The holy writ

Even as we hang our heads in shame over the heinous, murderous gangrape of a 23- year-old woman (not "girl", please, no one refers to a male the same age as a "boy"), demands and suggestions keep pouring in from various quarters on how to check the growing violence against women. Many among the angry young women and men agitating against the police and political inaction are demanding a new law, nothing short of the death penalty, for rapists. Women's organisations are warning that, if anything, this will seriously endanger the life of rape victims.

Beyond the what-punishment-for-rapists debate are voices pointing towards rape within homes. And the fact that rape is the most vicious, but by no means the only, form of violence that women experience in their daily lives. It is therefore rightly being suggested that a more comprehensive approach is needed to address the issue of rampant gender violence. Yes, the police, the politicians and even the judiciary must be held to account. But what about our own complicity, our own patriarchal mindsets?

Among the many "holistic" approaches being offered is one from former IPS officer and India Against Corruption activist, Kiran Bedi. Bedi suggests a crime prevention plan that addresses "6 Ps" simultaneously: police, people (society), prosecution, politician, prison and press (news media and film industry). To these, may I add a seventh P: priests, the upholders-in-chief of "tradition". Our soaked-in-religion cultures teach us that women are inferior to men; male imagination and interpretation take care of the rest. If the root of women's subordination and oppression lies in patriarchy, should not organised religions be interrogated as well? Name a religion whose high priests do not perpetuate patriarchy.

While this is a malady that afflicts all organised religion, this column is limited to the preachers of Islam since that's familiar territory for this writer. Mention the words "marital rape" and most maulvis, maulanas and muftis will stare back at you in sheer disbelief. Verses from the Quran, the hadith (teachings of the Prophet) and the entire Shariah corpus will be lined up to establish that the husband is his wife's "master", whose "natural urges" must be taken care of.

... contd.

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