Violence against women is not a sign of manhood

Less than a month ago a campaign exploded on social media. Survivors of sexual abuse, mostly women, shook off their trauma and stigma, stood up and said #MeToo. It was an overwhelming show of solidarity, a first step for many women towards closure, and for thousands of men a crushing and humbling moment of introspection and examination. It demonstrated that violence in some form or the other is the overarching narrative of a woman’s life, in all fields and forms. Violence is complex and occurs in varying degrees and forms – a dangerous cocktail for lasting damage at many levels. Data shows that more than a third of women globally experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, through intimate partners or non-partners.

In India, the horrific rape of Jyoti Singh in the winter of 2012 was a moment that spurred us out of our indifference to these issues. The nation, shattered by the incident, picked up the pieces and rallied together. Overnight, rape had become ever more real, it was being discussed in living rooms, the government had to act swiftly, the people wanted justice. The Jyoti Singh case embodied everything that was wrong with our attitude towards women.

The violence has not stopped. Even as we approach five years since the rape, women and girls continue to be physically, sexually and psychologically abused. Despite legislations, effective implementation is yet to be seen. Evidence from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) IV shows that 29% of married women experience spousal violence and 3.3% of married women experience violence during pregnancy. Violence against women and girls continues to rise over the years. The culture of violence is so deep-seated that more than half of women (54%) and men (51%) agree with one or more reasons that justify wife beating.

Violence is a double burden for women – they move with fear in public spaces, schools, workspaces, and tragically in their homes; and because of the insecurity and fear of sexual violence, girls are denied education and the opportunity for independence. Violence is not just episodic; it is perpetuated by robbing the dignity of the victim in numerous ways. A rape victim, for instance, is compelled to seek permission from the courts to abort; a man cannot be convicted if he rapes his wife, since marital rape is not yet illegal in our country. Violence against women and girls is not only a fundamental violation of women’s rights, dignity, agency and choice, but also a serious public health concern in India. Women experience violence in all forms, thereby putting at risk their physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health.

So what do you do? Sit in your living room and share with friends, or shrug and look the other way? We can no longer maintain this silence. That’s why we have turned to the adolescents and youth of our country, the 30 % who have aspirations, expectations and a lot of positive energy. We have seen the power of music in galvanising people. Through the galvanising power of music we are saying ‘Bas Ab Bahut Ho Gaya – Enough Is Enough’. With an 18-month campaign, a message is being sent out that concerns all of us. The message is men need to understand that violence is not a sign of manhood.

Musicians, singers, actors, directors and students are coming together for LALKAAR, a concert call to action every person in the country to end this cycle of violence, discrimination and suppression. The youth in our country are aware and vocal. They can be the catalyst for change. We can rely on them to shatter gender stereotypes. We have seen this from the response to the campaign and the creative angst that has emerged with more than 1,700 film entries to a contest on ending violence against women and girls. They have begun to change the narrative and that is encouraging for us as a nation and for the generations that will follow.

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