Over years of observing people, I’ve come to this conclusion that people’s behavior is a result of either of two factors:
Their inner motivation to do or not do something
A fear of the consequences of doing or not doing something.
A student avoids copying in an exam because either he’s convinced it is wrong or he’s scared of getting caught. If his conviction is not very strong but the rules are strict, he will keep away from cheating. If the rules are lax but he has exemplary strength of character, he will still keep away from cheating. The ethical dilemma turns into a full-blown problem when a shaky conviction combines with no rules to deter wrong behavior.
So, when I view the shameful Bangalore New Year’s Eve mass molestation incident, I can see the two reasons why this and the many similar unreported events occur.
One – a lack of respect for women and two – the confidence that one can get away with it.
Of these two factors, dealing with the latter has to be the priority because changing the former will take time and effort, although change it must.
There are enough laws to deal with crimes against women; what we need is better implementation so that justice is served more speedily by punishing those perpetrating the crime. We need our policing systems to get more efficient and proactive instead of being ineptly reactive.
For example, if we know that mass gatherings of inebriated people lead to such misbehavior, why not impose restrictions on alcohol intake or restrict the number of persons allowed to enter these sensitive areas?
From previous experiences in Bengaluru during the kidnapping of Raj Kumar by Veerappan or the Cauvery agitation, we know very well that miscreants take advantage of crowds to unleash mayhem. Why not set up systems to send out warnings to the known “rowdy sheeters” in sensitive areas to keep away from these places?
It would also be worthwhile to look at Wilson and Kelling’s “Broken Windows” theory specifically in relation to crimes against women. Regular police monitoring and stringent, quick punishment of incidents of eve-teasing, intimidation and stalking of women will serve as a deterrent to the more severe crimes of molestation and rape.
There are people commenting about how women provoke men by wearing provocative clothes, staying out late at night, mingling too much with guys, smoking and drinking, and so on. We already know from years of experience that women who are demurely dressed, stay indoors and avoid moving around with guys are equally sinned against.
Which brings me to the other vital aspect I mentioned before.
Along with the measures to put the fear of law into the heart of criminals, we also need to focus on inculcating respect for women. Because, as I pointed out in the copying scenario, if the student is firm in his conviction that cheating is the wrong way to success, he will never give in to the temptation to cheat, heedless of whether he is being supervised or not.
A person’s conduct depends on his thoughts which in turn are decided by his beliefs. A man who respects women will be innately armed against the animal instinct of wanting to use her to fulfill his pleasure. When a man has learned to discipline his mind and exert self-control, it matters not whether the woman in front of him is clad in a miniskirt or a gown that covers all.
Such disciplining of the mind is not an easy task. It calls on us to teach our sons how to behave with girls. It calls for us to demonstrate the same respect for all the women we interact with so that the little eyes watching us get the right example to emulate. It calls for us to cut down on sexist jokes. It requires that our movies stop showing that the hero wins his love by stalking her. It calls for our advertising to move away from the sexual objectification of women.
In other words, we need to fill our minds with a reverential spirit to become more cultured and refined.
Coming back to the exam scenario, there’s a third possibility other than the two I mentioned before. A student with shaky principles in a lax environment may still desist from copying if he realizes that there are others watching him, who, although not the authority, will take him to task and ensure he gets punished for cheating.
These “others” are the bystanders who are witness to crimes against women. Increasingly we find onlookers unwilling to raise a voice against a crime happening in front of them. Our instinct for self-preservation is far, far stronger than the desire to combat wrongdoings. Often, this arises from a sense of helplessness because we feel incapable of standing up to physical force. Which is why every time I hear someone advising girls to learn self-defence (a very valid suggestion), I cannot help but feel strongly that we must insist our boys learn it too – so that they too develop the confidence and mental strength to stand up and defend any woman in trouble.
We need to have the entire community stepping up to the need to support our women. When we witness what appears to be a brawl between a man and a woman, we need to politely enquire if any help is needed instead of dismissing it as “a private affair.” We need to stand by not just our family, but also our neighbours and colleagues at the workplace to ensure the wronged woman gets justice. When we are able to do this, perhaps our women will slowly develop the gumption necessary to come forward and lodge complaints against those who harass them, ensuring justice is served.
Perhaps then, they will learn to live comfortably in their own skin, knowing they are valued for the persons they are rather than the way they dress, walk, talk and live.
Until all this happens, the only wise thing a woman can do is hone her instincts on what she needs to do to preserve her dignity and sanity.