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Women’s safety is paramount

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Shashidhar Vuppala

The narrative of violence against women in India continues unhindered. We see a lot of incidents happening around our surroundings, the crimes are increasing day-by-day but nothing has been stopped.
In the recent incidents Hyderabad has witnessed two horrific incidents which shook the conscience of entire country. A six year child was brutally raped and murdered and a 24 year old veterinary doctor also fell a victim. These two incidents have shaken the conscience of the entire country. We all have seen swift and timely reactions from all the walks of life. But it is very unfortunate to see the crimes increasing on a day-to-day basis.
Getting new laws and enforcing them is one of the criticisms but what are the future measures and that will help the government to reduce the crimes against women. I would like to draw your attention by bringing various observations.
1.In the case of the minor child, it is very clearly evident the drug addiction and drunkardness has made this heinous crime to happen. Like everyone is pointing out ban of drugs and liquor can help to get rid from these crimes to some extent.
But admitting to the fact that the government’s never dare to it, as it is well known that the exchequer is totally dependent on the revenue generated from it. Yet the government’s need to take a strong measures balancing both financial aspects and the safety of the vulnerable.
Keeping this aside the another important aspect in these crimes is the mindset of a person. How is he brought up in life like early stages of livelihood. These are the most fundamental things we as a society and system are failing to understand. Usually a person’s thoughts and actions are developed by his early age’s environment and the values inculcated to him. In most of the cases, including this minor child case the rapist has not grown up with any moral or fundamental values.
2) In the case of a Veterinary Doctor, when the victim’s family has approached the police, they have failed to rescue the victim citing the Jurisdiction issues and the technical paperwork. It is very evident that either the victims family or the police personnel are aware of Zero FIR (First Information Report), i.e., filing a FIR without bothering Jurisdiction.
We really did not understand why the Government remained a spectator in this regard when the country is heading towards the Digital transformation. If it is the case the situation would have been different. We need a strong endorsement and education about these Laws to the Citizens.
3) Societal Changes: Any society should sit up and do some serious introspection about why incidents like these continue to take place every day and why we as a system are unable to do anything about it.
We come out in hordes to support rape victims, blame the system, and eventually forget, while these psychopaths continue to walk the streets in search of another prey. Young women are stalked, kidnapped, raped in cars, buses, trains, picked up from the streets of cosmopolitan cities, taken advantage of by cab drivers, molested by strangers, some of them thrown out from moving vehicles and some broken even in the safety of their own homes.
4) Most of the things on the table will not work. Setting-up police stations at all the National Highways and mandatory installation of Mechanic Shops at all the toll gates and Petrol Bunks on Highways is a must. Banning of petrol services through bottles, in emergency cases selling of petrol in bottles with thorough verification checks such as verifying the Government recognized identity cards such as AADHAR, Voter, Driving License, etc.
Controlling the drug mafia and strictly banning liquor sales, at least during the late hours. The buses and pubs are topical measures. Unless you plan to install CCTV cameras in fields and school toilets and turn the whole city into a super surveillance prison, this can’t really starve rapists of locations or methods. Even in prison it will fail. This will strip the rights of the common man, which are already shredded and encroached, leading to overall unrest.
5) Rapists don’t see themselves as criminals till the need for a cover-up. What happens to criminals will not deter them. Plus, prosecution is lethargic, and cops are not interested in filing cases they can avoid. Harsh punishment for rapists won’t fix the problem. There is a danger in creating laws in a moment of fury. Our country has a penchant for slapping laws onto things that can’t be fixed by laws. And this is without our notoriously flawed witch-hunt investigations and propensity to frame people. Irreversible punishments may just lay the brickwork for future disasters.
6) There is a process to rape. A rapist has a certain kind of thinking that allows the use or abuse of women sexually. Such a person finds an opportunity and a reason to do it. Then there is the victim. There are cops. The investigation, judicial process, the judgment itself, each of these can be improved. There is lots of potential here if someone is serious about rolling up sleeves and getting to work. Most important is everything coming before the rape because that can prevent it.
7) In a normal society, there is a non-verbal contract of obeying laws, paying taxes, and other duties in return for enforcement of rights, facilities that support and enhance living, protection from harm, etc.
India is in a precarious position. People are experiencing that while they obey laws and pay taxes, and so on, they are not safer; they are finding living more difficult from inflation, unemployment, and insecurity, whatever. There is dissatisfaction and very little awareness of equality. It is every person for him, with the sexually repressed environment demonizing sex, lesser chances of marriages, etc. The primitive chauvinistic culture has little in terms of legal oversight (possibly the price of vote bank politics).
8) Too much permissibility of subjugation of women has made their condition precarious. To add to this is a reinforcement of impunity for further humiliation of women with public figures making rabidly anti-women statements. The need of the hour is a carrot–stick approach that keeps enough people in line that the rest can be fixed in other ways. The carrots are the goodies.
Increased acceptance of sex, propagation of ideas of sex as a natural and healthy thing, education on contraceptives, de-shaming sex, education on the paramount importance of consent as a part of sex (this also needs more solidly plugged into the laws and constitution), acceptance of sexuality, acceptance of sex professionals, industry (not exploitation), films and toys, and more. The more you can end repression of sexuality and make it easy and acceptable (as natural), the less likely it is to burst out in unpredictable, uncontrollable, and devastating ways. Please note that this doesn’t mean lowering the age of marriage. Sex and marriage need to be differentiated.
9) The sticks are the taboos. Enforcing laws is the biggest one. We must create public opinion on the unacceptability of sex without consent. We must punish every instance of demeaning women without discrimination (more below) by public figures or in media.
Preventing exploitation in marriage, trade, whatever. The idea is to make these taboos so strong that you must be a filthy creature to even think about these things. Think of how well the church has done making homosexuality unthinkable. The pope is still fighting tooth-and-nail for his right to devastate lives. For a good cause, it could work brilliantly. It is really heavy-duty bombardment and relentless public opinion mongering. Religious leaders could be roped into whatever extent they feel able to follow the laws of India.
10) The idea is the creation of a social environment where the laws matter. Here, our leaders and public figures are important. Visible role models upholding law will create a virtue out of that; visible role models insulting women will encourage the public to do similar. What is good/bad, acceptable, or not, even which laws to take seriously and which ones to bend is often understood by watching what others are doing, and the references lie in the public space.
11) About the punishment of demeaning women, it is written that it should be so. Another law enforced to manipulate people, but not protect them. It must be enforced. The women’s commissions should be hauled over coals for not protecting women to begin with and then, if they repent, should be tasked with filing legal cases for offending the modesty of a woman for every single instance of victim-blaming, character judgments, insulting comments about women, etc.
Such people should be punished in courts or if they settle out of courts, one of the conditions must be a public apology that should be well covered in the media. If the people receive it well, they are off the hook, or the case should go on.
12) Every single instance, be it a politician, a police officer, a judge, a school principal, a panchayat [an all-male, unelected village council] whoever, whatever regardless of political loyalties. The women’s commission must not have any members who belong to political organizations or are related to politicians. Any of them not fulfilling these conditions must be replaced. Women’s commissions should also alert appropriate authorities in the case of anyone in a tax-funded job, so that appropriate action may be taken. Good idea for this could be penalising half the salary for six months to fund women’s rights initiatives. On an aside, a good person to have on a woman’s commission is a blogger called Indian Homemaker. A superb and sensible warrior of human rights with an impeccable sense of what is fair, with no affiliations (that I know of) to make her judgment suspect.
13) Impact of Films on Society: The censor board must be hauled over coals for allowing content that promotes women as inferior and encourages subjugation. All the soap operas showing bold women as evil must be forced to rewrite scripts to be compatible with the message of equality in our constitution.
A film with super hit songs (and stories) promoting sexual harassment must be forced to run captions that the action demonstrated in the film is actually illegal as per Indian law. “Good” women characters must be forced to comply with health weight charts. An underweight model must not be promoted as a role model, particularly in stories showing women of normal or heavier weights as stupid. “Good” characters must not exhibit a virtue of suffering abuse silently.
On the contrary, they must fight abuse against themselves at least, compulsorily. Challenging status quo must not be the sign of a bad character. Any “item numbers” projecting women as enjoying being touched by a crowd of men must have the actresses giving independent interviews disclosing if they really enjoyed being touched or would like to experience such a thing in real life. These interviews must be appended to the film in all future releases. Shows to focus on various aspects of women’s rights to raise awareness must be designed. Tax exemptions must be given to films/books/content that promotes healthy attitudes toward women.
14) NGO’s and Departmental Aspirants Services: State should utilise the services of NGO’s and Departmental Aspirants in the remote areas to rescue the victims. Usually in the remote areas the immediate and quick outreach of police will be difficult in such scenarios the one who are preparing for Departmental examinations can be utilised. It not only safeguards the people but also gives them a hope and passion towards the service. It also gives an opportunity to those unemployed.
15) Role of Media and Civil Society: Media should play a rightful role by sensitizing the society by conducting various awareness programmes and dialogue sessions with the younger generations. We need to invest at least 0.0001% of our time and effort in bringing basic civic awareness among citizens, in knowing their basic rights, duties, usage of systems in place, approaching the right forum etc.
16) Right Parenting: One needs to teach their kids on how to be a better citizen, how to engage with the state. Take them to a police station, a government office, a bank etc. at a very young age. Tell them what these systems are about and why they exist. Don’t stop at Mathematics & Science. Social Studies are equally important. Technology & Gadgets are neutral objects. It is their usage that decides the outcome. So be aware of what is happening with your children.
16) We think this is a good laundry list to start with. Particularly important is the point about punishing public role models of humiliating women. I congratulate you on your healthy attitude to the problem, and I think you need not find yourself helpless. It will not be so difficult to change society if the people planning the change know what they are doing. Particularly for someone with the tremendous resources and reach of the state on their side. We stand by you and hope that you come up with a model that can be replicated countrywide.
(The author is an IT Professional & Socio-Political Activist based at Hydrabad)

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