TW: This article discusses the Maharashtra murder case and mentions abuse, gender-based violence and rape.
The women in our country either die by female foeticide, rape, assault, domestic abuse or inhuman labour even during incessant periods of childbearing and childbirth. Lack of education, especially sex education, hygiene, poverty and age-old belief systems and traditions are of no help either; they worsen the conditions of women trying to survive within the patriarchal structures of society. Recently, as stated in one Times Now article, news came up about a 30-year-old man in Maharashtra having killed his 12-year-old sister after finding blood on her, mistaking menstruation blood for evidence of sexual relationships.
Fearing that his sister is indulging in intercourse with men, he “got angry and he burnt her with tongs on the mouth, the back and other parts of her body”. The poor child was already dead by the time she was taken to the hospital. Such is the ignorance, the lack of respect and understanding of the functioning of women’s bodies coupled with deep-rooted misogyny in the minds of entitled men that lead to these horrifying instances of violence perpetrated upon women.
In the Maharashtra murder case, a 12-year-old child “had her menarche, the beginning of menstruation” but owing to a gross lack of knowledge concerning the mechanics of menstruation, she was murdered in cold blood by her own brother. Sex Education in India is still a dream. Ideas of practising safe sex, the menstruation process, and questions regarding gender and sexuality are never ever talked about openly in Indian households. It’s all a big hush-hush matter, so scandalous apparently that it can only ever be mentioned in passing and that too in whispers.
Violence on women’s bodies is rampant but these topics are discussed in low taste and unlike what the “dignified” traditional social structure calls for. The irony of this is not lost, the problem lies in this very hypocrisy. All such circumstances lead to women growing up in households with men, with little to no idea of how their bodies work. When they grow up all they are asked to do is to keep quiet about their bodies, their pain, and their desires.
Not being allowed to talk about menstruation, the stigma and shame and disgust surrounding it is symptomatic of the larger subjugation women face in all walks of their lives.
This young girl lived with her brother and sister-in-law. Even the sister-in-law failed at explaining to her raged murderer of a husband that his sister might be menstruating. These terrible conditions of existence for women are consequences of patriarchal societies and a lack of access to proper education.
Aside from a lack of knowledge, the Maharashtra murder case is also an extreme example of violence done on women’s bodies owing to ingrained misogyny in the minds of people, men and women. Conceptions of the virginity of women are equally convoluted. Women should be “pure” before marriage, the man’s ‘virginity’ is not in question, but women should not indulge in intercourse before marriage. That makes them “impure”, a “whore” and unsuitable for civil society.
Having a non-virgin unmarried woman in the household, according to the brother, could have meant inviting shame and dishonour for his family and “position” in society. For people who do not even understand something as inherent and biological as menstruation, ideas of consent, and rape possibly did not matter. This is what happens to most rape victims.
Women are made to feel ashamed and vilified for something that has been done to them. Instead of comfort, and encouragement, rape victims are made to feel isolated and ostracised by even their own family members. All of this boils down to the fact of stigma surrounding women’s sexualities. In the Maharashtra murder case, the brother was not concerned whether the sister had been raped or not, he was only sure that she was bleeding which means she is no longer a virgin (another age-old patriarchal belief of the hymen breaking “only” upon intercourse) and hence unfit for his house and society. Her horrifically cruel brother murdered her sadistically and symbolically, she was burnt with tongs on all different parts of her body. Almost as if he wanted to make a show of how women should be murdered if they transgress patriarchal rules and ideas.
Virginal purity is an age-old myth that has been repeatedly used over the years to categorise women as either angels or whores. Women are repeatedly made to face violence over a million little issues. If they don’t bleed, they are infertile and cannot bear children and hence they are considered ‘abnormal’. If they haven’t bled yet, they must be virgins and hence pure. If they do bleed, they are good for childbearing and can only be treated as breedable beings, but also if they bleed they are impure creatures not worthy of living.
Women are treated as everything else but as human beings worthy of equal rights and respect. Without open discussion on matters such as these violent instances would continue. Women would continue to suffer violence. Shame would corner them further and stop them from opening up and fighting back against patriarchal notions of how their lives should be. Sex Education should be made accessible to all to eradicate extreme ignorance and break down shame and regressive ways of existence. Women should know about their bodies and so should men; instead of being kept forever in the dark unknown world of shackles, people need to be freed from such ignorance.