Saturday, December 29, 2012

Making the church rape free

After a long struggle the symbol of hope for women has died down. We are told that India’s daughter wanted to live and continued to struggle, wanting to come back. Her brutal rape is a reminder of how brutal men in India are. However much we justify our institutions, frameworks, our legislators and our law enforcers, we have fallen short by many a mile. Many people in India sincerely prayed for the recovery of our daughter and sister. But nothing could stop the brutality of the rape, not even the best medical care. Where do we go from now?

I am a theological teacher (facilitator) and a church worker. My area of influence is theological seminaries, students, churches, church women, church men, girls, boys and children. I can’t help but wonder what my response to this highly despicable incident should be? After the strain and work of an academic term, after the joyful work of preaching and announcing Christ’s arrival to church members and the world, I am left drained. Not because of both the things I mentioned above, but because I haven’t been able to stop violence against women in the church and in society. I have been a failure amidst all the success I have enjoyed. And it is because of my silence, lack of pro-active involvement and status quo in the church and in seminaries that I feel this way. Every reluctance of standing for women has meant that I have been an accomplice in every rape.

What am I supposed to do? I am supposed to facilitate a thinking process in the minds of students from various parts of the country and various denominations. I am supposed to teach and practise a thinking process that women are not lesser than men, women have to be respected, women have feelings and the body of women belong to them. I am also supposed to preach and practise the same in church. But I am falling short time and again. Time and again women are not getting justice in church and I go along with the status quo. In all trueness I am not doing my job.

Every religion is supposed to be a protest, a movement asking for change. And yet we are far from it today. Can women wear what they want to in church without hearing a lewd comment in the back ground and being marked twisted? Can women speak in church without being labelled ‘forward’? Can women file a complaint against a church leader/s for harassment, misrepresentation, misuse of authority, humiliation, staring, sexual overtures, and misquoting of scripture? Can women expect the church to support them in the case of domestic violence, marriage related violence, violence at work, violence during public transport, violence at public spaces and violence from the law and authorities? If the answer is no, isn’t the church an accomplice to violence against women?

What am I going to accomplish by lighting a candle in church against the violence and brutal rape and murder of the 23 year old woman? Nothing much I suppose. There are several women in my own church who in all probability are exposed to violence in different places and the church remains silent to this. “Potte mole” (It is okay daughter, let it go daughter) is a constant reminder given to women to forgive and forget. Today has reminded us that we face a grim reality. Part of India has risen up against this. There are many others who have not got support and have been violated again and again. This is the time to fight for all women. No more potte mole. “Unaruvin and poruthuveen” (rise and fight) would be a better slogan for women and for those men and leaders including me who have some sense of guilt left in them.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Protest hard but protest real

It would be wrong to say that India is seeing unprecedented protests following the brutal violence and pain inflicted upon a 23 year old woman in Delhi. My negative statement is due to the protests that we have seen in the past few years in India. India has by and large protested over fuel hikes and hikes in the prices of essential commodities. Over the past couple of years we have seen protests over the Mumbai terror attack, corruption and now the protest to amend the laws with regard to rape.

What has come about from these protests? People have gone back to work and to their lives, waiting for another incident and another day to protest. To the credit of the Indian public, the propensity to come out on the street and offer solidarity for however short a period is commendable. But is it enough and will it bring about any change?

What is the real issue in the present brutal case before us? It is a clear violation of a girl's person hood, freedom, body and spirit. A group of men got together and thought they could do what they wanted in the darkness of the night. The cruelty and the subsequent consequence of the cruelty has brought people out into the streets. It is also a lack of awareness among law enforcement agencies about what constitutes the freedom of a woman and how far they should go to protect this freedom. The issue is also about clarity in laws, punishment based on these laws and additional laws to deter anyone from violating the freedom and body of another person. But the issue has turned into capital punishment and castration of culprits!

The problem with both of these solutions is that one, we are struggling with whether we should do away with capital punishment all together even in the rarest of rare cases and two, these solutions are patriarchal and male solutions.

Capital punishment once upon a time was seen as a deterrent just like nuclear weapons are still seen. But there is over whelming public opinion that this is the most inhuman thing one could do to another person. From a Christian point of view and a non-violent Indian point of view this goes against our very notion as a collective and as a nation. Capital punishment may also result in innocent people going to the gallows simply because the rich will get away with rape and violence and the poor will get raped twice over. If fear in itself would have instilled goodness in people, we would have all been saints. Fear will only instill a sense of deep hatred and criminal tendency which will lead to more fool proof crimes which will become more difficult to detect.

Such solutions go against the violated and the victim. Women through such revenge will be sucked in to the world of male dominated violence which in actuality women detest and oppose. What rather needs to be done is to bring women to the main stream. How many women represent us in parliament? How many women are in church committees? How many women are leaders who make legislations that will take our country forward? The answer would be negligible. In this context what capital punishment would do is to strenghthen the male dominated framework of decision making and violent mode of functioning. This will not deter rape but will keep the basic precents leading to rape intact.

Churches and other religious institutions have to claim their women. The framework of marrying off daughters, teaching them to cook, keeping them inside homes and having them as receptors of religious services has led to the detaching of women from homes and churches. This makes them second class citizens in their own back yard. What security can they expect when they are out in the night? The talk of women reclaiming their public spaces cannot be actualized unless we include home, work and religious spaces in the gamut of public space/sphere.

The street protest now is essential. People have to protest as without protesting they are not human beings. But protesting for capital punishment goes against everything woman. Equal representation for women in all aspects of life would be a better protest to die for. Equal representation in the household, in religious institutions, in property, in security, in articulation and implementation would bring about equal space for women in India. Once this comes into force women will make laws for themselves. All that we are doing now is strengthening the status quo.