The problem of living in a highly individualised world is that it views all success and all failures as personal achievements. Depression, suicide and alienation are not an individual’s problems demanding individualistic solutions. Same goes for rape and hate-crimes. Attributing the root of all such dysfunctional behaviour to personality defects within the individual is a way of being misled. It is tempting to quote medical discourses to justify that people commit suicide because they are “weak” or “hyper-sensitive” personalities. It helps us preserve a functionalist and idealist conception of society where the norm is harmony and dysfunction constitutes a small minority caused by individual pathogenic tendencies.
As a sociologist, I burst out in laughter when I heard the winner of a reality show claim on TV , “Saying we men need to take steps to protect our women is only saying that our women are not capable of protecting themselves. Hamari ladkiyan badi hogayi hain (our girls have grown up), they just need to learn jiu-jitsu to solve the whole problem of women’s protection”. This well-intentioned statement that is probably echoed by many good-hearted educated men in the country has many problems in it. Firstly, a social problem like rape can never have a technical solution. Secondly, the root of the problem lies in systemic inequalities ─ inequalities between men and women, and inequalities between men and men.
Being a feminist and fitness enthusiast, I still have to admit that there is biologically ordained differential muscle makeup between men and women. Despite rigorous training, women’s muscle and strength gain occurs at a slower rate compared to that of men. Scientific studies by the American Psychological Association prove that because of high testosterone levels, more fast-twitch fibres and faster skeletal muscles, men develop bigger muscles and more power output despite being on the same training and nutrition plans as a woman. World records in all strength and muscle-recovery-based sports are lesser for women than men. Star athletes like Mary Kom have also come out with stories of having been molested. The problem is not the biological fact of differential physiological abilities between men and women.
The social inequality arises out of men exploiting that physical advantage to oppress women. The “danger” of rape manifests socially in spatial confinement of women. Public spaces are turned into playgrounds of men. The easiest way to see the number of women occupying the public sphere is by looking at the Delhi Metro at rush hour. At the peak rush hour in our country, when the train is jam-packed, very few women will enter the general coach. Out of eight coaches, seven are jam-packed with men, and one ladies coach is “enough” to accommodate all women. This in itself shows that women roughly occupy only one-eighth of public space, and even lesser during the night time. Added to their physical disadvantage is this numerical disadvantage.
The second inequality at the heart of rape is inequality between privileged and impoverished men ─ upper-class and lower-class men; upper caste and lower-caste men; men in managerial positions and men in menial labour positions. The dynamic of power imbalance between male masters and male servants is essentially manifested in men who are exploited by other men taking it out on women. Here again, it is tempting to look at migrants and impoverished men who commit rape as the sole perpetrators. But we privileged people need to realise that in this systemic vicious cycle of inequalities we are as much responsible for this as the perpetrators who commit hate-crimes looking for a sense of power.
We are underpaying our workers, denying them social mobility and dignity in a capitalist world of “merit” and the chance to overcome decades of social disadvantages by social exclusion. Saying the system has equal opportunity for success is a big lie. Saying that with “hard work” all men can be the next Ambani is an illusion. Saying that the poor is responsible for his poverty is the biggest systemic fallacy told to preserve a system of inequalities. And saying that the depressed is responsible for his own depression is a social masking of the fact that there is a huge system of inequalities that drove Rohit Vemula to commit suicide. As Emile Durkheim proved in his 1897 study “Suicide”, suicide has a statistical correlation to the social conditions.
The more we move away from safe-guarding “inclusivity” and continue trumpeting “merit” as an excuse to perpetuate private nexuses of power in educational institutions and work-spaces, we are perpetuating a system that produces depression and rape. The malfunction is not started at the point of individual delinquents nor can it be remedied by punitive or corrective action against individual delinquents. The malfunction is in the system. The corrections required to really solve depression and rape are systemic remedies to annihilate social inequalities between both men and women and between men and men.
Picture Courtesy- The Irish Times