By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi: As a 23-year-old brutalised and gang-raped victim fights for her life in the capital, novelist, columnist and award-winning documentary filmmaker Madhuri Banerjee ascribes the rise in gender crime in India to the bias against the girl child and says “gender decorum” and respect for women should be inculcated in boys at the school level.
She says as a woman, one needs to be far more sensitive to sexual repression – and stand up for a cause.
“Or else, some day, my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter will question me: ‘Mama what did you do when the nation was fighting for this girl in the national capital,'” Banerjee told IANS in an interview.
The Mumbai-based writer, who was in the capital to launch her new romantic fiction, “Mistakes Like Love and Sex” (Penguin-India), cancelled the launch of her book on Friday and television interviews to express her solidarity with the victim.
“It is a gender crime that has touched everyone in the country,” she said of the Dec 16 night incident when six men gangraped and tortured the 23-year-old physiotherapist in a moving bus. All six men have been arrested, even as spontaneous protests erupted in various parts of the capital and in many cities across India. On Friday, the protesters even managed to reach the gates of the Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential palace.
Banerjee, whose “Between Dualities” won her the national award for the best documentary on women’s issues, said “the root of the problem lay in wanting a male child.”
“A boy is like the ‘ghar ka chirag’ (the light of home). Every man who is earning in crore likes to give power to the boy. Why can’t a girl pay and file tax returns or take on the father’s mantle,” Banerjee asked, probing the link between gender inequity and sexual vulnerability in the context of the economics and power structure in society.
The natural psyche of a woman – perpetuated down the generations by mothers and grandmothers – spurs her to take on more responsibility, the writer said.
“Without realising, a woman gives the male ego a boost by managing multiple roles of a mother, housewife and a professional. Add to this the sexual obligation – the man usually expects a woman to have sex at night even if she is tired and not in the mood. But if a woman wants to have sex, she is labelled aggressive. No man in a relationship or a marriage will say I am an equal partner,” Banerjee explained of the latent power play in a man-woman relationship.
The mindset of an average Indian male was if “I don’t get it (physical intimacy) at home, I will get it outside,” the writer said.
This unrequited libido that drives men to seek pleasure outside often manifests as “gender atrocities in the form of rape”.
Even at a party, a man usually tries to suppress a woman’s upbeat emotional mood with an oft-mouthed refrain, “Let’s have another drink”, Banerjee said, pointing to gender imbalances in life in the fast lane.
“No parent in India is talking to their son about sex and sexual behaviour. The attitude is ‘He is a little naughty… let him be’. I am completely appalled by a situation where a man can get away with a situation and a woman is not comfortable walking around in jeans,” she added.
Banerjee, who puts her finger on the pulse of man-woman relationships in her column “Love Guru” in the Asian Age, often addresses such concerns. Her first book, “Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas”, an anthology of her columns, explores changing notions of sexuality in a contemporary India.
She believes the need to inculcate “gender decorum” is more important than sex education at the school level.
“We need basic respect for women at the school level so that girls as young as four years’ old can walk up to their teachers and complain of eve-teasing. At 14, they need not be afraid to speak up against harassment,” she said.
In this era of anger in society, “perhaps the only emotion we can cling to is good old romance”, she said, adding: “Love saves the day.”