WANT TO STOP VIOLENCE? START AT HOME!

Last week, I met a ‘gentleman’ in one training. I have put the gentleman word in quotes because that’s his feeling and not mine. While we were talking over dinner, he told me that this is the first time he has ever come to Bangalore. After a few more questions, he said he had never been to any place out of Hyderabad. That sounded a little stupid to me. He was married, and I really wondered why no one would want to go to any other place other than their hometown and workplace. He expressed that his wife has the interest to travel, but he doesn’t want to. I told him that he should let her travel if she wants to, for which his response really bothered me. “You know, women should be kept in control. Once if I leave her to her will, she would never listen to me again”, said he nodding his way as if he was acknowledging it again. I was furious listening to those statements of his, yet, it was not in my power to say anything. Where do you think that hideous thought of his came from? 

Often our behaviors are dependent on our upbringing. There is a saying, “if you want to know how a man is, get to know his friends.” That’s because we get attracted to people who are like us or who we inspire to become. Our childhood has a significant influence on who we are today, either positive or negative. When I read in the news regarding domestic violence, political, religious, or economic, I often wonder if they had any prior exposure to this. Let’s consider economic abuse – When a person wants to abuse another economically, it is usually carefully planned. At the least, the person should have enough talent to fool the other person. To not get caught, it should be executed with the utmost care. If we think about domestic violence, these men would have grown up as boys who witnessed abuse. 

I am no expert in criminal psychology, but the results of certain studies on men who resorted to violent acts are linked to prior acts of violence at home. A recent study has revealed that 50% of men accused of mass shootings or bombings have either been charged or were sentenced for killing or abusing their wife or girlfriend. These studies point only to one fact that violence starts at home. Violence at home is a child’s first experience at a tender age and becomes a justifier in the future. There is a pattern to all this. Don’t believe me? Read about some of the key convicts of popular violent crimes, and you would start to see the pattern too. In most cases, the courts have not taken domestic violence acts very seriously.  

How can we help to reduce violence? I am only going to talk about two points that can really help, in my opinion.

  1. Social media sharing: Violence is a disease. You don’t cure a disease by sharing it.
    • Whenever there is a violent outbreak, we often see people updating their statuses with videos or news articles. If you intend for others to exercise caution, that’s good, but please do mention that along with sharing the article. 
    • When I see someone updating, “My heart hurts,” or “Furious of these acts” kind of messages, I really want to question those people. If you intend to help, please reach out to the victims or NGOs who are trying to help. I do not really understand how it helps if your social contacts know that your heart hurts or head aches. These don’t do any good; instead, there may be others who do not even have an idea of what actually happened, just keep liking/sharing the status, and it isn’t necessary at all. Write a private post to someone who can help instead. 
    • Unfortunately, when we are not part of the violence, what we know is the least, and please respect privacy. 
  2.  Teach kids at a tender age how to stay safe and prevent violence
    • The difference between good touch and bad touch should be known to all kids. 
    • Tell them, it is wise to settle disputes with dialogue and not fistfights. 
    • Never fight before kids. 
    • Speak up when something is not right 

Remember – Language matters. Our words matter. Our actions matter. If we want a society free of violence, we should be part of that change. I understand that it cannot happen in a day or two, but it has to start somewhere. Why not our own home? 

 

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”
― Yehuda Bauer

 

GENDER IS JUST A BIOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE, NOT A WAY OF LIFE

I have a girl and I love her to bits, as I imagine every Mother in the world must do, regardless of the sex of her child. But even though my child is my everything, the centre of my universe, there was still a fraction of a second when I betrayed her and wished she was born a boy.

Did that surprise you? It surprised me too when it happened. When I lay motionless,  barely conscious in the operating room, and when the Doctor pulled her out from the gaping hole in my belly, she held her up for me to see her for the first time. I was overjoyed to see my baby finally, but right on the heels of that pure joy came that sickening moment which was the biggest betrayal to my baby girl. Because in that moment, however small it was, I wondered how it was that I brought forth a girl, when its a boy I had prayed for?

It’s true, I wanted a boy. People used to tell me how myopic my views were, how archaic my reasons sounded for wanting a boy in a family that was overflowing with boys. They accused me of being patriarchal and old-fashioned. They didn’t know the real reason, and I told no one because I feared a backlash if I did – I didn’t want another girl going through what women go through every day. To be specific, what I went through. If I bore a girl and brought her up only for her to be stared at, catcalled, or heaven forbid, touched or violated by some disgusting leche; or even to see her being mentally tortured or conditioned into believing that she was weak, that she had only one job in the world, or that she was secondary to someone, it would break my heart just like it breaks the hearts of millions of mothers out there who have daughters who have faced the ire of the world for being a woman. No mother would want her child to suffer through things like differential treatment, lewd stares, periods, leaving her home for another, dowry, domestic violence, family pressure for babies, and the list goes on…  But the heavens gifted me a girl, and now I wouldn’t exchange her for any number of boys.

But am I the only one who wished to have a boy for the reasons that I enumerated above? I suspect not. There are parents who have wanted a boy for reasons far worse than mine. And that’s why we have baby girls being killed off in India – a nation known for its reverence to its vast array of goddesses, yet infamous for little regard to the women in their own homes.

I will not go into the gory details of what female foeticide and infanticide are and what the stats say about them. If you wish to know that, please click here. I’m here to discuss the reasons behind it. And my own story is part of the perception that fuels this problem. I know that women, in general, don’t have it easy in any part of the world, but I can only attest to the situation in my own country. In India, a female child is unfortunately considered by many, an unwanted commodity, who has to be fed, clothed, educated only so that she can be the nurturer for someone else’s family. And even though it is this girl who is going to eventually perpetuate the family of another, it is the burden of the girl’s family itself to bring the dowry. Is that not the wrong way around? Forget that, why must there be a dowry at all for a ‘family member’, or for a ‘human being’? Is that how families should begin – by a barter of the boy’s hand for money or gifts from the girl’s family? Who’s genius, twisted and mercenary idea was it anyway?! But dowry remains the prime reason why girls are killed in a mother’s womb or right after their births in India. The economic strain of rearing and the eventual loss of a girl becomes the reason for their doom.

Where does the problem lie? I believe it originates from our beliefs that there is a difference between a girl and a boy, apart from the biological ones. We rear them up from infancy to think that they are bound to certain ‘roles’ in society because they were born with certain body parts. I also believe that the problems faced by Indian girls and women today have their origin, partially, in how we bring up our boys to consider themselves the ‘superior gender’; the other half originating in women themselves who think that a girl is a commodity, to be hawked away at a price. The problem of female foeticide and infanticide persists even in the modern era because of our skewed perception of what a girl signifies. To most traditional and pseudo-modern Indians, a girl signifies a freeloader. Like every freeloader, she is taken for granted and treated as secondary, in matters of health, education, occupation, even in marriage. Who wants a freeloader? No one. And so, no one wants the responsibility of raising a girl, but they only want the ultimate benefit a girl brings – the furtherance of the family name. What noble intentions indeed!

To be sure, there are laws, government initiatives, family planning programmes, free education initiatives and other sops offered to parents to deter them from sex-selective abortions and infanticide, but to eradicate the problem from the root we must teach ourselves that a gender is not a ‘way of life’… it’s only a gender, a biological difference. 

I bet if we were to bring up a boy and girl in isolation they would exhibit emotions and preferences conventionally ascribed to both their own gender as well as those ascribed to the opposite gender. It’s only when society and cultural influences come in, that the gender stereotypes begin to emerge in a child. My girl, for example, loves cars instead of dolls, she digs shorts, not skirts, she won’t allow her hair to be pulled into a ponytail , she won’t wear ballerinas, but shoes and has a morbid fear of headbands. She loves any activity that involves getting filthy and tumbling around, and her emotions are never tempered by any feminine restraint. And yet there are times when she’s affectionate, motherly even, and does not flinch from being a diva – like when she says ‘cheese’ for the camera! She’s at once, a girl and a boy, and all of that is because SHE IS HUMAN. 

Perceptions like ‘you must cook because you’re a girl’ or ‘you must be strong because you’re a boy’, may have originated in necessity, so that the man could forage for the family while the woman tended to the home, but those times have come to a close. We live in an age today when our technologies and our education afford both the genders the ability to be either the nurturer or the bread-winner, or even both. Then why must we doggedly hold on to the archaic beliefs about ‘gender roles’? Why should we as parents perpetuate those stereotypes? Why teach our daughters that they must be demure, pliant, understanding, forgiving and kind ONLY because they are girls? And on the contrary teach our sons to be fierce, strong, unabashed and sharp ONLY because they are boys? Are these attributes not human attributes? Why must they be divided to define only a type of gender? 

Being parent to a girl should not be a burden, but being parent to a human being, requiring the same amount of care and effort that one puts into the upbringing of a boy child. Even if our worries about our girls are founded in the loftiest of good intentions, it’s ultimately a way of telling our girls that they are somehow weaker than boys. If we are to breed stronger women, we must start by making them stronger at home, bringing the change in our families, our perceptions, cut off traditions that teach us otherwise, and only then can this become a nationwide, or a worldwide change.

But until this change occurs in the upbringing of every child, boy or girl, and every family member, there will always be an ounce of worry attached to the birth of a girl.

 

MEMBERS ARE THE HONOR OF A FAMILY

Both Honor Killing and Domestic Violence are related to family or its members… Both are caused within the boundary of a family and by one or more of the family members.

Let’s talk about domestic violence first…

I won’t forget the evening when I was very angry. My anger reached to the highest level and I was simply out of my mind. I was beating the wall and the air in anger almost hurting myself because there were some arguments which made me angry on my family members. My poor wife wanted to stop me from hurting myself who came in front of my raging fist and hurt herself badly. Her thumb broke as she wanted to hold my hands. Even we don’t remember whether it was because of my fist or the wall or the bed which her thumb came across when it broke… That is immaterial…

It was accident…not at all intentional… BUT I REGRET IT!

My anger could have caused her even greater loss than what she had suffered or still suffering… I am not defending myself or acknowledging my mistakes here but want to a family member’s anger leads to domestic violence… Anger is the emotion which leads to such deadly acts inside the cosy environment of a family.

I had a talk with Kuljeet regarding this issue and her view was as under:

Firstly, Upbringing of the husband plays a big role… He has been taught that he is superior, he needs to control his wife and even if he is a nothing in the outside world he becomes the supreme king in his house by suppressing the easiest target in the house – his wife.

Secondly, the upbringing of the woman who is taught right from childhood to adjust and not come crying back to her parents after marriage even in houses like yours and mine if a woman complains about anything on her sasural (in laws house) the first things parents would say that you need to compromise a little, initial hiccups will come, come to us only when u think the problem is too huge.. 

I have been teaching history to my sons and together we have covered quite a few civilisations. Do you know what is common among them? My son jokes that for all the civilisations the answer to the question “What was the status of women in xyz civilisation?” we can safely write a few points like it was a patriarchal society, the women were considered inferior or the women were not allowed to own property, study, cast vote or take part in government decisions or read religious scriptures. And to my surprise he was right with the exception of only handful like early Vedic period the position of women was always inferior to men. This is what we are teaching our children today also.

The cases of domestic violence reported daily is a proof that the mind-set of male superiority is still prevalent.

And mind you the so called class and money and education has not improved the mentality of the people. Just google and see celebrities like Actress Rati Agnihotri, Miss World Yukta Mookhey,  TV actress Sweta Tiwari, Bollywood actress Zeenat Aman, etc etc, women who have earned a name for themselves in the world have faced domestic violence at home.

Sadly the women in our Indian society have been taught to adjust to the environment of their marital house and not complain. This leads to the cases of domestic violence not being reported or reported very late, after undergoing years of torture. These women start believing that they deserve such treatment because of something they have done or could not do. They keep trying to please their tormentor thinking that things will improve. But alas this gives the husband (the tormentor) more power over them.

There are many a tell-tale signs of domestic abuse. We in the society tend to ignore it saying that it’s their ‘Ghar ka mamla’ or domestic matter. We should stop this attitude. If you see a victim of domestic violence, help her gather the strength to report it.

So controlling natural emotions and changing certain mediocre mindsets can really help  getting rid of domestic violence to a greater extent.  

Now talking about honor killing I had a talk with Kalpana who gave me her thoughts which was quite interesting about the so called honor of the family. Let’s read her thoughts as under:

A girl complaining to her mother about a guy stalking her. The instant reaction is to hush her down saying don’t let this spread around saying “aakhir parivaar ki izzat ka sawaal hai” (it’s a question of family honour), and the reaction remains same even in the heinous crime committed without her will. The worst thing is when people try to find faults in the lady’s character.  Questions like what she was doing there at that hour of the day, why she trusted the person, why she dressed like that which provoked him and why only she was attacked among so many, it must be her fault only.

Terms like chastity, virginity, character are a woman’s prerogative only. And family honour is only her responsibility.  Would you believe if I say a woman in one village of Maharashtra was stoned to death because it was found out that she was not virgin at the time of marriage.  But it was later found it was her fiance only who was involved with her in trespassing the limit just few days before wedding.  But he backed out instead of supporting his wife and the result was blood and gore in the name of honour and the lady was made the scapegoat.

If a drunkard person beats his wife that’s a family matter, but if the lady raises voice and leaves him, we still have a majority of mindset that asks her to reconcile and compromise. Because they feel woman is weak and can’t sustain alone.  And again the entire blame is shifted towards the woman of the family and it is deemed it is her sole responsibility to keep the honour and family intact.

I quite agree with what she said above.

I remember in Jesus’ days once while He was teaching, people brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Him for His verdict. But He said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And starting from older to younger left that place leaving the woman unharmed.

I am not supporting adultery neither Jesus did that day. But I am talking about our approach towards a human life. How quick we are to condemn a human in the name of false religiosity without a thought!  

I found a piece of information on family honor which literally took my mind away… The term called ‘Breast Ironing’.

Breast ironing, also known as breast flattening, is the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl’s breasts, using hard or heated objects, to try to make them stop developing or disappear. It is typically carried out by the girl’s mother who will say she is trying to protect the girl from sexual harassment and rape, to prevent early pregnancy that would tarnish the family name, or to allow the girl to pursue education rather than be forced into early marriage. It is mostly practiced in parts of Cameroon, where boys and men may think that girls whose breasts have begun to grow are ready for sex. Some reports suggest that it has spread to the Cameroonian diaspora, for example to that in Britain. The most widely used implement for breast ironing is a wooden pestle normally used for pounding tubers. Other tools used include leaves, bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, ladles, spatulas, and hammers heated over coals.

What a stupid and inhuman practice? My heart broke reading this… How lowly we can be in our thinking and actions!!!

Dear Parents! Your daughters are your honor and pride! Please keep and take care your honor and pride!

Stay Blessed!!!