Addressing a press conference ahead of the National Women's Parliament in Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh Speaker Kodela Shiva Prasad answered a question on women's safety using a peculiar analogy. Following TNM's report on his statements, questions have been raised on whether he really said and meant what is being reported.
Let's hear him out.
Shiva Prasad said, "Let's say you buy a vehicle. When it is parked in the garage at home, accidents can be avoided, right? When it is taken to a bazaar or taken on the road, accidents are likely to happen. When the car is speeding it is more likely for accidents to take place. At a speed of 50 km/hr accidents are less likely, at a speed of 100 km/hr accidents are more likely."
The headlights in my brain began flashing when I heard this (I'm a woman, after all). What exactly was the Speaker trying to say?
Firstly, why is he comparing women to inanimate objects? To be fair, Shiva Prasad is not the first person to do this and he will not be the last.
We've had similar analogies in the past. If you keep your gold jewellery outside the house, don't complain if it gets stolen. If you keep sweets on the road, street dogs will eat them (this piece of wisdom comes from ML Pandey, the defence lawyer in the 'Nirbhaya' case).
Women are human beings with all the human rights that are bestowed upon men. Comparing an act of sexual violation to stealing or accidents not only dehumanizes victims, it also conveniently places the blame on them. It excuses men from the responsibility of the crime, making it a 50-50 blame game where the woman shares the guilt equally. Or sometimes, entirely.
I'm unsure how to interpret the Speaker's reference to a speeding car. Was the car being "adventurous" (to quote Sheila Dixit), and therefore ended up in an accident? If the car had been more "controlled" (take away the noodles, take away the cell phones - I can hear the Khap ordering), would the "accident" of a man assaulting a woman not have taken place? Did his arms, legs and genitals detach themselves from his brain and stumble over the woman?
But the Speaker had more to say.
He went on to add, "Similarly, in older times, when women were housewives they were safe from all kind of atrocities, except discrimination. Today, they are studying, working, and also are doing business. They are exposed to the society. When they are exposed to the society they are more prone to eve teasing, harassment, atrocities, rape and kidnap. Is it not? If they do not leave home, it doesn't happen."
Let's apply the brakes. This is just a blatant untruth.
Statistics have consistently shown that in an overwhelming percentage of cases - over 90 per cent - the perpetrator is known to the victim and is likely to be a family member, relative, or neighbour.
According to this 2014 Scroll report which quotes a study conducted by Aashish Gupta of RICE Institute, 1 in 10 Indian woman suffers sexual assault in the hands of her husband. The numbers come from statistics published by UN Women with further data from National Family Health Surveys and NCRB.
Of course, marital rape is legal in India (yay, family first). But please Mr Speaker, acknowledge that the "car" gets battered even when parked at home. Just that as a society, we're incapable of seeing it.
The Speaker wasn't done:
"They should be educated and they should work. Not only kung fu, they should also be taught self defence, to build bravery. We should give them confidence. It is not about height, weight or size of the woman. That should be inbuilt. We should give them confidence. If given confidence, the solution can be found for the problems and then all this will be useful. This is what I would like to convey."
He also said, "I do not mean that they need to be kept at home so that they are safe. They should be educated, should be made to work and they should be given courage, but their protection should also be taken care of,"
Just one question. Who is the "we" here? Men? Society?
Let's get this into our heads: women are born free. They do not need anyone's benevolence doled out in controlled measures. They do not need protection.
They need the laws of the land to be implemented. They need higher conviction rates. They need speedier arrests. They need sexual assault to be recognised as the perpetrator's fault entirely. They don't need Lakshman rekhas around them, telling them just how far they can go. They need you to stop this toxic victim blaming.
How confident and brave must a woman be to step out of the house every single day when she's dehumanized by the people around her constantly? How much self defence must she learn in between the cooking, cleaning, child-care that "we" insist are her duties?
Unless women are treated on an equal footing with men, unless we stop these ridiculous comparisons to vehicles, jewellery, sweets and whatever else, unless we desist from objectifying women (see, it's not only item numbers that do it) nothing is going to change.
To put in perspective for you, Mr Speaker, the Ambassador car has come and gone but sexual violence against women shows no sign of ending.