Gender Violence in Contemporary West Bengal

We would argue that gender violence is more often than not a statement of the dominant male political discourse over and above the 'other' female self, and in this sense it is an exercise in critical negotiations with the androgynous heterogeneity of the masculine psyche.[1] This is the initial position we adopt while discoursing on gender violence irrespective of ethnicity, class, religion or even culture. We cannot afford to discuss sexual violence without addressing a statement of power like penetration that has been offset in the feminist vocabulary with a term of discourse like engulfment.


Much of today's feminist movement began with the ontology of equal rights with the men but even this metaphor could not quite carve out the niche of women as the 'otherness' of men over and above the discrete culture root paradigms of the male ego.


The problem appears much more compounded in the context of India's melting pot of civilization where values, ethos and perceptions have been exposed to different systems of belief and politics of everyday life since time immemorial. So the problem of gender violence in India[2] (and especially in a highly mobilized state like West Bengal[3]) is predicated upon analyses that is much more complicated than the black / white scenario informed by mutually exclusive categories of understanding.     


The Problem


India's National Commission for Women was established in January 1992 as a statutory body under the National Commission for Women Act 1990 (Act No. 20 of 1990 of the Government of India) to review the constitutional and legal safeguards for women, recommend remedial legislative measures, facilitate redress of grievances and advise the Government on all policy matters that affect women.


The NCW has adopted a multi-directional strategy to tackle the problem of gender violence. The Commission works toward spread of legal awareness among women, building as well as developing their capacities to use their rights. It helps women redress their grievances by way of pre-litigation services. Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalats are organized in different parts of the country to expedite the delivery of justice, review the existing provisions of the Constitution and other laws affecting women and recommend necessary amendments in this connection.


The Complaints and Counseling Cell of the Commission processes complaints related to domestic violence, dowry-related torture,[4] desertion, bigamy, rape, refusal to register FIR, cruelty / deprivation by husband, gender discrimination and sexual harassment at work place.[5]


West Bengal: Myth and Reality


There is a general civil societal perception in the state and elsewhere that the Bengali Hindu middle class bhadralokian ethos acts as a deterrent to gender violence. Bengal has always had 'a tradition of unorthodoxy' conjoined by a higher degree of political mobilization than most other regions of the country that are more often not identified with male chauvinistic values whose historical roots may well be traced back to the feudal mores.


Such systems of dominant male belief never really addressed women as the essential other but considered the feminine from within a construction moored in sexist and discriminatory perceptions. The woman is not really an actor but an agenda that caters to requirements like libido, comforts like housekeeping and necessities like male off-springs.


Despite remarkable progress made in the Nineteenth Century by social reformers during the controversial Bengal Renaissance, it appears that 'mainstream' society has only been able to make strides in progress at the inadequate veneer level and the deep text of this most problematic discourse as yet remains effectively interrogated.


Eve teasing is on the rise in Calcutta and Salt Lake City, witch hunting continues unabated in tribal belts of Midnapore and Purulia, incidents of gang rape are reported from South 24 Parganas, dowry deaths happen in Bengal's cities and villages, instigation to suicide and actual bride burning are not entirely unknown, underprivileged girl children are either smuggled out across the international border to Bangladesh from bordering districts like Malda and Murshidabad, domestic violence in Muslim families is a reality while rape in police custody takes place along with infamous incidents like Bantala and Birati.  


Question is


Why has gender violence escalated in Bengal since 1994? Is it due to an expanding consumer culture that tends to influence the manner in which a society reacts to mis-governance, gender violence and conventional values? Is it due to problems of urbanization, unemployment and population explosion that facilitate anomie, indifference / antipathy and erosion of social capital[6] (networks of trust and cooperation within the communitarian[7] discourse) among faceless 'unknown citizens'?


More by :  Dr. Prasenjit Maiti

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