Women’s bodies have been objects of patriarchal control for millennia. Objectifying, ridiculing and demeaning women on account of their bodily attributes has been an established practice in cultures spread over different continents and time.
The recent video from Manipur showing two women being paraded naked and harassed in front of mute spectators and a raging mob has shaken most viewers to the core. The acts being committed in that viral video give us reason to pause and wonder what kind of mentality first thinks of, then executes and then gloats over such condemnable treatment of women. Did the perpetrators not have any respect for women from an early age? What kind of life experiences pushed them into committing such acts? Do they have zero respect and concern for the women in their own lives — mothers, sisters, daughters, friends?
The question that needs asking is why did the accompanying mob do nothing to prevent first the disrobing and the subsequent parading naked of these hapless women. Without getting embroiled in which community is to blame and which community the two women belong to, we need to conduct deep introspection as to the kind of society we have turned into.
As history is witness, the brunt of conflict and violence is borne by the least empowered sections in our milieu — from children to women and by extension — nature. All wars begin due to a debatable, misplaced sense of grievance that then boils over into military action and violent insurrection. The most vulnerable members of society suffer the worst consequences. The perpetrators and the ones that actually fuelled and then participated in the conflict with gusto are least likely to be held accountable for their actions and to face any kind of justice.
As we all know, mob mentality works in heinous ways and one reason why mobs acquire such fierce character during conflicts is the knowledge that they will almost certainly escape accountability. So, armed with anger, disdain, violence and the knowledge of invincibility, they rage and run riot.
We saw it in Godhra in 2002, we are seeing it in Manipur in 2023. It seems hardly anything has changed in the past 22 years. The only major difference being the speed at which the video of the barbaric incident has gone viral. News channels and social media have only led to the amplification of voices crying foul on both sides of the ethnic divide in Manipur. But even someone completely naive will have understood that the only ones really suffering are the two women whose dignity, self-respect and bodily agency have been violated so completely and so egregiously.
This incident and the reactions to it hearken back to the dark days of the Middle Ages, when it was common practice to rape, murder, dismember women from the ‘other side’ and then make tobacco pouches out of their breasts. Yes, you read that right. From the apparent ‘disgust’ associated with menstruation and the unending puerile ‘jokes’ about the orifices in a woman’s body and what can be done to them; from Nirbhaya and the sexual savagery she suffered before succumbing to her physical wounds and psychological contusions — women across the world and especially in India, have gone through unspeakable hardship primarily on account of their gender and the horrific manner in which their bodies have been viewed and treated, mostly by men, but by a minor section of women as well.
Unless we face the fact that the attitude we harbour towards women and women’s physiology is diseased and highly toxic, which then degenerates from initially asinine jokes and mockery into egregious attitudes and criminal behaviour — the incidents like the one in Manipur will unfortunately keep recurring. May be not in the same manner but with the same casually-violent and appalling undercurrent of misogyny and the same conviction that however appalling their acts, they might never be called to answer for them.