Brief report of the Gender training session held on 4th June 2011 with BMMA activist
Trainer: Irfan Engineer, Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, Mumbai.
In the previous session the participants had shared their experiences with power and identification of different sources of power.
In this session, it was decided to focus on relations between violence and power.
The participants were asked to draw their conclusions on relation between violence and power drawing from their experiences and the stories they had shared in the previous session. After a long discussion, the conclusion that was drawn was that violence, threat of use of violence and capacity of an individual or a body or network of individuals or institutions to sustainably use violence creates fear and forces those who are vulnerable and victims of violence and submit to their hegemony. Violence, or threat of violence and monopoly over violence or impunity with which one can use violence is power that creates hierarchical societies.
Violence was used to obtain confirmation and make the victim behave as desired by one controlling violence. Example of parents using violence on children was also discussed. Some argued that that violence against children was indeed needed in children’s own interest. However, after discussion, the dominant opinion was that violence against children, however less it may be in proportion, it was not desirable.
Different aspects of violence were then discussed and four aspects of violence were identified:
1) Physical causing bodily injury. This included denial of food and basic necessities and confinement within enclosed space
2) Mental : insults to self, insult to third person in whom one is interested or derogatory reference to the community one belonged to or identity one internalized; character assassination, calling names; using abusive words; threat to injure the reputation of a person in whom one may be interested; denial of opportunities of social interactions that restricts mental development
3) Attitudes that are unhealthy towards others and based on generalizations and prejudices about caste, community, gender, or such other characteristics over which the individual concerned has no control
4) Systems and structures that prevent people from reaching their full human potential.
Violence was further categorized as visible and invisible. While physical violence was visible and clearly identified by all, attitudes, systems and structures are rarely identified as violent.
The ABC triangle:
The violent behavior was result of violent attitudes and in the context of violent systems and structures.
The participants then classified the stories that they had shared in the previous session into what was violent behavior and where did it stem from: violent attitudes and violent systems.
They categorized the behavior from violent attitudes such as women are men’s property, widow women are of lose character, that women actually enjoy rape, women are weaker compared to men, women are not capable of taking challenges, when women say no, it actually means yes, etc. etc. As religion shapes attitudes that are violent, they categorized religion too in the category of attitudes
They further categorised traditions, culture, capitalist system, patriarchy, certain laws as the systems and structures as the context which caused violent behavior.
Violence was further discussed within the context of 1) family, 2) community and 3) state.
ABC triangle of each was drawn through collective discussions :
Violent Behaviour within family: in-laws and husbands beating daoughter-in-law/wife, demanding dowry, burning, demanding certain services, mental insults, denial of food, isolation, locking out or locking in, not listening, aborting girl foetus etc.
Violent attitudes in the context of family: wife/daughter-in-law should bring in huge property, women is a burden on family; women position is below her husband’s feet, household chores should be done only by women, women should not speak in loud voice, they should not be much educated or else they will not get good marriage proposals, marriage should be the only or in any case at least the main objective for a girl child, women should not be allowed to work outside and earn income for the family etc.
Context: Patriarchy within family, succession traditions which denies women right to succession in ancestral property, denial of education, propertylessness of women and lack of independent income or control over their income
Violent Behaviour within community: eve teasing, outraging modesty of women by stalking, pinching, aggressiveness, incidents of rape, sexual assaults during riots etc.
Violent attitudes of the community: Men are stronger than women, it is men’s duty to protect women and in order to insult men ro prove their effeminateness, women of the weaker community should be sexually assaulted, that women of the other community in a communal war should be impregnated with the seeds of victorious community, women as tradition bearers and those who don’t follow traditions are of lose character and therefore available to men, women travelling alone beyond ‘reasonable’ hours are of lose character and may be sexually assaulted, non-sensitive towards normal needs of women for example, fewer public toilets for women. Women are only interested in beauty parlours and jewellery, women of lower castes/minorities can be assaulted with impunity, etc. etc.
Context: same as in the family context.
Violent behavior by state: whole discourse of violence and militarization, huge spending on military budgets and discourse on strong nation, using rape as weapon by army personnel in Kashmir, Manipur, Chhattisgarh where security forces are fighting rebels, custodial rapes, abusive language used by police against women who go to complaint, non-registration of or discouraging women from lodging FIRs against sexual assaults on them, attitude of police like husbands are not doing anything wrong/illegal if they beat their wives and consequent non-registration of complaints against wife beating or dowry harassment, use of torture, patriarchal and discriminatory laws against women, discriminating women even in situations where there are no gender unjust laws, e.g. during promotions women are discriminated, sexual harassment at work places, gender unjust and religion based family laws, etc.
Violent attitudes: women should be sexually assaulted to prove that rebels are weak and unable to protect their women and as a method of collective punishment to the community for acts of rebels, only men are capable of wise decisions, women are not capable of working in offices, they are capable only of gossiping and they gossip whole day in govt. offices, women should give all kinds of services to higher officers, privileging traditions, prejudices against minorities and women among bureaucrats,
Violent context: effective powers concentrated in higher officials, non-accountability of bureaucrats to the people or other accountability structures, no effective participation of people in democratic structures of the state, no adequate representation of women in parliament, cabinet and other decision taking structures of governance, no effective Women’s grievance redressal mechanisms, non-inclusion of women in trade union structures.
Conclusion: power and violence created a hierarchy wherein the most powerful would use violence against subjugated and vulnerable sections and they in turn would use violence against those below them in the hierarchy of birth based privileges e.g. The uppercaste, North Indian men of upper classes would subjugate and use violence against men from the lower castes or lower classes and they in turn would subjugate those below them and the women of their community. The way to break this cycle of violence is the express solidarity with all subjugated and victims of violence, understand pain of all sections and to fight for justice for all rather than seek revenge.
Next session would be on seeing a film and discussing it: Film Firaq or Siskiya. Both are film on violence and women.