Today, a month elapses since the ghastly gang rape-murder of yet another young woman, a veterinarian doctor in Hyderabad, which shook the collective conscience of the nation and led to widespread outrage and anguish. The four suspects were shot down by the police in an encounter, an act celebrated by politicians and several citizens. However, the important concern of bringing about safe environments for our women still remains unaddressed.
We remain clueless about how to comprehensively deal with the issue even as our daughters continue to live with the spectre of sexual violence and death at every step in their lives. Surely, there is something seriously wrong with our society and our governance system.
Today more and more girls go out of homes for education or work or recreation. More and more women, many of whom are sole bread winners for their families, commute or travel day and night. This is indeed progress. But our society does not seem to be ready for such progress. Women venturing out alone become easy targets of sexual violence.
It seems our men are just not able to cope with the presence of unaccompanied women on streets. The age-old mindsets of male privilege and misogyny have remained unchanged, leading to heinous crimes. It speaks volumes about the kind of development paradigms we have adopted that certain crucial aspects of development are overlooked.
Several MPs voiced concern over the Hyderabad rape in Parliament. It is shocking that they could not think beyond death penalty. It is hardly surprising that they thought justice was served when the accused were gunned down by the police. Their outrage remains episodic; we witnessed it earlier in 2012.
Ending sexual violence is not a political priority of the government or the opposition. The unspent Nirbhaya fund is one example. The One Stop centres scheme was set up in 2013-14 following the brutal rape and murder in Delhi in 2012. Of the accumulated Rs 3,600 crore till date, Rs 3,409 crore is unused. As per NCRB data there were 1,33,813 pending rape cases in various courts in 2016. Clearly, beti bachao, beti padhao remains a scheme on paper. All the latest Rafale jets we buy cannot ensure safety on the streets for our daughters!
Women’s safety and security calls for implementation of laws and policies, effective policing, proactive judiciary and media. Most importantly, it calls for a paradigm shift in mindsets and attitudes towards women. This cannot happen unless there is a collective consciousness about women’s equality. We must undertake massive public awareness in educational institutions, in homes, in communities in cities and rural places. We need to educate men and women in the police, administration, courts, government and various walks of life. This has to be backed by effective policing, implementation of laws and speedy justice.
I may sound alarmist but there is a crisis in our society. It seems the sight of a lone woman causes upheaval in the minds of male onlookers. Any young woman in Delhi travelling by public transport can tell you how she has learnt to live with ogling, groping, vulgar comments and most of all, fear of sexual assault. The Hyderabad incident highlights that other cities are not very different.
Effective implementation of laws cannot take place without sensitisation and empathy. We are a society where rapes in police stations are not unheard of. This happens because large numbers of our men think that a woman found alone can be raped. Many men think that they will continue to live “respectable” lives after molesting a woman. They are emboldened by examples of rapists being elected as MLAs and MPs.
Primarily, it is the government’s responsibility to provide safety and security for women. Additionally, we need to reflect as a society about how we look at violence per se. Whether slapping a child or beating a “disobedient” wife is OK; whether sexual violence by stray army men in the north-east or Kashmir is OK; whether atrocities on Dalits in a village is OK; whether a Muslim being lynched by a mob is OK – these are some of the questions we must ask ourselves. Else we can keep chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai even as our daughters continue to be assaulted, raped and murdered.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.