By SAMHITA BAROOAH
November 25 to December 10, 2015 is a period significant to commemorate the aberrations meted out on women and girls in all possible contexts which does not regard their existence as human beings.
In the recent years women have progressed much ahead with education, skills, confidence and constant cooperation from various quarters. But every struggle for survival and substantive equality has a backdrop of despair and disorientation. We sometimes notice the laurels, recognition and positionality of women who could survive the pressures of exploitation but are we aware of our own actions and words which are limiting the possibilities of women. Every time we feel passionate about women’s achievements within personal and public space, we are pushed back behind closed strictures when there is violation of bodily integrity and multiplicity of violent situations carved for women.
During the last few months I have been positioned in a rural setting in North East India. My experiences with women in the rural context have been quite a revelation. Vulnerabilities of rural tribal women are manifold within the layered intersections of class, clan, marital status, age, literacy, religious denomination, livelihoods, family norms and customary practices. As women are encouraged to have access to public spaces and involve in community, state, national levels of decision making their private spaces are becoming volatile and restricted. It seems to be a myth that economic security and political and social representation of women leads to empowerment of women at all levels.
Women are leading a life of duality. Within homes they are compelled to accept the patriarchal norms and outside homes they are expected to address inequality of gender norms. Under such circumstances women face dual jeopardy of being left without any support services and with a huge burden of managing limited personal resources. Women are taking car and house building loans in rural Nagaland but hardly are they getting access to agricultural term loans, educational loans or even insuring their futures with monetary security. Rural women have enormous household chores, drudgery in farms and construction sites and sole responsibility of care giving and nurturing. Women take pride and earn cultural respect in such practices in the rural context but their socio political positions are not at all equal. They are ridiculed and adjudged as docile objects whose restricted roles are chalked out through religious, social cultural and customary norms and oral traditions. Women are regarded within rural households either through their labour or through their monetary contributions which they make to sustain their families.
Rural women are hardly individualistic, their survival and identities are intricately woven into their clan, tribe, family, kinship and community in such complex ways that it is impossible to distinguish and differentiate the diverse problems faced by such women within their individual context. The position, prestige and power dynamics for a rural single woman in her 60s is very different from a rural married woman in her 20s. Resilience of rural women with the external environment, patriarchal structures and subdued identities of their self is so deep rooted that they have ended up becoming pseudo custodians of culture, tribal identity, peacekeepers and negotiators for conflicting authorities.
Rural women are always hard pressed for mobility, access and associations in public, political and socio economic affairs. Lack of support services, social security measures and avenues for skill enhancement have put rural women under multiple vulnerabilities. Sometimes violent domestic behaviour seems to be the accepted norm for rural women and their adaptive behaviour is much more valued than their practices of resistance during such violent incidents. Rural women’s acceptance of societal strictures and unequal relations has the layers of unwanted compulsions, which cannot be equated with urban women.
Vulnerabilities of migrant non tribal women are much higher than native tribal women whether they have similar or completely opposite educational and economic backgrounds. In the rural context women have such deep rooted vulnerabilities in their lifecycle stages that human imagination cannot comprehend such dimensions. As young girls, incidents of incest and child abuse soar very high, as adolescents girls face harassment, sexual assaults and restricted reproductive rights. As adult women in rural contexts have only reproductive roles which are abusive and forced many a times on the women. Elderly women again have inadequate living conditions and rough terrain which excludes them from most of the public and community institutions.
Rurality is a complex perspective which immobilises women in a very strategic way. Her identity becomes symbolic to the rurality context but that does not necessarily identify with her specific rural needs and rights. Hence the campaign protesting violence against women, in fact, mocks the rural women in a very critical way as violent practices are routine to them and they cannot protest against them to maintain peace and stability outside their rural context.