By Chimat Ladol Leh, Jan 18, 2014
Leh :
Cases of sexual violence dominate national media these days, the latest being the case of Tarun Tejpal. The editorial in The Hindu by Vaishna Roy on the stigma that the complainant of sexual abuse undergoes made me think about such stigma in society in Ladakh. But before going into it, I always realise the need of making readers’ understanding clear on Patriarchy.

Bringing together the definition of Sylvia Weelby (1990) and Chris Weedon (1999), patriarchy simply can be understood as a system in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women. A system in which female is subsumed under male, though it does not necessarily mean that no woman has power. Such a system exists even in Ladakh whether we like it or not. In fact, the forces that tie and oppress women in Ladakh’s society are so meshed and subsumed in our culture and social norms that many a times we end up flaunting conditions of women as equal to men. But here we need to stop and take a deep look into the forces existing in our society, in our mindset, in our day to day life. An answer to a question that we need look wherever we go, whatever we do in Ladakh is, “Is female the second sex?” Regretfully the answer is yes but the search for the answer will make us sensitive of different forces that subjugate women.

Stalking, teasing, understanding of woman as a sexual object all constitute patriarchal mindset which can often be found among many in Ladakh. Rape, Sexual abuse, molestation, eve teasing, domestic violence are not new to Ladakh. Unfortunately, the only thing we do after hearing such an incident is to restrict spaces women have. I still remember “Khalatse Gang Rape” when I was a school going kid, though very young to understand patriarchal forces acting on me, but old enough to feel the terror and fear that incident brought in me. Countless such crimes have happened after that. The fear and terror sex crimes inflict apart from the terror and trauma of physical violence is the stigma that is attached to it and which only the victim has to bear. The fear of societal isolation and disgrace a victim undergo adds to her pain and her ability to recover from the trauma. Such has become the nature of sex crimes that terror is inflicted on every woman in the society after every such incident.

Ladakh as a transitional society still holds values that have not been challenged but have been accepted unquestioned. In such a society, therefore, the major task is identifying patriarchal forces that discipline women in a particular way. Because such forces are so embedded and intertwined with various other forces in a transitional society that their identification becomes difficult. Also, resistance because much more difficult as these norms have been governing our lifestyles for years. The idealisation of women is one patriarchal norm prevalent in such societies that subvert women’s’ selfhood. The values which see a woman as family’s dignity, her character as her only wealth, her obedience as her identity, her household work as her capability, her subservient attitude as her morality reflects how an image of what a woman should be has been created. Victim of sexual abuse then does not fit into the image of an “ideal woman” in such societies. She is named, blamed and shamed in the society often forgetting the fact that it is her on whom the crime has been committed and is not the one who committed it.

It is the stigma attached to such crimes especially in a transitional society like Ladakh that discourages woman to report such crimes. Even the cases of domestic violence are hardly reported. The reported cases either go unaddressed or unjustified. The case of Lobzang Dolma is one such, which still awaits justice. It is unfortunate that organisations working solely for women’s rights do not exist in Ladakh. Gender discourses are still not a part of the school curriculum. Various other deficiencies exist on part of the governing bodies that still need to be addressed.

Any crime of sexual violence is a crime against womanhood.  It is important for us to realise the need to stop such incident or punish the perpetrators not only to give justice to the victim but also to stop the terror and fear that is inflicted on all women in the society. This can happen not only by untangling patriarchal forces existing in Ladakh but also by resisting and defeating it by both men and women equally on every step of life. The solution is not shrinking spaces for women but challenging norms, stigmas that subjugate women and this can happen when it’s realised that female is not the second but the equal sex.

The writer is a Research Scholar in School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi.