Not just lust
Imagine a day old baby girl. She may be your daughter or your sister.
You watch her grow, take her first steps, say her first words, her tiny hands holding your hand while crossing the road, her first school day, her thousand innocent questions and the sounds of her fearless laughter.
Now imagine this baby girl becoming a 14yr old school kid. She laughs less, probably because she has experienced more of the world, maybe even experienced harassment in some form. But she is still full of hope and dreams for her future. She may want to be an astronaut, a teacher, an architect or unsurprisingly a doctor. But one day while walking to school, four men kidnap her, brutally gang rape her and slit her throat. The laughter and chatter of your baby girl which once resonated in your house walls has been replaced by the sounds of mourning and gloom.
Now, although you imagined this, the father of Tabinda Gani, a 14yr old school kid from Handwara lived through this nightmare. The perpetrators of the heinous crime received a death sentence delivered by Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Wani, Principal District Judge, Kupwara, Kashmir, on 18th April 2015.
Most of you will feel extreme distress at this story and move on. But please do so at your own risk and only if you don't know anyone from the female sex. But for those of us who do, unless we start serious introspection and work, this story will happen again and again and god forbid you may be the next father or brother of a Tabinda.
The root cause of evils like Rape are not just lust-filled mistakes. The reasons are much deeper and culturally rooted. Our society is largely patriarchal in its social norms and practices. One of the many reasons is that many people, even the most educated, still deem the birth of a daughter as unfortunate, and would readily get rid of a female child even if it is illegal.
Female feticide is widely practiced in the country. A study published in 2001 by the renowned British medical journal, Lancet, stated that over 10 million foetuses have been aborted in this country in the last two decades. Of the 12 million girls born every year, 1 million do not live to see their first birthday.
Although the sex ratio of the country has improved since this report from 933 to 940 females per 1000 males (from 2001 to 2011) as per the census report, the figures of the state of Jammu and Kashmir are dismal. The Female to male ratio in the latest census is 864 per thousand males.
Hence, even before birth, the girl is discriminated against and branded with a "second rate human" tag. Now since the girl has been deemed inferior from birth, the sons are accorded more value. And this is what festers the atmosphere of power of the male sex over the female sex. Boys grow up believing that they have more freedom, power and more rights than their sisters.
And without fear, many boys and men go on to verbally and sexually harass young girls and women. There may not be a single girl in the state of Jammu and Kashmir who can say that she has never faced harassment of some sort.
When we teach our daughters to respect our cultural values and limit their movement according to what we perceive is right or safe, why haven't we taught the same limits to our sons? Why has almost every woman faced eve teasing irrespective of what she wore? Why are acid attacks against women a common occurrence? Why have the majority of women who use public transport been a victim of voyeurism? Why are female drivers harassed regularly?
Its not just young boys who harass women, there are many reports of middle-aged men`s inappropriate behavior towards young girls, especially in public transport. Why haven't these boys and men been taught better, to stay within the boundaries of not only cultural and religious values but human decency too. Why is right or wrong the prerogative of women only?
This is what you can do. First and foremost stop VICTIM BLAMING. Next time you witness harassment or eve teasing, instead of being quiet or blaming the victim for her clothes or her reasons for walking on the road or using public transport, stand up for her.
Because if we don't protect and nurture our girls, we allow the cycle of fear, shame and horrible crimes to fester. And a society, which allows this to happen, should know that this kind of society will never progress, never become better in any regard. Judge Wani in his landmark judgment rightly noted that "the crime is to be looked as not only crime against an individual but against the society".
Secondly and most importantly, teach your boys and men about respect and equality. If a husband speaks to his wife with respect and values her opinion, the son will learn to respect women and the daughter will learn that she deserves to be respected.
School teachers have a responsibility too. Macho behavior and pseudo male strength prototypes should be discouraged. Parents and teachers should encourage girls to report incidents of inappropriate behavior and harassment.
Lastly, I would like to tell the men that this is not just a woman's fight. It is yours as well. Disrespect toward women behind closed doors or in public is shameful and reflects poorly on your gender. Misogyny does not give you any higher standing in society. It pulls you down and stops a society from growth. You have to fight against it.
And, to the women, with or without the veil- you're powerful, strong and capable of so much more. You are the reason for life on this earth so let no one tell you any different. You can change the world.
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a general practitioner with a Masters' in International Journalism from Cardiff University, UK.)