There is no acceptable in-between for a woman
Shazneem Ibrahim shared an incident she experienced on 8 April 2020 where she was the victim of a home invasion. She shared her story about how a man climbed into her apartment on the third floor in the dead of the night.
“I felt someone on the bed. The instant I turned, I felt someone grab me. I tried to scream but his hand covered my mouth and no one heard me. I tried to grab him by the neck and squeeze, but he squeezed my neck back. That’s when I realised I had to calm down. So I stopped. Once I stopped, he moved off the bed, and I saw him putting his pants on (I could not see properly since I didn’t have my specs on).
“By the time I grabbed my specs, he was fully dressed. He was dark, thin, and small. The kind of person who seemed like he was used to hard, manual labour. My first instinct was to get him out of the house, away from me. I asked him to leave, but he refused and told me not to shout. He kept on talking, telling me how he had been watching me from the construction site a few roads down. How he had seen me from all the way there and had to come to me,” she said.
Naturally, the authorities were alerted. She stated that her neighbours who had seen the man climb out of her apartment had called the Police; however, what transpired with regard to her interaction with the Police proved to be most disheartening and disappointing.
“He had left footprints on my floor and fingerprints on the balcony railings.” Upon arriving at the scene of crime and examining the evidence, Shazneem was asked to go to the Dehiwala Police Station the next morning to file a complaint.
We spoke to Shazneem about her interaction with the Police, of which she shared that essentially she was made to feel that her complaint was far too trivial and was not going to be taken seriously, using the current pandemic situation as their reasoning.
However, amidst all this, she shared that one of the main things the officer fixated on was the fact that at the time, she was a single woman living alone in an apartment in Colombo. “He kept questioning me as to why I’m a single woman living alone,” she said. “It was clear that he blamed me for what happened and obviously had no intention of addressing the event that occurred.”
She shared what placated his musings on the matter was when she told him that her work was nearby and therefore she lives here due to convenience.
Fellow women aren’t surprised
Is there no other acceptable reason why a woman may live alone? We gathered the experiences of a number of women (Twitter users) who also shared similar interactions with the Police.
Dilini Algama: “…Once I was in a three-wheeler and a man on a motorbike stole my handbag. The policewoman was like ‘are you sure you don’t know the man?’ So, there is that.”
Jeevani Fernando: “Once when I reported a theft of my handbag with phone and tsunami funds from inside my home, Nugegoda cops asked with a wink why the next door man offered his phone to me to call the Police.”
Others expressed their disdain and, unfortunately, the fact that they were not even surprised at the reactions of the Police, citing how Sri Lankan culture has made it so that independent and self-sufficient women are a myth and are not complete without a male in their lives for support or protection.
Rusi Devendra: “The main reason for me to never move back to SL. The patriarchal mindset is real, active, and strong, and I don’t see that changing in the near or slightly distant future. I’m so sorry this happened to you. However, I’m in no way shocked about this situation or how it was handled.”
Another stated: “We are living in a banana republic. We have to look after ourselves. Don’t count on authorities. Fix grills on your windows. Have a CCTV system installed. Get another lady as a lodger in your apartment.”
Can women not rely on authorities meant to protect us all?
The simple fact that many feel the need to protect themselves with no trust in the authorities that are specifically appointed to protect the public is a heavily weighted cause for concern.
We posed this question to University of Colombo Department of Sociology Professor Emeritus Siri Hettige, who shared his thoughts on the matter with regard to its sociocultural context.
Prof. Hettige shared that before we discuss the cultural connotations and prejudices that transpire such reactions from people, we must stress that as citizens of a country, we are all entitled to equal rights; women, regardless of their civil status, are entitled to those rights and so there has been a fundamental injustice on a constitutional level here.
However, looking into why this mindset remains, he shared that it all stems from the systematic oppression of the mind, providing that this cannot be addressed with a clinical approach; it must rather be addressed at the beginning and not at the end.
In our society, a woman’s civil status has become something of grave importance, so much so that many women go to great extents to avoid being single after a certain age, and this stems from the societal pressure put on her, stating that it is somehow unnatural. That stems from the prejudices that are deeply instilled in the minds of the public and their inability to see beyond that helps grow this culture.
While marriage and civil status for women come from a time when women were not afforded the many freedoms and opportunities activism has provided for in the present day, it has made it so that the social and cultural landscape has changed and yet the mindsets of the general public remain the same, much like the many laws we have that are yet to be amended from their colonial text. When once you were unembarrassed in saying bigoted, sexist remarks, now you should feel shame. However, if you do not, then there you must detect a problem.
Prof. Hettige shared that all these pre-existing notions and resulting prejudices can be dispelled, for which the media and education must be behind the change. “We are talking about intellectuals elevating themselves to think beyond prejudices to guide those who consume their words beyond their limitations,” he said. Public discourse is necessary to dispel prejudice.
He said that as an educator and consultant in sociology, there have been many attempts to include the study of sociology in the curriculums in schools; however, this has been denied time and time again, considering this would result in opening up our minds. A thinking society is elevated and harder to deceive, distract, or control.
On a closing note, Prof. Hettige stated that mindsets cannot be changed overnight, but those in charge of influencing minds must first make a change for the better in order to dispel these cultural norms, adding also that on the part of those who raise their voice with regard to injustice, those who hear them must give them strength and elevate them while also being consistent in their support; you cannot yell once in a while to be heard, but must be persistent in your efforts.
PHOTO Sai Maddali/Unsplash