Gender Bender


Gender Bender

Beating negative gender stereotypes has been the social challenge since time immemorial world over. But beating gender based violence including domestic abuse, harassment, exploitation and rape, just recognising a woman’s equal human right, equal legal rights is so daunting even in the present day global village.

The Media … happy to say is more responsive today than it was a decade ago and does not wholly eulogise size zero while in the same breath voicing concern for the underprivileged woman worker who has no time or priority for face creams and beauty salons… This is a primary paradigm shift in inclusive development.

When the Media stops objectifying a woman and showers concern on the underprivileged, rape as a weapon of abuse and exploitation will stop… something we must strive to achieve, at all costs.

We have read a lot on the anatomy of a rapist in the aftermath of the macabre and unpardonable Gang-Rape in New Delhi in 2012. Analysing the psychology of a rapist if at all necessary gives us pointers on why and how the society must not objectify a woman. It cannot be overemphasised however that none can justify a patriarchal attitude that forbids a woman from expressing her sexuality. In the most unfortunate Nirbhaya case of gang rape the young lady was only celebrating her own independence, not her sexuality. To be punished for that cannot be justified by any stretch of the imagination no matter how much anthropologists articulate child rights or the criminal’s past misery. It is further unthinkable that a teenager under the age of eighteen had a criminal mind … obviously his childhood was deprived of an innocent blanket. Mental health professionals aver what made him so perverse and voyeuristic goes to his roots…, it leads one to believe that an abused childhood leads to depraved and violent manifestations in adulthood / sub adult years like in the case of the Delhi Gang rape.

Think about it …. Media objectifies and eulogises a glamourous sexy woman; and the underprivileged over exploited highly abused male psyche resents the exclusive privilege of a woman flaunting her wantonness; it vents his frustration on the most vulnerable point of a woman’s vanity. To prevent this cruelty from ever manifesting again, media has to have its inclusive perspective right, if only to prevent rape again. That is how Media can bend the psychology of an abused violent perpetrator… That is why this channel will be called Gender Bender. This debate and discourse will help us evolve child rights and juvenile law which came into sharp focus in the traumatic aftermath (for the world’s conscience) of the Nirbhaya gang-rape. This tragic incident brought to bear on the society’s psyche that rape is not just a sexual crime but a violent psychological crime and a violation of human rights.

Gender issues span a wide spectrum – from menstrual hygiene and sexual health to abortion rights and birth control, protection from domestic abuse, wage rights, right to education, financial and food security, livelihood security, equal opportunities, maternal mortality, surrogacy rights, adoption rules, access to water and sanitation, female foeticide, protection from dowry harassment and so on. Underscoring the significance of the role of the Media “UN Women forges longer-term partnerships with media outlets at the international, regional and national levels as part of its advocacy campaigns, such as during the Beijing+20 campaign, which worked to increase and raise the profile of women in the news. More than 30 media outlets from around the world joined the Compact, spanning a variety of print, broadcast and online outlets. Thousands of reports, analysis, editorials, columns and feature stories were produced as a result, profiling courageous women and giving voice to those marginalized. – See more at:” according to UN Women (

At a recent national workshop for women journalists one intrepid reporter from a district newspaper in Karnataka shared with us that rural children and their mothers do not know of concepts like good touch and bad touch that young children should be made aware of … such a potent need…

A gender sensitive perspective will fructify in protecting child abuse which will have a multiplier effect on future generations. The society that secures the status of women secures its standing and survival…

It’s a tall order and needs a multi-sectoral approach, meaning collaboration on multiple fronts…


How do we deal with domestic abuse and violence?

By Malini Shankar

Digital Discourse Foundation

Deepa (name changed) is a 44 year old single woman who works as a domestic maid (euphemistically called “Domestic Help” in India) in a very affluent suburb of Bangalore, India – the Silicon Valley of India.

Her job as a domestic help entails washing clothes and dishes in five houses every day, she also has to sweep and mop the floor in these five palatial houses - Bangalore Bungalows. Besides, she delivers milk to all these households every morning come rain or shine; and she makes tea in one office.

Per day her (wo)man hours that she logs in totals up to about seven to eight hours a day starting at 5.45am Monday to Saturday with a weekly off on Sundays. For this she earns a princely sum of Rs. 5000 < US $ 100.

She gets to take home left over food from all these five households. Her state of livelihood (in)security is the very manifestation of deficit in human development. Last few months she is being harassed by her drunken younger brother and is being subjected to violence.

With the pension that her 75 year old frail mother gets they are barely able to pay the house rent; together their total income per month does not exceed Rs. 11500. Apart from left-over food handed out by the people she works for, she hardly ever gets to cook and eat freshly cooked nutritious food.

She is the fifth child of a late pensioner. Her two elder sisters Shanthabai and Vijaylakshmi one elder brother Ramesh died. Her mother is a cancer survivor, Ramesh and Vijaylakshmi both succumbed to cancer.

Her one remaining elder brother is married and is working as a driver in a firm but lives separately and does not contribute to her or her mother’s economic welfare. Deepa has a younger brother who is a drunkard and a gambler; Deepa is also (morally) in charge of taking care of her 19 year old orphaned nephew – the son of late Vijaylakshmi - and her widowed mother, live together in a rented place near a slum in Bangalore.

Till early October 2017 they all lived along with the drunken younger brother together in a rented house with a shared toilet for 8 households. She was eking out a hand to mouth existence with all the dignity she could muster because she and her elder siblings enjoyed a speckless reputation of reliability and trustworthiness. In October 2017 her younger abusive brother made it impossible for her to live peacefully in their rented home.

Her younger brother is a drunkard and gambler and beats her violently every other day to wreck revenge against her as she was bequeathed a small site that her father had gifted his elder daughter (Vijaylakshmi) who was abandoned by her husband when her son was born. After Vijaylakshmi’s death in 2009 their father willed and transferred the ownership of the land by bequeathing the site to Deepa as she is a single unmarried daughter without livelihood security. She has been instructed that she has to will the property to her nephew. This is grudged by her younger brother.

After their elder brother Ramesh died in early August 2017 this younger brother has laid claim to inheritance of the property; while he does not contribute to household expenses or house rent he demands that the property belonging to Deepa is given to him. But that is the only security for Deepa so obviously she is not willing to give it to anyone.

Needless to reiterate they are barely able to make ends meet. After the eldest son died of cancer in early August 2017 the drunkard younger brother started physically assaulting Deepa, her mother and the orphaned nephew.

Her younger brother torments her day in and day out demanding money for his gambling activities. He wants Deepa to give him the land title that was gifted to her by her late father.

A school drop-out she is barely literate. She can sign; but not anything more than that. But she does not know her nephew’s cellphone number, the only cellphone in their household. Nor does she know her home address. That younger drunkard brother does not give his cellphone number to anyone although he too works as a driver.

She is scared of travelling alone by bus or any form of public transport, even if she could afford to. So she walks long distances with worn out footwear. She wears sarees left behind by her elder diseased sister or people in whose houses she works as a maid.

Malnourished and weak from the fibroids she suffers from, she wails about her fate to sympathisers but goes back limp and depressed that none comes forward to help her in her battle of wits against her drunken younger brother.

She cries inconsolably wondering how to find resources to buy medicines for herself and her mother. Some sympathisers of Deepa drafted out a police complaint in her behalf and asked her to sign and submit it as a First Information Report in the Women’s Police Station. She refuses to do so, reasoning that she cannot antagonise her brother, for she is a single woman… who will look after her in her old age she wonders, weeping quietly.

Last week her nephew gently convinced her to sign the complaint because he will go to the police station in her behalf and submit the FIR. She yielded. The nephew (whose name is not being revealed in this article (for the sake of their security) has since submitted a photocopy of the complaint signed by Deepa.

Unable to live with the physical abuse her younger brother unleashed on them, they have moved to a relative’s house in a nearby slum. She begs one of her paymasters every day to call her nephew (whose cellphone number she cannot remember) to come and pick her up after her chores are completed. But the nephew says he cannot afford fuel to pick her up and drop her every day.

Her nephew who was also physically abused by her younger drunken brother lodged a police complaint. Her nephew was so traumatised by his uncle’s emotional, verbal and physical abuse that he abandoned studies and took up a job as a peon in an accountant’s office and has also moved out of his grandmother’s care. He is barely able to eke out a living with his meagre income and modest means.

They seem to be trapped in a vicious cycle unable to redeem herself from her cruel fate. Deepa’s aged frail mother apparently refuses permission to Deepa to lodge a complaint against her youngest son, the drunkard and gambler.

Why is her fate particularly so pathetic? Statistics reveal that all domestic maids in India suffer from emotional verbal and physical abuse. Cash hand-outs from sympathisers will not take her far.

The old saying goes “give a fish to a hungry fisherman and the next day he will come back for more, teach him fishing instead and he will earn his livelihood”. Building resilience in the weak and vulnerable sections of society is the call of the hour and needs sustained engagement of civil society and Media.

Deepa’s is not a one off case. Her story finds replication in every area in every city, and town not just in India but right across South and south East Asia.

Filipino women, Indonesian women Sri Lankan work as domestic maids in the Middle Eastern countries surviving extreme exploitation to remit home precious petro dollars. In some cases Indonesian and Filipino women have even faced execution and have worked in insanitary and inhuman conditions to earn a pay and remit it home.

The caste based division of labour although decreasing in Independent India refuses to die down. Extreme economic hardships exacerbate school drop-out rates despite incentives like Mid-Day Meals.

The poverty levels deny them medical insurance or care, malnourishment is the bane, deficit in water and sanitation leaves them sick with Diahorrea dysentery, inadequate menstrual and personal hygiene, and their health indices are anything but optimistic.

In the circumstances cash economy for unorganised labour tantamounts to no more than cash hand outs and only helps in sustaining poverty rather than engaging in poverty eradication.

Automated gadgets like washing machines dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and mixer grinders only leave the domestic maids’ class destitute and unemployed. Not that these gadgets are ideally suited for tropical climes in South Asia anyway. What is the solution to such chronic complex socio economic challenges? Speaking to Digital Discourse Mrs. Geeta Menon of Stree Jagruthi Samiti in Bangalore said “Long term solutions start with the organising ,mobilisation, education of domestic workers into their own collectives. This voice will push society, government to bring visibility to the workforce. This will force government to register, them as workers, recognise regulate working conditions, and set up mechanisms for social security!!!! The collectives will be their own grievance redressal mechanisms!!! So we need dignity, visibility, inclusion, and recognise the need to change our casteist mindset towards the workers”.

Now that’s a lofty goal but certainly worth striving for. Ms. Menon’s call bespeaks of the challenge in rendering secure domestic workers’ plight through a multi-sectoral approach. It cannot be done too soon.


Tweets n thoughts

Children should be sensitised about the difference between good touch and bad touch.


Press Releases

IWD Hindi Message.pdf

# Me Too ... An ineffective strategy based on opinions and communication tools only

Malini Shankar, Digital Discourse 21.11.18

The # Me too movement or online campaign in India betrays a seething anger from Sisterhood… anger at the male chauvinists who play with the lives of women whom they are intimidated from. All the same the # Me too movement in India rings hallow, lacking credibility, to put it mildly. Two questions remain unanswered:

1. Why didn’t the abused women react immediately to the sexual predators? and

2. Why do they publicise the misdeeds so long after the incidents?

It is possible that the sexual predators tried to pacify the women by promising relationships and when the promised relationships did not fructify the women had no choice but to cry foul. If this indeed were the case, then women are equally responsible in sustaining or failing the relationship as the case maybe. So blaming the man is not entirely fair or feasible in the credibility of the # Me Too campaign.

However what remains a mystery the first question: 1. Why didn’t the abused women react immediately to the sexual predators? If the offensive deeds did rile the women, and unwanted sexual attention does rile women, these powerful, English speaking, pen toting sophisticated urbane talented women could immediately have let the men know in no uncertain terms that their behaviour is not tolerated. One dirty disapproving stare is enough usually. If that does not prevent further sexual predation, a tight slap in front of others or any other kind of retaliatory physical assault would be more empowering than the whining whittling publicity campaign that # Me Too has become.

There are much more serious issues plaguing sisterhood than sexual predation of urbane, talented Twiteratti. Some of them do not mind gyrating in skimpy dresses but object to auditioning in bikinis. This hypocrisy lends the # Me too campaign hallow dishonest, and lacking in credibility.

Naming and shaming the immoral sexual predators does not hold much water in the day and age of the internet when fifteen minutes of fame is not exactly brand marketing for the haute Divas.

Latter day online whining is little more than publicity campaigns, or sadder still a late realisation / maturity of a regret for not having initiated criminal complaints. Women are understandably scared of giving written complaints as their privacy will become public documents. As long as there is stigma attached to a failed woman’s emotions, women will be scared of registering complaints.

That draws attention to the patriarchal contempt to which women are subjected to in police stations. Women staffed police stations have not helped in India, women’s helplines did not help, because patriarchy is all the starker in the women staffed police stations and helplines. If sexually abused women’s complaints are not taken cognisance of in a police station, questions arise about the legal veracity. As a journalist the only thing I can think of in these circumstances is for women to keep a diary or to document the injustices they have suffered in a document on their computers / diaries. Diaries are legally tenable material facts in a court of law. This documentation can help in calming one’s soul and the power of the Pen will hold… in a court of law. It can officially, legally substantiate the #Me Too campaign should someone question legal veracity of sexual predation in the absence of a criminal complaint.

Some of the much more serious issues plaguing sisterhood includes physically challenged women being raped. Hearing and speech impaired women, polio afflicted and spastic girl children and women with neurological disorders are raped; women in orphanages and shelters are brutalised, raped, sodomised; beggar women who are usually homeless rape victims are left with children clinging to their breasts in the hot day amidst traffic snarls. What about the dignity of such women? Who will champion their cause on Twitter? What about hygienic breast feeding for such illegitimate children of the streets?

And then you have the breaking news story of a 100 year old woman being raped by a 20 year old youth. It begs an answer to the questions: Should mental health ambulances patrol India’s roads to prevent sexual crimes? Is ours a morally decrepit society on the verge of a social breakdown? Or is it a psychopath influenced society? To think that Mahatma Gandhi and Gautham Buddha were indeed born in India leaves one gasping in shame.

But to come back to # Me Too, … this movement has certainly aroused the conscience of the depraved indifferent male dominated patriarchal and chauvinist society that India is, unfortunately. It will hopefully draw the attention of the powers that be to make seamless the complaints and concerns of victims of sexual crimes.

There are also some cases of misuse of the anti-dowry laws. Now I am not trying to question acts of sexual predation reported by many women in the recent outburst of the # Me Too movement in India. But like all laws, there are flaws and I know of atleast two cases were the anti-dowry laws were misused by educated urban women in Bangalore. Ask any relationship counsellor and they will readily allude to fraudulent rape charges being slapped against men when their relationships collapse. These are issues which need serious attention… not just to reform society, but to help the next generation relearn new social norms, for younger boys and young men to cope with emancipated self-reliant women of the future generations is the dire need today.

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