December 26, 2012: It was the morning meant to start with a bad news (much expected) as the 23 year old rape victim took the final breath at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. Much anticipated as the news of multiple organ failure already flashed last night. While she went into eternal sleep, her death awakened the entire country. One more occasion when the country is on streets to fight for justice after Jessica Lal murder case and Jan Lokpal Bill.
While the name of the girl has still not been disclosed (for the right reasons), media and people have christened her Damini, Nirbhaya and Amanat. Whatever be the name, the fact to remember is that it could have been anybody’s daughter, sister or mother that night. While the public demands death penalty for rapes and making it a non-bailable offense, it is not really solving the problem. If stricter law would have been a deterrent, there wouldn’t be any murders.
While hearing of rape in Delhi was not something for the first time for me, it was this case that made me think of what actually can be done to resolve this. While there are definitely some quick steps that can be taken but long term solutions require some paradigm shifts in the way we operate as a government and as a society. There were six things that came to my mind:
The other day, there was a debate on Times Now on framing stricter laws, especially Capital Punishment, for crimes against women because the existing laws failed. What was disappointing to see was the few representatives of Human Rights organizations being against capital punishment. Shockingly, the opposition came from women representatives. India, anyway, has an abysmal history when it comes to capital punishments – one of the reasons why such grave crimes are so frequent in this country. In the last 17 years, India has witnessed only 3 executions. At the time when the country’s crime rate, especially in the northern belt, is so high, it is foolish to oppose stricter laws. India’s human rights agencies come across as biggest hypocrites in this scenario. While they talk about human rights of the rapists, none of them give a thought to the human rights of the victim. Former President, Pratibha Patil’s, commute of death sentences of 35 criminals to life included 7 rapists (rarest of the rare) also comes across the biggest embarrassment to the nation.
But the greatest challenge is not at the top but at the bottom. The statistics of crimes against women, especially rape, that reported are far less than actually occurred. The primary reasons include social stigma, apathy of the police as many police stations simply refuse to register the case and coercion from the rapist (or his family/friends) because of which thousands of cases go unreported. Of which those reported, for many, no action is taken by police or goes for “out of court” settlement. Among those few that see the doors of the court, conviction rate is extremely low. The news channel, Times Now, has also been chasing Bitti Mohanty, who has been convicted of rape but managed to escape while he was allowed to attend his ailing mother. Normally, such permission is not given but because he was the son of a top cop of Orissa, B B Mohanty, he was granted this permission. In another case, a 17 year old girl in Patiala, Punjab committed suicide after police refused to register an FIR against three youth, who belonged to influential group of the locality, for gang rape. Instead of registering an FIR, Police, instead, pressurized the girl to arrive at a compromise. She was often called to police station and asked “uncomfortable” questions. Thus, if the cases are not registered itself, conviction is a distant dream.
At the end, as a common man, my question is: Why should public money be spent on feeding these monsters in jail. If they don’t respect the human right of the other person “to live with dignity” they don’t deserve the same. Every right is accompanied by a responsibility as well.
All these, pose a requirement for stricter laws, especially execution of death penalty, which will be some deterrent to the criminals.
Changing the Mindset:
While the tougher laws are definitely required, they need not necessarily be a deterrent. If that was the case, murders wouldn’t happen. The core of the problem is the mindset, especially of Indian men, and the culture that treats women with disrespect and as inferior to men which gets imbibed into child’s mind – both, boys and girls.
The problem is less acute in South India, West India and Seven Sisters states of North East. However, it is extreme in North India where women are looked down upon and often disrespected. The greatest impediment to women empowerment in India, especially in North India, is illiteracy, which also results in financial dependency on men. Illiteracy also leads to lack of overall confidence which reduces women’s ability to counter crimes against them. Also, the upbringing in the “Pati Parmeshwar” (Husband is GOD) culture creates the Abla Naari, who is a perfect prey for sexual offenders. There is also a saying that “Ladki ghar ki izzat hoti hain lekin ladki ki ghar mein koi izzat nahi hoti” which essentially means that although girl’s honor is family’s honor but nobody in the family honors the girl. A girl is always told to be in limits while a boy is allowed to do whatever he wants. Even in rape cases, it is always the victim who suffers the social outcast while the accused roam free.
After the Delhi gang-rape, there were series of stupid comments from politicians across the country – except for first two or three, the rest appeared more like publicity stunt – blaming the fashion, western culture and more freedom to women as main reasons for increasing crimes against women, especially rape. This did nothing else but to expose the 18th century mindset of India. Even the Khap leader of Haryana joined the party saying, “Women should avoid venturing out alone in darkness” (it is perfectly fine for a man to do that). All this is nothing but the mindset that needs to change.
Just like when the blood goes bad (sorry for such naive term) in a patient, fresh blood is infused into the patient’s body, there is a requirement of fresh and uninfected blood in our politics and civil bodies. While Indian politics has witnessed many young politicians off late but still the mindset change has not happened because they come from the same patriarchal bloodline. While there is AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) off late to the scene, it has more hype than substance. Until and unless the fresh and uninfected blood enters the system and the old blood is flushed out, the crimes against women will continue to happen.
Respecting Women should be a Part of Education:
Talking about mindset change, it cannot come overnight. Generally it takes a generation to achieve that. A lot of beliefs are set in from the childhood itself. If respecting women and protecting a woman’s honor is taught right from the childhood, our society will not just witness lot less number of rapists but also a new and better civilization with drastic reduction in crime against women.
While our textbooks flock zillion pages about Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Chandragupta Maurya, Akbar, Shahjahan, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Tipu Sultan, Lokmanya Tilak and so on but chapters on Rani Lakshmi Bai, Ahalyabai, Nur Jahan, Razia Sultana, Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit are very superficial. What is important is to teach how important role women have played in our history and what role they are playing in our present. Chapters on Indira Gandhi, Kiran Bedi, Mother Teresa, Lata Mangeshkar, Bachendri Pal, Kalpana Chawla, Karnam Malleshwari, P T Usha, Saina Nehwal and Mary Kom should be introduced properly and students should be educated about their heroics/achievements. This will not only instill a sense of respect for women among male students but also increase the confidence of female students.
The teaching that men are suppose to work and women are supposed to be in kitchen should be totally removed from our textbooks. In one of the Rajya Sabha meetings, Shabana Azmi pointed out this fact because of which an 18th century mindset gets imbibed into the child, which results in a false sense of superiority being developed in male child’s mind. In addition, instead of glorifying the Indian social structure, students should be educated about its major challenges and the possible solutions. Education should be provided in a way that students, at least the ones in secondary and high school, develop sensitivity towards burning issues of Indian society including crimes against women. In-school plays, banner contests and road shows on such burning issues should be a part of yearly curriculum.
Until and unless we imbibe a sense of respect and equality among our children, and worst – continue to foster patriarchic mindset through our education, crimes against women will continue to be a reality.