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What is Surveillance Culture?

Surveillance Culture is a systematic form of surveillance on women which is followed as a norm for generations. Women can relate to having “curfews” both at home and hostels, being constantly asked about their whereabouts and much more.

It all started during feudalism when women’s sexuality needed to be controlled in order to have a monogamous marital structure. Men wanted to ensure that the male child belonged to them and any form of polygamy needed to be banned except having multiple wives for men.

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In former times, there were separate paths for women to enter and exit houses so that they could avoid contact with any man. The social conditioning of controlling women’s mobility comes from a history of controlling women’s bodies.

It has a casteist, elitist history as the goal behind controlling women’s mobility was to ensure that nothing consensual happens (a consensual relationship, love, casual sex) between women of higher class and caste and men of lower castes and class. The idea of “purity” and “pollution” in the casteist manner comes out openly in this way.

Emotional Labour For Basic Things

Many women still do not have a choice when it comes to going out and doing something at their will. This includes going to protests, doing jobs of their choices, doing courses of their choices, etc.

“Get home by xyz time”, “Why you are so late??”, “We ask you where you are going only for your safety”, these are commonly heard sentences for women. Most of the women have to “convince” their parents before going out for things like hanging out with friends, going for a job interview, etc. If there is a curfew at their home (which most homes in India have), they need to be home by that time to avoid further convincing and apologizing.

Many women still do not have a choice when it comes to going out and doing something at their will. This includes going to protests, doing jobs of their choices, doing courses of their choices, etc. It was a common occurrence in my college that if a girl’s parents find out that she is going for protests or out with friends or on a date, they threaten her of stopping her education and getting her married.

Marriage is often used as a threat and a cure to fix the issue of girls doing things at their will. Most of the parents think of women like children who need to be constantly taken care of and who can be “brainwashed” by outsiders. They refuse to accept the fact that women are individual beings with rational thinking capable of making their own decisions.

The idea of “Honor”

The notion that the honor of a family or bloodline resides in the women of that particular group is toxic and dehumanizing. The threat of making them stay at home is a huge loss for society. We lose so many potential creative artists, dancers, social workers and even activists due to family pressure of not harming the family “honor”.

The suppression becomes worse when a woman gets married. The In-Laws and Husband replace Parents and start monitoring the lives of women. How they will dress, by what time will they are home becomes topics of great significance.

Often women are told to choose careers that can make them come home soon and help raise a family as it will help them in balancing things at home. For instance, a lot of women are asked to leave their jobs post marriage as people believe they do not need to earn money since their partners are earning enough money. Another instance is the wider acceptance of school teaching as a career for women. It ensures the society that women will mainly interact with other women as most of the teachers are women and it also has working hours in such a way that women will be home by afternoon.

The threat of making them stay at home is a huge loss for society. We lose so many potential creative artists, dancers, social workers and even activists due to family pressure of not harming the family “honor”.

Women from “modern families” are told that they can choose their partners with the only condition that they belong to the same caste and class group. The moment a woman chooses someone from another caste or class, it becomes a matter of serious concern. Things get worse in the case of inter-faith marriages. The notion of family honor is a major reason behind honor killings.

Also read: St Francis College, Hyderabad Takes Body Policing To A New Level

How Surveillance Hinders Growth Of Women

Imagine there is always an unnecessary pressure on your shoulds, like a bag full of bricks that you need to carry wherever you go. The pressure to not disappoint your family as a woman feels the same. It becomes a reason for internalizing moral policing and misogyny. Sometimes women feel proud of getting controlled by their fathers as they are taught that they aren’t controlled but taken care of. This sets up guidelines for women to follow. It also reinforces the notion of an ideal woman, a person who follows whatever is being told to her by society and blames herself for her own abuse.

The constant pressure to be “on time”, the emotional labor required to perform to do basic things like going out stresses women out in the long run. It can also cause mental health issues as women are expected to suppress their anger and any form of dissent.

Women’s choices are influenced by these social factors like how much time will it take to travel to their office, what will be the working hours, is the protest going to be shown in media, is the boyfriend from the same religion? if yes, he is from the same caste? The list never ends. They do not get to make individual decisions, because if they do, they are punished over it in different forms.

Surveillance by the family is often used for victim-blaming after gender-based violence. Often victims are blamed for going out at night, going to clubs, wearing clothes of their choice or for being out of the home in daylight. In the case of lower-class women, they are further blamed and silenced for going out to earn or even enjoy the idea of being out in the public sphere.

Also read: Decoding The Culture Of Moral Policing At School Level

The very idea that women needed to be controlled and be subjected to surveillance is practiced in this way. It takes away the agency of women. They are trained since childhood to follow a trend of submission first to the family then to in-laws which stops them from living lives of their choice.


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