Sunday, 7 April 2013

Oppression - Underlying Issue

Her name is Jyoti Singh Pandey and she was raped on December 16th, 2012 and passed away on December 29th, 2012.

There are no words to explain the emotions I was going through when I first heard of the rape. To be honest, part of me was like ‘Oh, here goes another victim of sexual abuse that the Indian government is going to stand by, and choose to do nothing about’. The other part of me was going through an emotional roller-coaster; something I experience every time I hear of a female being victimized horrifically in India. My heart breaks, a little part of me dies, and the enormous amount of respect that I once had for this nation diminishes a little bit more.

Protests and riots broke out all throughout India in the days to come in response to several things; her victimization, the government’s continuous lack of response to female victimization, the lack of protection and safety for the nation’s women, the government’s lack of acknowledgement, and more so years of continuous condemnation of the victims and protection of the offenders.

In truth, there are so many underlying issues that need to be addressed. Issues that for years the people of India have been raising awareness about, but for just as long the government has turned a blind eye towards.

Some of the underlying issues are (in no particular order):
- Patriarchy
- Human trafficking
- Domestic violence
- Red district
- Female genocide/foeticide
- Female genital mutilation
- Culture of rape & impunity
- Culture of respecting boys over girls
- Victim-blaming
- “Family role model” vs. “shame, anger, humiliation”
- Definitions & legalities/caste system
- Modern slavery

Every picture in this week’s edition paints a very disturbing reality that so many women live with on a daily basis in India. The patriarchal structures and institutions that still flourish within India support these violent acts that continue to happen against women. Moreover, because majority of the victims are of “low caste,” many at times they go unaccounted for, and as a result they never receive justice.

The culture of rape and impunity that has been a founding partner of all nations, allows the violent offenders to walk away from facing their victims, as well as having to face the punishment for their crimes. Furthermore, the culture of “needing” sons over having a daughter, is vividly expressed in families across the Asian continent, which has indefinitely affected the lives of girls even before they are born. For this reason and more, many girls are aborted, there are excruciatingly high female foeticide rates and if the girls are born, they are subjected to violent victimization from birth (female genital mutilation, forced prostitution, modern slavery etc.). Victim-blaming is one of the oldest methods of oppression; the onus is essentially removed from the offender and is placed on the victim. Ultimately, all of the shame and humiliation that comes with being a victim turns into a stigma that destroys the lives of the survivors.

Lauren Wolfe has said that the year 2013 is the year to end violence in all of its facets - violence against women, oppression, modern slavery etc. - and to be honest, I think she’s right. It’s obvious that we cannot entirely eliminate violence from the world in one year, but as a team we can collectively start a movement to destroy the patriarchal mindsets, cultures of rape and impunity, violence and oppression in all forms. It is important as members of our communities, that we raise awareness, share our stories and provide our children with the knowledge on how to tackle these forms of oppression. Some of our kids may be too young to understand the terminology that is used when discussing these forms of oppression. Nevertheless, we can still address these issues with them by showing them images, telling them stories in a simplified manner and explaining to them how at a young age, they can make a difference in the world by sharing their ideas through art etc.

The most important underlying issue that each of the above aspects fall under, is the issue of oppression. Oppression exists in so many ways - verbally, physically, emotionally, etc. - and it is oppression in all of its forms has been embedded within the roots of the social institutions and structures of our societies. We are oppressed in more ways than we recognize or even acknowledge; and because it is so habitual or 'natural' we many at times fail to think twice about it. For example, I was speaking to my Principal from High School who I met with after 5 years - I was telling her about Saving Angel and how important I feel it is to address these issues of oppression in all forms with our students and young adults while they are in high school. I mentioned that while I was in high school I felt sheltered, and I only realised that feeling until I was in University. The government deems what is acceptable to be taught in our school curriculum; they provide the administrators with the material and they provide us with education on everything but oppression. I expressed my deep regret for not knowing earlier about the devastating issue of violence against women in my own home country. Its true - if we do not look beyond what we are being taught in school, we are not going to learn/recognize/acknowledge any of these real issues that officials are not talking about. I only realised how sheltered I was in high school, when I was learning about the devastating reality so many women live with on a daily basis, while I was in University.

Ultimately, it is up to us to teach the future generation, to raise awareness about these issues, and to speak out about oppression in all of its forms, in order to end it. We can save so many lives by changing the outlook on forms of oppression like victim-blaming, the stigma associated with victims of (sexual) violence, masculinity, cultures of rape, patriarchy and impunity. Sadly it has taken India this long to admit they have problem – who knows how many other nations are in denial and how many millions of victims are still suffering at the hands of their oppressive regimes. Together let’s not let Jyoti’s legacy die in vain – let her sacrifice be the turning point for nations worldwide. Together let’s raise the awareness and destroy the mindsets that are in turn destroying us. Let us save more Angels.

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