As we walk into 2020, one would expect things to have changed for women for the better. However, sadly things are far from being changed. Since time immemorial, women have been breaking the glass ceiling and redefining themselves for the world to watch. While the recent anti-CAA protests show us how women are leading at the forefront even there, it still remains a challenge that the violence against them is yet to be curbed. Every time a rape or sexual assault happens in India, there is anger across the nation, albeit short-lived. The anger dies a slow death a few days/weeks after the incident when our attention gets diverted to another crime. Despite every effort from all ends the question still remains: Why are we unable to do something substantial to decrease the number of crimes against women? The Silence and the Storm by Kalpana Sharma attempts to decode this mystery for us.
The Silence and the Storm
Author: Kalpana Sharma
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
About the book
Bringing together her experiences as a journalist, Kalpana Sharma weaves a poignant narrative to paint the harsh reality of violence against women in India tracing the journey from 1985 to 2018. As stated by her in the introduction,
‘The book is based on my personal experiences as a journalist addressing gender. It is not an academic exercise. Not does it aim to be an omnibus on the history of Indian women’s movement. Through what I have observed, commented on and reported, I am putting forth the argument that not much has changed up these thirty years and that the cord of violence that binds women’s history in contemporary India seems almost indestructible.’
About the Author
Having written on issues of gender for over three decades, Kalpana Sharma delves a bit further on this subject with this book. Her argument is very simple. Violence against women is not restricted to sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and child sexual abuse. It goes beyond the physical aspect. It is known that in case of wars, women bear the ‘collateral damage’. Furthermore, poor women are denied proper healthcare and livelihood opportunities merely basis their gender or caste.
‘Violence against women is a theme that persists and is virtually unchanging. The societal structures that perpetuate and even justify this violence have remained the same over the decades. Laws have been reformed. But mindsets have not,’ she writes.
Tracing the journey from early 80s when an incidence of the rape of an Adivasi girl in custody by two policemen had sparked anger in Maharashtra to the recent Kathua incident of 2018, The Silence and the Storm is a heart-wrenching read. One can always argue that as citizens of the country we are already aware about these happenings. However, it is the magnitude of the issues that is overwhelming.
Backed with solid research, the book aims to decipher the deep-rooted mindsets in our society that impact the very perception of a women along with their role in our society. Sharma quotes statistics from research and concludes her theories with proper details. Her language is lucid, which ensures the points raised are not only understood but also thought upon further.
Interestingly, Sharma highlights how crime against women do not just happen outside the safe confines of their houses. Women are unsafe even in their houses. Cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse are equally prevalent as are rape, sexual harassment at workplace and molestation. Kalpana pens, ‘As I have argued in this book, the violence that needs to be addressed is what women face in their homes. Until we deal with the patriarchal structure that allows for male entitlement, we will not have touched the root case of such brutality.‘
Backed with solid research, The Silence And The Storm aims to decipher the deep-rooted mindsets in our society that impact the very perception of a women along with their role in our society. Sharma quotes statistics from research and concludes her theories with proper details. Her language is lucid, which ensures the points raised are not only understood but also thought upon further.
Old, Not Gold
Sharma picks up cases from not very long ago and meticulously discusses their startling facts, dissecting them for the reader to understand the gravity of the situation. Caste, as she says, remains the invisible thread that plays an important role in crimes against women. The 2006 case of Priyanka Bhotmange, a 17-year-old Dalit from Maharashtra who was a topper is one that should never be forgotten. The fact that she was stripped naked, beaten and raped before being killed for testifying against people from a dominant community in their village speaks volumes about how Dalit women face injustice twice over. First for being a woman and second for being a Dalit.
Sexual crimes against women are closely connected to the divisive politics dominating our society. The #MeToo campaign that rocked the nation in 2018 was barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual harassment women face on a day to day basis.
Sharma picks up cases from not very long ago and meticulously discusses their startling facts, dissecting them for the reader to understand the gravity of the situation. Caste, as she says, remains the invisible thread that plays an important role in crimes against women.
‘Sexual harassment has been around for a while. It did not suddenly surface because of the #MeToo campaign. In the past it was a crime without a name. People of my generation also experienced it. But even if we felt uncomfortable, we did not know how to define what it was. When you are not physically abused and yet you feel violated by a touch, a gesture, something said, something hinted, a look, an attitude- how do you respond?’
From 1970s to 2006 to the recent case in Hyderabad in 2019, it is alarming to note how little has changed for women in this country. Today women are running businesses from homes and contributing to the economy consistently. In spite of this, their recognition is a far-fetched dream. Even during some of the worst political tragedies of the nation like riots, it was observed that women undergoing socio-economic losses were barely accounted for.
Not to forget the gross neglect women face when it comes to their health, both physical and mental due to lack of awareness and more importantly, lack of concern. Since childhood, women are taught to consider themselves secondary to everybody, especially the men folk of the family, leading to a situation where they barely pay attention to their health. Unbeknownst to many, the nature of crimes against women might vary depending on the economic strata of the society they belong to but the common thread between all of them is that they are all victims in some form or other of patriarchy. The Silence And The Storm is an eye opener for everyone who believes only women belonging to a certain class of the society undergo hardships.
Action and Reaction
Every time a crime has shook the nation’s conscience, people have come out on streets seeking action on it. Candle light marches, protests and hunger strikes have taken place to show the anger. Still, it must be noted how every time that happened there were certain changes in the law but no changes when it came to implementation and delivering justice. In a nation, where certain people believe that rapes happen because ‘women ask for it’, it is imperative that the government takes some concrete steps towards the rising crime against women rather than just making some changes in the law to pacify the anger of people.
Taking excerpts from books like Why Loiter? , The Violence of Development, The Gift of a Daughter and other such important voices, Sharma drives home her point of having a world which doesn’t make women feel threatened all the time. In a scene from Why Loiter?, the authors try to re-imagine all street corners and parks crowded with women. Just the mere possibility of it becoming a reality is enough to make one smile and sigh in relief.
We might be working on becoming a trillion-dollar economy, however, women’s safety as an aspect should not be ignored. Women contribute to the economy equally and deserve a life free from worry. Be it a midnight cab ride or wearing a dress, women should not have to think twice before making choices. Their lives should not be defined by the adjustments they make for having been born in a particular gender, caste or creed.
Kalpana Sharma’s The Silence and The Storm is an important addition to the many voices that talk about the challenges faced by women in our country. It must be read to understand the issues we are currently grappling with as a nation and act upon it.
Featured Image Source: Indian Women Blog