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The Ex-Effect: What’s love got to do with it?

It is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour… sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged… and shall hope to lead you to the alter ere long -  Mr Collins to Elizabeth Bennett, after she refuses his proposal of marriage in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice. But men today are as little able to take a no for an answer from women, as they did back then, or even further back in times. On Wednesday, a 23-year-old student of Jawaharlal Nehru University in the national capital brutally attacked a fellow student with a cleaver, before killing himself. While Akash blamed victim Roshni’s ‘changed behaviour’ towards him for his extreme step, Roshni’s brother has stressed that the two were never in a relationship and that it was Akash who was obsessed with his sister.
 
Earlier this month, a youth threw acid at a 22-year-old married woman, after she turned down his proposal. The woman was critically injured, while the youth was later found dead in police lock-up.
Crimes of passion, as such incidences are being termed, help fill the pages of newspapers everyday. As one incident fades from prominence, another victim, another woman brutalised in some part of the city or country, takes her place. A Delhi police estimate released in May this year claimed 97 per cent of the rape accused were known to the victims. In 40 per cent of the cases the accused were either lovers or male friends. And did that familiarity give the man the right to disregard the woman’s wishes and force his desires on her? May be not in the girl’s mind. But definitely in the collective conscience of a society, not just in India perhaps, but globally, that seeks to excuse a man’s inability to hold on to his passions, by blaming it on the woman’s attire or behaviour. (In Dubai recently a woman was sentenced to 16 months in prison for extra-marital sex, after she alleged rape by a colleague. The ruler finally pardoned her after the country drew international criticism for its legal system. There were no reports of the accused being punished.) As Roshni lies battling for her life at the intensive care unit in Safdarjung Hospital, I have wondered why her brother, at such a time, felt it necessary to explain her sister’s relationship with her attacker, or the lack of it. Shouldn’t he have focussed on her recovery instead? As I heard a male friend tease me about the pitfalls of leading a man on, I realised that perhaps it was an effort on the part of the family to clear her name, make the police give the case the seriousness it deserves. I could imagine, fellow students on campus saying in hushed tones, ‘Oh, but she encouraged him, played with his feelings’. I could even imagine cops shaking their heads in disapproval as they dutifully carried on their investigations and say, ‘This is what happens when you have an affair’. (Didn’t a sting operation by a media house in 2012 reveal cops on duty saying women invite attention and rape by wearing revealing clothes?)

I have wondered for even longer about the meaning of this oft-used term ‘crimes of passion’.  What kind of passion are we talking about here? Attraction? Love? Desire? And I have failed to understand how one can hurt and destroy someone one claims to love. Or even lust for. Is sexual fulfilment possible when your partner is scared of you, trying her best to fight you off? But it might satisfy a displaced sense of male sensibility to see a woman lie helpless under you. Yes, I am convinced baser emotions than attraction are at work here. Like the obsession to possess, or to prove a point of male dominion. For centuries women have remained the ravaged battleground over which men have displayed their heroism. From the battles in the Roman or Mughal era, when the winners would pick up women from the defeated state as concubines, to the partition of India or the more recent Gujarat riots, men have sought to repeatedly release their feelings of victory, defeat, political aspirations and religious fanaticism in ravaging a woman.

History talks only of the beauty of Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships, but omits recording how the poor woman must have felt at having men fight for rights over her. I fail to see the romance in men fighting over a woman. Just as I fail to see the romance in a man stalking a woman as an expression of his interest in her.  It gives me the creeps. As much as Sharad Yadav would like me to believe, ‘Everyone has stalked a woman at some point. Stalking is a norm in the country,’ I still find it difficult to be flattered or harbour interest in a man who is stalking me (on the streets or on the pages of a social networking site.)

Films like Raanjhaana, that try to pass off obsessive behaviour as eternal love (actor Dhanush spends much of the film assuring himself that he and the female protagonist Sonam Kapoor are in a relationship, despite Kapoor’s protestations), make me uncomfortable. Just as  young mothers narrating tales of a young, naughty Krishna running off with the clothes of his women friends make me uncomfortable. I wish children would instead be told of how Krishna comes to help Draupadi when an evil Duryodhan tries to disrobe her.

The laws and the courts have become stricter while dealing with crimes against women. A new anti-rape law has come into force and recently the Supreme Court also came forward in support of acid attack victims, curbing over-the-counter sale of acid. But somehow I still don’t feel secure as a woman. I enjoy male attention, just as any normal, healthy woman would. But there is a thin line between romance and possession. And as long as men are not taught to view women as equals in any kind of love or sexual relationship, I am afraid no court anywhere in the world can ever stop a woman from looking apprehensively over her shoulder at a group of men walking behind her on a dark lane.

Poulomi Banerjee is senior assistant editor at Millennium Post
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