Seemingly unsolvable and intricate societal dilemmas have a specific name in the business world; they’re called “wicked” problems. Poverty, food insecurity, war, racism and religious prejudice — the list of wicked problems goes on and on, characteristically intangible and unending. The subjugation of women is one of them.
The notorious gang rape of a 23 year-old student on a bus in New Delhi, India certainly caught the world’s attention. The four men (Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh Singh) responsible for the heinous crime recently received the death sentence by way of hanging.
Ram Singh, the man accused of driving the bus, might have received the same sentence if he was alive today. His body was found hanging in his jail cell last March. The youngest perpetrator (who was 17 years old when committing the crime) was sentenced to three years in a juvenile correction facility.
The lives of these men, for better or worse, will end very soon. Many protesters and women’s rights advocates are satisfied with the punishment. But the very absence of these men creates another critical dilemma that influences the lives of the women they leave behind.
Akshay Kumar Singh will leave behind his wife, Punita Devi, and their sickly two year-old son.
Twenty-something Devi is between a rock and a hard place. As a woman living in a traditional village in India, she is forbidden to leave the house without a male relative and is discouraged by her family and in-laws to find a job.
In fact, Devi anticipates being shunned by her husband’s parents since being a widow is considered unbecoming and shameful. In the eyes of hard-lined traditionalists, a woman without a husband is worse than having a convicted rapist for a husband.
Without an influx of income or the skills and competencies to get a job (since Devi was pulled out of school in sixth grade), there is very little Devi can do to change her situation. Her parents do not have the money or resources to take her in; their main concern is to get their son, Devi’s brother, an education since he is the only male in a family of four daughters.
Despite India’s efforts to protect women by discouraging prejudice and violence, old-time customs prevail in most of India’s rural areas. No law can ever truly make a difference until village elders and leaders promote a more equality-based line of thinking. More importantly, however, it is vital to support women like Punita Devi, who expressed sincere confusion upon finding out that the 23 year-old rape victim was outside of the home without a husband. Devi had trouble understanding how a girl could commit such a serious social faux pas.
I cannot help but wonder if Ms. Devi is fully aware that her dire circumstances are caused by the beliefs and traditions she has lived by for most of her life. But then again, would it really matter if she believed in a woman’s right to work and live independently, given the fact that she lives in a traditional male-centric environment?
One would hope that she could just pack up and leave the village, relocating to a more women-friendly community. But such a task is unrealistic, given her very limited reading abilities and job skills. So what is she to do next? How can she solve her “wicked” problem?