Fantine Is Still Alive

Fantine is alive not just in our memory, but in reality as well. There are many Fantines. Every person has the potential to become a Fantine. What are we doing to ourselves?

Anne Hathaway’s touching performance of “I dreamed a dream” as Fantine in ‘Les Misérables’ will remain burnt into our hearts through time. It was the raw emotion that dripped from her voice, the pain of her trials that echoed in our ears and the portrayal of her life that singed our hearts. But the silence that lay heavy in the air then, continues now. Its essence has permeated; bred through time and broken the shackles made by the blood and sweat of all those who tried to keep the monster at bay. The shackles had always been feeble anyways. And so, that silence that haunted Fantine still hangs like an albatross around the neck of the society.

We see cases of domestic abuse, molestation, rape and so on fill the pages of the newspaper. It chills us to the bones. For a moment we are skeptical of what remains of humanity in this world. We wonder why our society makes monsters of good men. Well, there are a number of different theories.

Some argue that it is conditional behavior. Those men observe that most of the crimes (at the rate of one molestation every 15 minutes; one crime against women every 3 minutes; one dowry death every 77 minutes; one rape every 29 minutes; one murder every 16 minutes; and one sexual harassment case every 53 minutes) go unpunished, and instead, the victim is blamed. They deem it acceptable in their mind.

But here, we wonder whether they have any discretion, any rational thought to counter it. Well, that thought is perhaps trampled by what they are taught to practice; subtle gender inequalities that over time begin to seem commonplace to both genders. It gradually becomes a part of their culture. It transforms their mindsets into that of the oppressed and the oppressor. For instance, in 2004, the NHFS reported that at least 35% of the women being abused thought that they deserved a brutal beating from their husbands if they neglected the household chores or children, while 51% of such husbands also deemed beating their wives acceptable if they disrespected the in-laws. It is no wonder that according to a UN report, 6 out of 10 men in India commit domestic violence.

Here are some more unsurprising statistics about the attitude towards gender equality in India (published jointly by United Nations World Population Fund (UNFPA) and Washington-based International Center for Research on Women):

  1. 93.6% men believe that a woman should obey her husband
  2. 86.2% men believe that the most important role of a woman is to take care of the home and cook for her family, against 74% women who said the same.
  3. 74.6% men and 65.1% women believed that if a woman does not physically fight back, it is not rape.
  4. 93% men felt that ‘to be a man, you need to be tough’ compared to 85% women.

Look closely at the 4th finding mentioned above. It shows how both the oppressed and the oppressor are in fact oppressed and shackled by the parochialism of a society that unknowingly perpetuates the aforementioned inequalities. The quintessential male is limited to a gender role defined by high aggression, independence and an unemotional countenance. This is one of the main factors for a higher rate of suicide among men than among women, since it prevents men from seeking counselling against depression.  Gender roles indeed play a major part in the increasing incidence of related crimes.

But not all women or men are the quiet martyrs of yesterday. The Fantines of today are trying to break the silence. One out of every four Fantines in India is speaking out against the atrocities. Can you hear their voices?

I can, and I tried to capture the story of one of them in the following video. And while these modern-day Fantines are slightly different from Hathaway’s Fantine, the similarities in their circumstances are heart-rending, as is the fact that they still exist.

I hope that we begin this new year with the hope to bring about a change and make this world a better place to live in.

– Akanksha Gupta

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