Tuesday, 19 August 2014

When Will All This Come To An End?!

There was a time when women were revered and worshipped as goddesses in India. Gradually, with increasing fragmentation in our society, their status reduced to a virtual slave of men folk in a patriarchal society. This oppression resulted in loss of identity and individuality. The process of degeneration of women’s status can be attributed to post Vedic or early medieval period. Indiscriminate practices against women in the name of preserving culture and tradition started. Although inhuman traditions like Sati, jauhar, devadasi, purdah, child marriage, etc. seem to be the practices of a bygone era. But the harsh reality is that they are still practiced in remote parts of our country even today. Even in 21st century, a girl child is considered a “liability” and they are discriminated at each stage. The issue was commendably discussed by the PM from the ramparts of the Red Fort in his extempore speech. With increasing rate of violence against women, the need to change the mindset has become the need of the hour.
Male violence against women is a worldwide phenomenon. The United Nations General Assembly defines "violence against women" as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." This results in lack of participation of women in every sphere of life. Hence, it is a gender specific crime where only women are targeted. Sometimes it is even before birth, some times in the adulthood and in later phase of life. The unequal presence of one gender in virtually all spheres of social, economic, political and religious has led to spreading of these crimes on a wider scale. Development of Indian society can not be imagined unless the females are respected, heard and given their due share. In India thus, crimes against women are classified under two categories viz.-
           1.  Crimes under INDIAN PENAL CODE (IPC)
                 2.  Crimes under Special and Local Laws (SLL)

These together include rape, kidnapping and abduction, dowry deaths, physical and mental torture, female feticide and infanticide, molestation, sexual harassment, immoral trafficking of women, indecent representation of women, etc. Among these “rape” is the most common crime which is accentuated by norms, attitudes, and prevailing cultures. The crime rates in cities are increasing exponentially. The brutal rape and death of two sisters in Badaun, barbaric Delhi gang-rape, molestation of a girl on the streets of Assam, volleys of rape cases in Haryana, acid throwing, bride burning for want of dowry, marital rapes, stalking, sex selective abortions, honour killings in the name of protecting a family’s honour, and others  are a serious cause for concern. These crimes are further legitimized because criminals know that they can get away with their crime. Shoddy investigations which often make it easy for the culprits to get bail and walk away at the end of a trial.

The cause for such increasing crime rates can be attributed to a society wherein we have the patriarchal setup, son worshipping parents which leads to gender discrimination by birth, stressing on the “masculinity” of a man, the culture of nuclear families wherein young men are brought up by no-parent families which leads to social crisis, the obscenity in film industry which pollutes a young mind, lack of moral education, a mindset according to which  men are the protectors and women, the protectorate.

Thus, the need for a new law on sexual assault was felt as the present law does not define and reflect the various kinds of sexual assault that women are subjected to in our country. A three-member panel was constituted by the government under Justice J.S. Verma to give recommendations to protect the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape and amendments to criminal law.

In terms of the definition of rape, the committee recommended all forms of non-consensual penetration of sexual nature which also include marital rape. In conflict zones, the committee recommended an amendment in Section 6 of the AFSPA, 1958, which states that violence committed must come within the purview of criminal law. Last year, the court suggested that molestation be made a non-bailable offence which was reiterated by Justice Dharmadhikari committee.
The challenge is to address the issue at educational level (change in curriculum) in order to sensitize people. The need is to inculcate moral values to change the mindset of the community at large which can be done at the basic level through primary education. Children who are emotionally disturbed are more vulnerable from going astray. Imparting sex education in a conservative society as ours is still a matter of debate. But this has now become a necessity. With access to all sorts of popular media, children today are aware of this genre. We just need to tell them about good and bad practices.
The government announced the setting up of all women banks and all women courts (Bombay Bench has already started). Though these institutions will give them a relief from unusual gazes and inappropriate behaviour in public places, but unless the society as a whole empowers them in a gender friendly and egalitarian workspace, these exercises would be futile. Even our constitution in Article 15 underscores the right to liberty, dignity and fundamental rights of all persons irrespective of sex.
Other administrative measures includes police reforms, proper city planning, establishment of fast track courts, “Zero- tolerance” of sex offenders, name and shame policy for the offenders, Emergency women helpline number, installation of CCTV cameras at prominent places, women constables to be deployed in colleges, malls  etc. Election Commission of India is concerned that political parties give tickets to people with criminal backgrounds. But political patronage prevent speedy trials for disqualification of such “people’s representatives”.
Impact on society

The World Health Organization reports that violence against women puts an undue burden on health care services with women who have suffered violence being more likely to need health services and at higher cost, compared to women who have not suffered violence. The recently concluded U.N. Commission on the status of women in New York adopted a declaration on the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls.
It also brings a bad name for the nation. In past days, we saw many incidences of rape and molestation with foreign travellers.  After the Delhi incidence, many foreign governments issued advisories to travel in India with caution. Consequently, this would lead to a decrease in number of tourist arrivals which would in turn impact economy.
Thus, to make world a better and safe living place, concerted efforts are required by all stakeholders.

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