India: Unsafe realities negate tall claims of female equality in education, employment & politics Print E-mail
 Friday March 08, 2019

Women's safety still a distant dream

We have failed in providing a safe environment to our girls and women. This reality negates the tall claims of gender equality in education, employment and politics.

WOMEN'S DAY By Rajesh Gill (Professor, Panjab University)

Cause for Concern: We must admit that our legal deterrents have failed to scare away the rapists.

WE have miserably failed to provide the most basic right to women and girls ­ the right to live in a safe environment. Gangrapes are reported day in, day out. Physical mobility is the primary and first capability that enables an individual to avail opportunities, enhancing his/her chances of moving ahead in life. Studies have confirmed that in comparison to boys, our girls have extremely low access to these opportunities, be it in education, technology, employment or life skills.

Even if all the perpetrators of crimes against women are caught and imprisoned, how does that relieve the victim, who has suffered not merely physical and sexual violence, but much more importantly, the grave injuries on her psyche, mind and soul, which she has to learn to live with? I have come across a number of girls who after being sexually violated by their close relatives or strangers failed to lead a 'normal' life, both sexual and social. Such is the damage caused by these heinous acts that it is often irreparable, leaving the victim mentally paralysed for life. Not only the poor victim, but also her parents and siblings get labelled and stigmatised by the community at large for generations to come.

The prevalence of such incidents affirms that the deterrents against rape are not sufficiently frightening for those who, at the very sight of a girl, feel too tempted to resist lust and decide to 'enjoy' on the spur of the moment, along with friends, amidst the shrieks of the girl, whose pleadings for mercy go unheard. This story is repeated within homes as well as outside, while not every story is reported in the media or to the police, for obvious reasons. The moment a girl is sexually violated, the process of 'shaming' her and her family begins, making it often unbearable for them, too intimidating to fight the case. Ironically, the victims or their relatives commit suicide, while it is the rapists who should be killing themselves. Isn't it a mockery of the system? It indicates that masculinity continues to draw its meaning from holding power over the female body, either within the home or outside.

I find a parallel between these rapes and the terrorist killings of innocent people and our brave soldiers, mostly young and lone bread-winners, in which the most naked forms of heartlessness, brutality and violence are exhibited. We have had too many rounds of seminars and lectures on gender equality and empowerment, without any corresponding signs of improvement. The Criminal Amendment Act of 2013 has failed to make people realise that 'staring' and 'stalking' a girl amount to threatening her, which is a criminal offence. A rape trial happens to be more traumatic for the victim and her family than for the offender and his kin. How long shall we go on crying ourselves hoarse over the mindset and cultural norms? How can a country which makes claims of treating women as goddesses and devis afford to have such a life-threatening environment for its women? Stringent laws against gangrape seem to have had little effect; many of these incidents, in all probability, go unreported. We must admit that our legal deterrents have failed to scare away the rapists.

Immediately after such an incident, the public discourse often begins, frequently using the 'blame the victim' approach, finding fault with the girl ­ why she had gone out with a boy; why was she out in the dark; why was she wearing a short dress, and so on. This is sheer hypocrisy of a community that swears by human rights of prisoners and even murderers in the name of reformation. Then how can the same community forget about the human rights of women, and how can one justify violation of their bodies and souls, on any grounds whatsoever?

During extensive fieldwork conducted by our team for a UGC project on gender violence in rural Punjab and Haryana, we noticed a perpetual fear among parents of young daughters, who were pursuing higher studies. It is a nightmare for these girls to commute to a school outside the village because of the unruly and obscene behaviour of the boys.

Society has to show zero tolerance to such acts, the genesis of which lies in the small mundane incidents of eve-teasing and sexually coloured gestures owing to gender insensitivity, with the cumulative effect of emboldening prospective rapists to commit subsequent acts. These violators need to be hanged, without any loss of time, so that justice is shown to be done. There has been enough of the 'sensitisation' lectures. Let us now focus on boys and men, who continue to live with a feudal mindset, with the rotten ideas of masculinity and femininity, which have become obsolete. A society that tolerates persistent sexual violation of its daughters can certainly not be called developed, nor can it claim to be a great society with a rich cultural heritage. We have terribly failed in providing a safe environment to our girls and women, and that is a reality which negates all the tall claims of gender equality in education, employment and politics. Why would parents have daughters when they know they can be sexually assaulted or raped anytime, anywhere? Why would parents send their daughters to distantly located schools and colleges when they know how vulnerable they continue to be? These are some of the difficult questions which need to be answered ­ the sooner the better, since these involve half of our population.