Kerala sets itself unapologetically apart from the rest of the country in more than a few ways. One, a long-standing cosmopolitan tradition, thanks to well-documented flourishing trade ties from time immemorial with Rome, Greece, China, Arabia, Africa, etc., has vaccinated the region against the kind of reflexive cultural insularity that is the norm elsewhere. A snapshot of Kerala society taken a few centuries CE would show a vigorous multiculturalism, with Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, besides the nameless ancient Dravidian religion that predated Hinduism, both living and letting live as well as competing — largely peacefully, if not creatively — for influence.
Two, it is a curious fact that Kerala alone among all the Indian states has more females than males in its population. This, I think, is atypical in any part of the world; the general norm is for males to outnumber females. When viewed against the backdrop of the grim situation in some other parts of the country, where the preference for the male child is so well entrenched that even abortion of the female fetus and infanticide are accepted, this achievement is even more remarkable. It is also a fact that women in Kerala have many laurels to boast of, from the first female judge in the country (Anna Chandy) to the first woman Surgeon General of India (Mary Lukose). There are also outstanding achievements in athletics. However, perhaps most noteworthy today is the banding together of women into the collective called Kudumbashree, which empowers women through self-help income generation activities. The project has proved to be a stupendous success, and government officials come from all over the world to study its functioning.
However, Indian society is conservative and patriarchal, and Kerala is no exception. Women are largely subservient to males in the social sphere. As in all conservative, patriarchal societies, female sexuality is strictly controlled, and so free mixing between the sexes is looked upon with suspicion. The result is a population that is sexually repressed, a repression at odds with the blatant display of sexuality today in cinema, advertisements, television, and the Internet. A spurt in cases of child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, molestation, stalking, rape, etc., is a country-wide trend. Crime against women is, of course, a worldwide phenomenon, but some horrific features of such crimes are seen only in India (or perhaps in other Southeast Asian countries too). One is violence by a jilted "lover" inflicted on a girl who has rejected his suit. The punishment is often death, but sometimes acid is thrown on the girl's face, disfiguring her for life. It is difficult to believe love was present at all when it can morph so quickly into this kind of bestiality. A root cause of this thirst for revenge on the part of the male when he is rejected is the sense of male privilege that is inherent in conservative, patriarchal societies. An excerpt from this article on stalking (Lurking in the Shadows) hits the nail on the head:
Jaishankar feels the patriarchal structures in the value system of certain countries allow stalkers to rationalise their actions. "Even if the west is patriarchal, it is not in the same sense. Here, there is a preconceived notion that women are inferior," he said. "That is fostered from childhood. If the boy in the house wants a sweet, his mother and grandmother make it right away. He is prioritised over his sister, because she will go off to another house, whereas he is the one who will transmit the genes to the next generation. So when he likes a girl, he thinks of her as the sweet-and when she rejects him, his ego cannot handle it. He wants to destroy her by taking her beauty with acid, or her life."
One response of the authorities to the vulnerability of women has been to pass laws that prescribe stringent penalties for crimes against women. In this category would come The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, the expansion of the definition of rape in 2013, the banning of fetal gender determination, etc. Another woman-friendly measure that was recently adopted in some Kerala cities is illustrated in the photo that heads this post: the Pink Patrol. These patrol cars are operated by specially trained women police officers, and their role is to respond to threats to women in public spaces. An example of how this works: Driver Charged for Passing Lewd Comments on Woman.
One thing is certain: nothing fundamental will change as long as the sense of male entitlement instilled in boys in childhood by their families remains intact. It is their upbringing that needs to change.
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