The 21st century was touted as the women’s century. It maybe but each advance is countered with a steeper decline in status. We talk bravely of liberation but each day’s headlines (and often several of them) emphasize the reality of “The real world” indeed. We talk smugly of empowerment, indeed; see its evidence in the confident strut of the new genre of carrier women. But threats prowl across every opportunity and the strongest are helpless against their leering, sneering violators.
Crimes against women today have assumed the proportions of an epidemic. In Delhi they happen to unsuspecting women who avail of public transport at night, in Haryana, they happen to women to remind their parents that they ought to have been married off early. Even Mumbai which until recently had been resilient to such crimes, is no longer so. So the bottom line is that women in our country are in danger. If they are lucky enough to survive female infanticide they are threatened by our society of lascivious beasts who don’t blink an eye before focusing themselves upon hapless prey.
One of the million reasons that have brought about a manifold increase in crimes against women is THE OBJECTIFICATION OF WOMEN. In a society that has traditionally defined a person through her relationships rather than her individuality, a woman is certainly a person when she is a mother, a daughter, a sister or a wife. Any woman who does not fit into these mental categories is a female nothing of more importance. Stripped of relational categories and just an individual, a woman is not a person but just an object for male enjoyment.
Why is it becoming so unsafe for women in India and particularly in the cities and towns? Part of the answer is the attitude to women which simultaneously worships and denigrates the female. One of the consequences of female denigration is the terribly skewed gender ratio. India has one of the worst records in the world in this respect.
It is no secret that crime against women stems from the deeply unequal relationship between the two sexes in private and public life. It is also no secret that this misogyny is deeply rooted in our society, including within the system of administration of justice-from investigation to trail, to judgment.
In combating this menace, the government needs to understand that its not merely a law and order problem. There is a social and psychological aspect to the issue as well. Hence, the curative approach ought to be two-prolonged. To begin with, laws against such crimes definitely need to be made more stringent. All rape cases ought to be settled in fast-track courts where the judiciary is bound to pass a judgment within six months of the filing of the charge sheet. The convicted should not have the right to appeal to a higher court against the judgment of the lower court in open and shut cases, especially in cases of gang rape. Even lesser crimes like eve teasing should lead to impounding of passport and driving licenses so as to deter potential rapists. Most importantly, crimes against women cannot be delinked from the larger problem of falling gender ratio of women. Hence female infanticide ought to be treated at par with homicide. Sex education, which dwells upon gender crime in an uninhabited manner, could play crucial role in changing the one track mindsets. This will also help in removing the taboo attached to a rape victim in rural areas.
In addition to the above, healthy public opinion must be created against such undesirable, criminal activities. Films depicting sex and violence must be strictly censored. Advertisements and hoardings depicting women as desirable objects of sex must be severely discouraged. Both social organizations and religions bodies must come out openly against the dowry-system as well as the prostitution of women. The government should see that anyone guilty of such crimes does not escape scot-free. Women’s organizations, which are now quite large in number, should carry on an intensive propaganda against such offences. Young men and women should also themselves resist such malpractices. We also must have increased visibility of police personnel on the roads particularly during those times of the day when women are most vulnerable. The police leadership must also mobilize and utilize all possible community resources with the support of civil administration.
The goal of law is to sustain life not support its destruction. This is what the 23 year old was trying to tell us, before she died, “I want to live,” she said, not die of shame. She changed the way society looks at rape- from blaming the victim to focusing on the rapist. All law reforms must move in that direction, asking how we can build a new life sustaining legal culture, a more equal culture, with justice for all. That is the question we must address-with or-without a special session of parliament.