Of Burkha, Knives and Pepper

Besides getting trained in martial arts like Kungfu or Karate, the training of mind is intensely essential

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In the wake of brutal gang rape and murder of a paramedical student last month, that ignited a serious debate on the best way to tackle sex crimes, the Shiv Sena handed out kitchen knives and chilli powder to women in Mumbai. The party, an ally of the main opposition BJP, said it had handed out 21,000 knives with three-inch (7 cm) blades to women in the city and surrounding areas and plans to distribute 100,000. “This is a symbolic gesture,” said Shiv Sena spokesman, adding that a knife shorter than six inches in length does not fit the definition of a weapon. The party also handed out small bags of chilli powder- apparently to throw into an attacker’s eyes (‘Mumbai women given knives, chilli to fend off rapists’, Reuters 25 Jan-2013).
Similarly, the women in Delhi are taking self-defence classes, snapping up pepper sprays, booking cabs with female drivers or leaving work early, all signs of growing insecurity following the ugly incident.
The news report ‘Women take up self-defence, pepper spray after Delhi gang rape’(Reuters, 22 Jan-2013) reveals that New Delhi, with a burgeoning population of 16 million, has the unsavoury reputation of being the country’s “rape capital”, recording more rapes annually than any other Indian city. There were 706 rapes reported in 2012, a 23 percent rise from the previous year, according to the Delhi police, while molestation cases rose by 11 percent to 727.
The report quotes 18-year old psychology student, Sunanda Jalote, while attending her first self-defence class with Invictus Survival Sciences in South Delhi, as saying-“Women have to learn to defend themselves. We don’t want to have to wear a burkha in order to go out and feel safe.”
Of course, the Delhi incident has hit the confidence of women in India, especially the urban educated one, and shaken their sense of security, though the incident is not the first of its kind in a country where one rape is reported on average every 20 minutes. The survival of one of the key eyewitnesses, the degree of media reportage and the subsequent public outcry turned the organized and planned rape incident loud and visible. 
As far the police force in India, it has always been gender-insensitive as well as under-resourced to tackle crime against women. However, this appears less startling and shocking than the growing offense within the ranks of police where women are exploited and assaulted by men in uniform not only in the premises of police stations and custody, but even in their homes and outside. To talk about police and safety of women in metro cities, besides in any conflict-ridden area in India, is like opening the dirtiest ever box of Pandora. The less said the better.
The idea and mechanism of self-defence, in such a scenario, evolves as a good option. Nevertheless, it certainly is not the viable one which will prove as a deterrent to such a heinous crime. The cut of a 70cm long knife or a spray of pepper may stave off the criminal (who can wear the face mask!), but it cannot not wipe out the crime and eliminate the causes of such a sexual anarchy.
The need of stringent laws, the strong judicial and political system is as equally important as sensitizing the womenfolk about the concept of modesty. Besides getting trained in Martial arts like Kungfu or Karate, the training of mind is intensely essential. For Sunanda Jalote and her ilk, burkha is a symbol of a belief that carries a wider meaning of self-respect and self-security. It may necessarily not mean the covering of the women in a veil but it does defeat the ‘fad’ of dazzling display of women and connotes the survival sciences of a society which has to be balanced and sane in its dealing of gender issues. Hanging of the rapists, for example, is the justice idea that stems from the same school of thought. And interestingly, this was the slogan that reverberated near enough India Gate!
The bottomline is the greater than ever the vulgar media content, the insensible civil society and the influence of western lifestyle, the irrevocable havoc will be wreaked with the social and moral fabric of urban modern India. For rural Bharat, the seeds of illiteracy and poverty have already sown the crime.
(The columnist teaches at Media Education Research Centre, MERC, University of Kashmir)

Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 27 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST

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