If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard a local busybody exclaim, “How could a mother do it?” with unbridled glee even while feigning suitable shock, I would never have to raise funds for any of the NGOs I support!
I have heard this question several times in the context of Indrani Mukerjea, who according to media reports and public opinion, probably killed her daughter. Plus her alleged love triangle/quadrangle/pentagon is fodder for those who are always hungry for a devil-lady story.
Yes, the Sheena story was responsible for Indrani finally losing sheen, but it also highlighted our typical Indian tendency to humiliate women who have had more than one male partner. “She had so many husbands, she was shrewd,” the neighbourhood gossip would wonder aloud as her kitty-party friends nod their heads meaningfully. Indrani has already been pronounced guilty by a section of the news media and society on account of her allegedly colourful personal life even before the actual trial begins. We are judging her on account of her alleged indiscretions! Our collective ‘decency and morality’ demands that all women be (to quote my favourite red-lipped-trident wielding Radhe Maa) “Pure and Pious”. Women are as capable of both good and evil as men or transpersons. Gender or even sexuality does not determine your ability to uphold the law. Why should it be so difficult for us to digest that?
Not so long ago, I read about the case of a boy being sexually abused by his mother. There again, social media was replete with posts asking, “how can a mother do this?” It is almost like saying that fathers as abusers are more palatable!
As a fellow survivor of child sexual abuse at the hands of an adult I trusted, my heart went out to the boy who was raped. I have shared my story earlier in this space. I was a boy, raped repeatedly by a man. In a world where the abuser is always presumed to be a man and the survivor is always presumed o be a woman, I had to struggle against three different types of social stigma. It was bad enough that I had been raped, many people doubted my ‘manhood’ due to my inability to put an end to my abuse for several years. Then of course there was the question of my sexuality with many people accusing me of taking my own sweet time to put an end to my abuse as I was probably enjoying it.
It won’t be easy for this boy to get over the betrayal of his trust. It will not be any different and might probably even be harder on account of the abuser being his mother. But the bigger question is how different is this woman abuser from a male abuser? Why is it more shocking?
A few days ago, I stumbled on a video.
The video shows a woman who was creating a ruckus at a police station in Mumbai. She appeared to be intoxicated. I found it remarkable that the policemen were so patient with her, where one would assume they could have dealt with her more sternly. They did not. They probably need to be applauded for that. But now, imagine, a man instead of a woman. Imagine a man creating a mêlée instead of a woman. In all probability he would have been beaten up.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not socially insensitive, or blind to the reality of women in India and Bharat. I am aware that social compulsions, inherent misogyny and patriarchy are all factors that have silenced women and clipped their wings. I am a feminist and proud to be one. But my love and respect for people does not depend on their gender. I believe in equality of women. Hence, I believe that women and men and transpersons can all be the victim. I believe men, women and transpersons can all be the abuser too.
Well, I believe humans are a flawed species. I believe gender is a social construct and a biological accident. That said, to attribute a vice to a gender and to make the other gender come across as the wise one may not be the right way to deal with the issue. It is just reverse sexism and is equally toxic.
I feel that equality is not only when women are given the equal right to status, freedom and dignity that men traditional enjoy. Equality is even when we understand that the woman is not some sort of docile creature incapable of deviousness or viciousness. Equality is not when you see woman in extremes of a devi or a devil. Equality is when we respect and perceive all people in the same manner. Equality is when we understand and accept that we are all equally flawed.
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘Rainbow Man’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint)