Our concept of proper and improper violence is flawed because anybody can be victimised and anybody can perpetrate the violence. Does this mean violence is arbitrary? No. Violence is never arbitrary, and it is certainly not random when perpetuated systemically by legal and social laws, and certain types of bodies under certain conditions are violated by certain individuals or groups of people
Especially during my teen age, I often recall over hearing sexist jokes mainly targeting women's bodies that men would crack in the classroom, offices and other public spaces.
This would make me and other women around very uncomfortable. However, I never confronted or questioned those men.
Apart from the power dynamics, there were other reasons, too.
First, I was not able to identify and name the violence they were perpetuating – they did not rape or beat anyone.
I also did not see the impact – how such sexist jokes in course of time set a favourable environment for widespread rape and violence against women.
Like me in those days, a large portion of individuals and victims themselves do not identify different forms of violence perpetrated in both public and private spheres unless they turn into bigger intensity in physical or sexual forms.
Gender-based violence (GBV) in many circumstances is not recognised because we have a specific depiction of GBV.
What GBV looks like in our head is a desolate, wounded woman who has been beaten up by her husband. This image makes up our concept of what proper GBV is.
Along with this, we have some commonly identified forms of gender-based violence in Nepal, such as rape and sexual assaults and other forms of physical violence.
And, anything that does not fit into this spectrum of being visible, physical and high in intensity, we may not identify it.
The same propensity also explains why initial gender-based violence, such as continued verbal abuse is often overlooked and unlikely to be reported unless it takes the form of physical violence.
This tendency makes our definition of gender-based violence very narrow and incomplete.
It then blinds us towards different forms of violence because we believe what is extreme and seen only makes up violence.
This is how patriarchy tries to make much of the gender-based violence invisible in the victim's own eyes.
At the same time, patriarchy also makes sure that there are some groups to shoulder it incase GBV is identified.
We have a certain category of people where we would like to see perpetrators placed in.
A poor, destitute, macho-looking unemployed man in his youth is whom we would like to see as a perpetrator of gender-based violence.
To continue with the patriarchal privileges reserved for men of a certain category, patriarchy needs somebody in society on whom it can dump all the blame.
When perpetrators are powerless people, it is easy for everyone, including the state, to blame and punish them.
Because of this, first, real perpetrators go unidentified, and powerless people suffer.
Second, even if the victims identify the perpetrators, we question the victim's authenticity and say that they are making baseless accusations.
We often presume there is no way a 60-year-old well established high class and caste man can step down so low and rape a girl.
Therefore, it not only convinces us into thinking that certain people can never commit violence but it also stimulates our sympathy towards them even when the guilty is proven.
We also have a clear image of proper and legitimised victims who deserve justice in our patriarchal justice system. It is very much likely that in a GBV case.
A woman victim is advised by her lawyer to dress poorly, sound submissive, sad and cry in the court.
This is the image the court and judge have of a proper victim, and in order to win the case, the lawyer needs to create believing grounds for everyone in the courtroom that she is a victimised woman.
If she shows up properly dressed, vocal and not crying, patriarchy not only gets confused but also threatened.
Similarly, if a sex worker files a complaint against sexual abuse, she is questioned.
A queer person faces a hard time accessing justice. It is because the patriarchal justice system thinks violence on their bodies is justified, and they do not deserve justice because when you have broken the very law of patriarchy – maintaining gender binary, maintaining men's clan – how could you knock the door of the same law for justice? Our concept of proper and improper violence is flawed because anybody can be victimised and anybody can perpetrate the violence.
Does this mean violence is arbitrary? No.
Violence is never arbitrary, and it is certainly not random when perpetuated systemically by legal and social laws, and certain types of bodies under certain conditions are violated by certain individuals or groups of people. Any form of violence to take place requires human bodies, and since human bodies are not neutral, nor is violence.
Human bodies constitute many factors that make up a person's identity – body of a woman, body of a sex worker, body of a queer, body of a man.
These parts of a person's identity also define her/his place in a patriarchal society and then power hierarchy.
The lower the place, higher is the possibility of violence.
On this layer, the conditions such as not confirming to the binary concept of sex, falling into certain caste and class groups expose one to increased possibility of violence.
Only after the curtains of proper and improper violence are pulled down that all forms of gender-based violence will possibly be identified.
We should also breakdown the chain of social and legal conditions that are violence in themselves as well as justifications to perpetuate further violence against vulnerable groups.
Sharma is a student of Gender Studies Programme at University of Iceland
A version of this article appears in the print on November 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.