The gang-rape of a 23 year old student in Delhi has led to widespread protests and outrage in the sub-continent over the last week. Much is being written and said about India’s abysmal record of failing to deal with violent crimes against women, both inside the country and out. But once this particular news story dissolves with the passing of time, I doubt that there will be significant changes for the better as few commentators, let alone politicians, seem to have identified that the root cause of these incidents is our overall attitude towards women.
On the face of it, the incidents of violent crime against women that have made headline news in India this past week are further insights to a land that is largely lawless unless you have money, connections or influence. But that could be said of any of the criminal activity that occurs on any such day in much of the territory in South Asia. What makes violent crime against women stand out to me is that it appears to be a widespread cultural phenomenon in South Asia. Men seeking to exert their control and/or dominance over a woman act out physically to assert their authority or to ‘correct’ what they perceive to be errant behaviour in a woman. Living thousands of miles away in the West, there will be many men of South Asian descent who will echo the cries of protest at this time, but who won’t see that at its base value, they too hold many of the same traits as those who commit such a heinous crime.
The role of women in Punjabi and Sikh circles deserves better-quality public discussion. That is what I intend to provoke within our own work at Naujawani.com through writing this article. I am in no way an authority on this issue, but purely from my own experiences and contemplation, I know that we as a people are not practising that which was espoused by Guru Nanak, or so heroically exemplified by his adherents in the 18th century. Where once Sikh men saved women of all backgrounds and faiths from the invading Afghan kingdom, returned them to their homes and then took them as their wife if they were rejected by their families, today we routinely utter profanities that seek to insult another man’s daughter, sister or mother.
However it is not just in the obvious places that our attitudes towards women are unhealthy. I find it abhorrent when young Sikh and Punjabi men see fit to speak about how women should dress or behave, yet it seems to keep lots of them entertained for hours on end – just take a look at an online discussion forum for recent posts about threading, wearing a keski or ‘covering up’. Is it any of my business how a woman chooses to present herself? I don’t think it is, at least no more than it is in my interests as to how young men are appearing in public.
The most embarrassing moments where I realise that we have a massive problem with how we treat women is when Sikh or Punjabi organisations gather for a meeting; there are always few women present. It is not that we must have women there for the sake of it of course; I am not suggesting that at all. It is unfortunate too that calls for more women to participate are often made by those looking for opportunities to socialise with members of the opposite sex for their own agenda. My concern is that we are not creating an environment within our organisations where women feel comfortable being involved and as a Sikh that is most troubling.
It is because I am a Sikh and I want to learn more and progress that I wanted to raise this topic following the outcries in Delhi. Invariably people there will move on, get on with their lives and we will remain as we were. I don’t believe that should be allowed to happen and I want to bring this discussion to our audience over the coming year. That needs you. Primarily we need to discuss what our attitude towards women is from both perspectives; we need to identify what can be done to resolve those problems; and we can then start to change the way we think and behave towards and around women. I’d welcome any comments, suggestions or ideas that our audience at Naujawani.com might have to help make this a reality.