Reflections on violence against women

The girl left the world leaving behind some pointed questions for the living!

Statecraft

HAPPYMON JACOB

The unfortunate victim of the Delhi gang rape is no more. May her soul rest in peace. I have long believed that rape is merely a symptom of the deep-rooted violence that exists against women in our societies. Quoting the Delhi police, the India Today reported sometime back that a woman is raped every 18 hours or molested every 14 hours in Delhi. Remember these are just the ‘reported’ cases and I am confident that many more cases go unreported. If this is what happens in Delhi, what must be the fate of women in the country’s darker and meaner hinterlands?

The questions we don’t ask
Our occasional outrage against ‘celebrated’ cases of rape often hides the daily violence against women that we are so much part of. Before you react to this, do consider the following.

Rape as a crime of familiarity
There is an inherent tendency in us not to look into our own families to see why we treat women the way we do. Because we think that not interfering in other’s lives is the decent thing to do, we often ignore what happens in our neighbourhood. But let us remind ourselves that women’s dignity is often violated in the four walls of their own homes. Having done a considerable amount of research on the issue, Women’s rights activist, Urvashi Bhutalia, writes, “more than 90 per cent of rapes are committed by people known to the victim/survivor, a staggering number of rapists are family members.” Mothers of violated girl children are forced to keep it quiet within the family for fear of family breakdown and also because if reported, the incident could prove to be the end of a woman’s normal life in conservative societies such as ours. The first line of defence of our women is often their first line of offense.

Custodial rapes
Our second line of defense should ideally be the law enforcement mechanism. But this is hardly so in most cases. More often than not, it is the law enforcement officers who violate the dignity of women. And when they are not directly involved, they are often seen dismissing the case as insignificant or aiding and abetting the violators. High-ranking police officers often make the self-serving argument that ‘after all the policemen are drawn from the society around us and hence they won’t be much different from the society around them’. What about all the training that is supposed to be given to them? How about setting up systems and mechanisms for overseeing and monitoring what goes on inside the force? How about instilling a culture of accountability by punishing those policemen who are guilty? Whenever a member of the police or armed forces violates a women’s dignity, the first impulse of his superior is to find ways to protect the culprit, not to bring him to book.
This s precisely what Wajahat Habibullah was talking about when he said that retired Gen. V. K Singh did nothing to bring to book those members of the armed forces who have raped the dignity of a number of Kashmiri women.  He is so right in saying: “In his (Gen Singh's) case, I am sorry to say so, he was Commander-in-Chief of the Army. There are, at least in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, massive allegations of rape against Army. Were they ever enquired into? Was an effort made to bring justice?”

What about our religions?
I know I am courting controversy by making this argument, but let me do so nevertheless.  Do our religions and cultures contribute to violating our women’s dignity? Without belabouring much on this, let me just say that any religion/culture that considers women to be second class citizens, undermines equality for women or advocates that women do not have the same rights as men, does play a role in contributing to the violence against women that exists in our midst.

The future
How does the future of our women’s security look like? Are they likely to have a safer future?  I am not so sure. Let me flag just two variables here. One, the youth bulge in our population will mean that violence against women will continue to persist, if not addressed properly, considering the fact that according to the Delhi police records the majority of violators of women’s dignity are below 25 years of age. Combine this to the curse of preferring male children in many north Indian states. In states where the sex ratio is highly skewed against women due to families preferring male children, we are likely to witness a situation wherein the ‘overcrowded bachelor states’ will have to ‘compete’ to get brides. And those who can’t get a bride may be prompted to indulge in crimes such as rape.

Response to Ashq Aussain Bhat
In response to my previous column entitled ‘India’s Regional dilemmas’ Ashq Hussain Bhat from Srinagar, by far my ‘most consistent critique’ wrote to me: “Why should the Indian Government pass the test of moral preconditions and ethical standards when it freely tramples upon such considerations in its dealings with its own people. What has the Indian Government meted out to Kashmir, North-East, Dalits, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and Adivasis? A controversial person like Mr. Narendra Modi is being rewarded in the Indian system. If BJP and its allies win the 2014 general elections Modi Sahib may well be the PM of India.”
I agree with Ashq. The Indian state is far from being a perfect state where the rule of law prevails and the perpetrators of injustice are brought to book. However, please note that there is indeed a slow but steady progressive evolution that the Indian state is going through. There is no doubt that the crimes and injustices that this state has committed over the years are no way defensible. However, no state is perfect; it is our job, as members of the civil society, to make it better, day by day. No state, not even a ‘first world’ state, in a short span of sixty years and with this amount of diversity within, has ever managed to do better than this. Other than proactively being part of this slow but steady progressive evolution, the only alternative I see is a balkanized India which I don’t prefer for I am convinced that it will lead to much more bloodshed. 

Lastupdate on : Sat, 29 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 29 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 30 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST




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