Monday, December 3, 2012

Gagging the right to digital communication for women


On 25th November this year, I had a wonderful opportunity to be a part of ongoing global campaign against violence against women. I was invited by the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Sriperumbudur  for a one day seminar to give lecture on online violence. Meeting with stalwart feminist advocates, scholars and Ms. Latika Sharan, ex-director general of Police, Chennai not only made me enriched in understanding the present scenario, it boosted my confidence in my own work too. I presented my paper, pointing out some crucial trends of on-line victimisation of women with a special note  that women’s right to speech is many often been gagged even in the cyber space. The Palghar girls were prime examples (even though this could have happened to men also, I specifically noted how women victims can be exposed to physical violence due to this). But this news which pulled up huge debate over section 66A of the Information Technology Act, could not keep me concentrated over the issue for a long time when I further witnessed two other unique cases of gagging right to communication of women. First it was a community panchayat in Rajasthan which declared a ban on women using mobile phones in early November this year(see No mobiles for girls: Rajasthan panchayat) , and then  a village panchayat in Bihar followed the same path (See Patna village bans women from using mobiles) in prohibiting women from using mobile phones. The reason for both these decisions were apparently the same: making the women turn more ‘docile’,  stopping the young girls from making any contact with people other than those their fathers or other family heads would choose and prohibiting ‘eloping’ for the sake of love. The later dictate also imposed financial penalties on women who would be found doing this ‘crime’.  In both the news reports majority of the villagers have reported said that this is a good dictate.
          Are you surprised? Well, I am not.  Note that both these villages do not fall in the wealthy and progressive village status. The concept of women freedom may sound like a never heard before term in such societies and freedom of life and liberty, especially marriage as per one’s own choice may look like a distant dream for young boys and girls here. These two incidents can be a reflection of the mindset of majority of Indian urban and semi rural patriarchal societies. There are  many men and men-dominated older women who feel that letting the girl get connected to the world would obviously bring unwanted problems. Agreed,  that lack of education and awareness is a huge reason for such gagging of speech in these societies.  But do look into your own social strata. One can find this problem in a more refined way in almost every family irrespective of urban or rural society. In many economically developed  families women are regularly blamed for giving more time to internet, to spend some time in chatting through mobile phones. Surprisingly when men do the same, it is often considered as their right to ‘catch up with friends’, ‘increasing networks for works’ and ‘relax after a hard day’s work’. In many families women are cynically accepted to do all these when men feel that their needs are satisfied for the day. Exceptions do exist. But this is what the real picture is. Prohibiting women from getting in touch with the digital communication technology has become a new trend to gag their rights not only to speech, but to equality and work.
Shame on men who hate to see women digitally connected to the world.
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 , 3rd December,2012, published in