, and what they were wearing and
doing, are called out for holding such antiquated, invalid views and
attempting to blame and shame the victims instead of condemning the
deplorable, criminal behaviour of the perpetrators (not to mention the
habitual inaction of most bystanders).

But there are nevertheless
many takers for the notion that women—specifically mothers—are still to
blame for it all: restricting daughters too much or not restricting
them enough, mollycoddling sons and reinforcing prevailing norms of male
superiority and entitlement. Any suggestion that fathers may also have
some responsibility in this context is commonly dismissed with the
unquestioning assertion that mothers are naturally, invariably more
involved with the raising of children. Parenting is evidently seen as a
woman’s job even now, even if she is not single.

The eagerness to
absolve men of any accountability for tackling the sexual violence
epidemic (never mind other widespread and outrageous forms of
gender-based violence) cuts across the sexes. If the overwhelming,
understandable response of most “good”, “respectable” men is #NotAllMen,
many women are also quick to condemn what they mistakenly perceive as
male-bashing. It is no sensible person’s case that all men are sexual
predators. Some of our best friends, relatives and colleagues are men.
It goes without saying that many men are as horrified and sickened by
such behaviour as most women.

However, it is an inescapable fact
that the overwhelming majority (to put it mildly) of those who commit
sexual crimes is male, irrespective of class, caste, creed, race,
ethnicity, age, location, marital status and whether their
prey—especially in cases of rape—is female, male or transgender. So
there can be no doubt that if sexual violence is to be confronted and
addressed effectively, as a substantial section of the visible and
audible public now seems to believe it must be, men must get actively
involved in the effort. If men are a major part of the problem, they can
and should also be an important part of the solution.

The effort
to deal with the problem of sexual violence has to extend beyond the
expression of feelings and opinions in the media, including social
media, and even participation in protest demonstrations—although it
would certainly help if more men invested time and energy in such
visible action on the ground. It needs to permeate every nook and cranny
of society: homes, schools, colleges, workplaces, marketplaces,
playgrounds, movie theatres, bus stops, railway stations, clubs, places
of worship, and pretty much everywhere else.

The effort must also
go beyond demanding action from “the authorities”, necessary as that is.
We the people—men as much as women—need to feel equally responsible.
There is a tendency—even among otherwise intelligent and rational
individuals—to dismiss suggestions that neither sexual violence nor any
other form of gender violence can be eliminated, or at least
significantly reduced, without comprehensive, consistent, continuing
efforts to change the attitudes that underlie such behaviour, including
misunderstanding or rejection of gender equality and misguided notions
of masculinity.

This is despite the fact that the widely acclaimed
January 2013 report of the committee on amendments to criminal law,
headed by the late justice J.S. Verma and based on over 80,000
submissions from across the country and beyond, devoted an entire
chapter to “Education And Perception Reform” as an essential aspect of
the struggle against sexual assault. If one thing is clear after over 35
years of multipronged efforts, mainly by women, to stem the tide of
sexual violence, it is that there is no short cut, no magic bullet. And
it is time for everyone who believes that such violence can no longer be
tolerated to stand up and be counted.