Karuthukalai Pathivu Sei (Post Your Comments) is an upcoming Tamizh movie, based on the Pollachi gang rape, that left us feeling angry and shocked. Anyone with an iota of empathy would think that at the very least, the survivors deserve not to be victim blamed.
Director Bhagyaraj has proven himself to be that person devoid of basic human decency and empathy. At the music launch for the movie, he launched into a disgusting, victim-blaming speech, in which he said that the survivors of the Pollachi case had “created opportunities” for the rape to occur.
To support his argument he used the clichéd proverb, “Oosi idam kudukaama nool nozhayadhu” (the thread won’t be able to enter if the needle doesn’t give it space to do so), and so boys alone should not blamed. Needless to say, I do not agree with this analogy at all, but, in the interest of giving all those who believe in it some food for thought, let us set aside the fact that men and women are not inanimate objects, and are capable of rational thought, and for a moment, take the analogy further. The inanimate thread cannot violate the needle, without the assistance of a person’s hand. In this analogy, “the hand” is rape culture, so ably held up by people like Bhagyaraj, who keep giving rapists the excuses they need.
He further went on to say that he was saddened to speak of such things (yeah, right) but if a man makes a mistake, he can somehow make his way back, but if women make a mistake in such issues, it will become a huge mistake. So, women should “stay within their limits.” According to him, even if a man has a china veedu (derogatory word for mistress/an extra-marital affair), he will not cause trouble for his wife, but if a woman has a “kalla kaadhalan” (secret lover/illicit affair) she will kill her husband and children for him. This is because the advent of mobile phones has caused women to “cross their limits,” in turn creating opportunities for “wrong things” to happen.
Bringing up the Pollachi case, he said that only the rapists were not at fault. They simply made use of the vulnerabilities that the women had created for themselves. So if what the rapists did was wrong, the bigger wrong was done by the women who created this opportunity for them.
Needless to say, he has received a lot of flak for his comments online, and the Andhra Pradesh Women’s Commission Chairperson, Vasireddy Padma, has urged her Tamil Nadu counterpart to take legal action against him for the same.
Even more difficult than listening to this trash fire of a speech, was listening to the way it was applauded by the audience. Frankly though, I’m not surprised. It is a fact that there is a huge gender gap in mobile phone and social media usage in India, driven by the need to keep women “pure.”
According to a study by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, published in October just last year, only 38% of women in India own mobile phones, compared with 71% of men. While the gap is greater in rural as compared to urban areas, and lowest between men and women with higher education, this gap “exists across Indian society” and is not restricted to lower socioeconomic or less educated groups. To quote Tish Sanghera’s report on this study for IndiaSpend, “Reputation risk, distraction from caregiving duties and rebellion against subservience and patriarchal authority are some of the reasons why families deny or reduce mobile phone access to women, the study found.”
A similar gender gap exists when we take into consideration women’s internet or social media usage as well.
However, preventing or controlling women’s access to mobile phones/internet/social media does more harm than good.
To quote the Harvard study linked above, “While the mobile gender gap matters in its own right, it is particularly problematic because it can exacerbate other important forms of inequality — in earnings, networking opportunities, and access to information.”
Access to smartphones and internet can even help women protect themselves. A study by Dayoung Lee, at Stanford University, under the direction of Professor Seema Jayachandran, noted that not only did mobile phones have a positive effect on women’s mobility and economic independence, but they also, “significantly decrease both men and women’s tolerance for domestic violence.” To put it simply, mobile phones gave women the access to an instrument they could use to ask for outside support and intervention, and this acted as a check on domestic violence. Smartphones also offer access to smart safety apps. One reason for the failure of the Himmat app by the Delhi Police, could just have been the gender gap –enough women just did not have access!
Even beyond this, women have used the internet, and social media specifically to make their voices heard, internationally. From #MeToo, to #IWillGoOut, to #EverydaySexism, these social media movements have given millions of women a platform to tell their stories, organize and demand action.
For me, the internet, which I largely access through my mobile phone, is a place where I have found a sisterhood that holds me up when I feel down.
I am aware that it is not a completely safe space. Yes, there are predators. Yes, there are trolls. Yes, there are those who spew vitriol. And yet, I wouldn’t give up my access to a mobile phone or the internet for anything.
We shouldn’t be restricting women’s access to phones and internet. If anything, we should be working to ensure that every single woman on the planet has access.
What we should really be focusing on is for more digital literacy, to teach women how to stay safe online. We should be asking for greater accountability from social media platforms on how they ensure that women on their apps are not targeted. We should be demanding better cybersecurity laws from the government, and swifter, more decisive action from law enforcement.
Women with mobile phones don’t cause rape. Rapists cause rape. Maybe someday, those like Bhagyaraj, will finally be able to come out of their patriarchal, misogynistic cocoon and realize this.