November 28th, the country woke up to the brutal rape and murder of a 26 y old Veterinary doctor in Hyderabad, reminding us yet again the vulnerabilities women continue to face in our country. The horrible crime reignited the memories of the Dec 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape case and proved that our society hasn’t progressed anywhere in the past seven years. At this juncture, it is irrelevant to describe the crime data as even one crime such as this is a blot on the face of the entire society. The incident saw widespread public outrage and people from all sections of society called for swift trial and conviction of the accused.
Angered reactions came in from the parliamentarians as well, and the incident found a voice in both the houses of the Legislative. We should remember that last year, the parliament approved amendments to the laws pertaining to sexual offenses in the wake of the gruesome rape and murder of the minor girl in Kathua, J&K. Under the new rules, the minimum punishment of rape has been increased from seven years to ten years of rigorous imprisonment. The parliament also prescribed a time limit of two months within which the investigations must be completed. Needless to say that the existing laws may be strict enough to punish the culprits, yet have failed to create deterrence in the minds of the psychopaths who commit such heinous crime. Because any law is as good as it is implemented. It is due to the poor state of convictions that the laws fail to strike fear in the hearts (if they have any) of the perpetrators.
We should understand that severe laws alone will not be able to curb the increasing rape problem India faces. The laws only act as a post-truth mechanism and in no way give relief to the pain a woman faced due to rape. Presently, we are seeing that the perpetrators kill their victims in the most horrific manner which compounds their crime by an even greater amount. The victim not only loses her dignity but also the right to live, and the current system of law does not deliver justice to the woman. In fact, it compounds her agony by making her a symbol of system failure. If one Nirbhaya would have been given swift justice another Nirbhaya would not have probably happened. It is because we let it happen, that it keeps happening.
Be it our society, media, culture or the collective conscience, we are used to letting our women down. For example, in the Hyderabad case also the society showed its apathy to rape victims in many forms. First and foremost, when the law clearly states that identity of the victim cannot be disclosed, the learned intellectuals were using the victim’s name openly on social media platforms. The very people who were asking for a swift justice to the victim were flouting rules themselves. It remains to be seen whether they were doing it unknowingly or were doing so to generate higher likes and retweets. While the public on social media continued to share such posts in a moment of rage and anger, the fact that they forgot such a small yet important thing speaks volumes of the seriousness the society carries for rape crimes.
The second instance of insensitivity was reflected in the Telangana Govt minister’s statement that the girl should have called the police first, rather than her sister. Well, nothing better was expected from our lawmakers, as the insensitive remarks of politicians are quite well known. From “Ladke hain, galti ho jaati hai” to “women shouldn’t venture out in the dark” we have had it all.
The media had its own share of shame when news portal Quint.com published an interview of the parents of the main accused. There was absolutely no sense to interview and publish their poverty-ridden life which gives a shade of sympathy with a person who commits such heinous crime. But off late, selling a Stockholm syndrome concoction has become a full-time business in the media industry. From a terrorist painted as a poor head master’s son to write about the family life of Osama Bin Laden, there is a section of media continuously engaged in injecting into the society, sympathies with the perpetrators of the worst crime.
Certainly, this is not the Bharat, a country which worships woman in so many forms. Our ancient value system gave huge importance to the respect of women. The woman was worshipped not because she was a goddess, but she was a goddess because the entire concept of Dharma revolved around her. The Goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi & Parwati symbolize Knowledge, Prosperity, and Fertility respectively, symbolizing that the society’s accumulation of knowledge, its prosperity and existence is all dependent on women. Not to forget that the entire epics Ramayana & Mahabharata are examples of the fight for a woman’s dignity. The explicit sculptures at Khajuraho temples give us an insight into the highly mature and open society that Bharat used to be. It is sad to see a glorious culture getting so morally bankrupt & degraded that it cannot protect its women.
We have to go back to our basics and start with the smallest unit of society which is the Family. There used to be a time when Mothers in the family were entrusted to inculcate the value system in the children. Unfortunately, the Mothers of today have themselves forgotten their responsibility towards the society. By being prejudiced towards the girl child they are unconsciously inserting a superiority complex in the minds of young boys. At the same time, the unequal treatment to girls instills a sense of inferiority in them which grows on with age. The limits as to what a man can do and what he cannot be imbibed early on in the young minds and unequivocal equality have to be maintained in the family. This sense of equality will come from the Mothers, and will then only be passed onto the male members of the family.
One of the byproducts of the liberalization of the economy was the crumbling of the Indian family structure. From the nuclear families of the 90’s, we are now heading towards unitary or single-parent families in which there are no keepers of the moral code. Therefore there is a void in place of the person who could put in the value system in the next generation. I am not sure to what extent we can actually go back to unifying our families but it will go a long way in reducing crimes against women.
Seeing the increase in cases of molestation in schools and colleges it is the apt time that a counseling desk is made mandatory in all educational institutions of the country. Also, programs designed to create awareness on sexual misconduct should be made part of the study curriculum. Schools, colleges should encourage organizing events focused on sexual misconduct and rapes sensitizing the young generation on the issue.
Finally, it is the society that has to come out of the state of helplessness. We cannot leave the justice part to the courts alone. Rape survivors often face ostracism, insensitive remarks, and victim shaming. It’s our collective responsibility to prevent such stereotypes from gaining ground. Real empowerment will come when rape survivors win acceptance in society and regain their dignity.
It is only when all of us have delivered on our parts that we can expect the Govt to do its own and hope to remove this scourge from society.