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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Violence Against Women (VAW) - We need to act NOW!



Perhaps it needed an incident as violent and tragic as this, in the heart of the country’s capital, to shake us up from our indifference. An incident so gut-wrenching that many of us still weep non-stop within, even if our tears are not visible to the outside world. An incident so heartbreaking that many of us still feel tortured by it every single day, though it’s almost a month since the incident.

Weep, we must. And feel tortured, we must.

For what we feel is still not even a fraction of what that poor girl went through.

I’m not suggesting we need to be tortured just because she was. But if we do not feel enough pain or grief even NOW, if we just “move on” without channelizing this pain or grief into something more powerful, more meaningful, we need to hang our heads in shame. And never ever expect us to win any battle against crime. More specifically, crime against women. For we would have lost our right to do so.

And THAT would be the ultimate insult to her. To Nirbhaya or Damini or Amanat. Or, to call her by her real name, Jyoti Singh Pandey. She was a fighter, she fought all the way. We just HAVE to make sure her fight was not in vain.

It is of course not just about Jyoti. She may have become our symbol now, but it is really about EVERY ONE of those women out there. Every one of those who has been raped, who has been abused, who has been harassed, who has been exploited, who has been discriminated against. They may be nameless to us but that doesn’t mean we need to be any less conscious of, or any less sensitive to, their ordeal.

If ever there was a time for us to put our collective energy behind stopping violence against women (VAW), surely that time has come now? (I personally believe it should have come a long time ago if we’d got our priorities and sensibilities right. But we didn’t – so, clearly we are already late in our efforts now. But better late than never, I suppose. But no later than NOW.)

The aftermath of the incident has seen a lot happening in the country. I will touch upon just a few items.

First, the public reaction. Public anger spilled onto the streets in the form of protests in various parts of the country. Most notably – and certainly not surprisingly - in Delhi itself. The political leadership, unsure of how to react, came across as hesitant to engage with the protesters. This only made matters worse as it further strengthened the already growing belief that the political leaders of the country are far removed from the plight and the concerns of the aam janata. To make matters worse, the Delhi police, with an already sinking reputation, only made matters worse for themselves by using lathi charge and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Then, the promises and assurances. Realising that this was a “hot” issue that could be politically exploited, leaders of various parties began immediate announcements for “safety measures for women” in their constituencies. Suddenly there was talk of more policing, more women police staff in police stations, GPRS in auto rickshaws, “sensitizing of the police force”, banning of “tinted glass” in buses – and more.

Then, the pontification. Various politicians (cutting across party lines) and other mass leaders began sharing their “wisdom” on the incident, and on women in general. Not surprisingly many of their views reflected exactly the patriarchal mindset many Indians (especially of an earlier generation) have. Listening to them was like seeing termites coming out of the woodwork. What became very clear after hearing them is that generations of a patriarchal mindset in society cannot be undone overnight. Not only men but also women have internalized this so deeply that changing this will be a very long drawn process.

If it’s any consolation, from what I’ve read and sensed, today’s youth – more educated and more globally aware – seem to be less burdened by this patriarchal mindset. If this is true, this is a HUGE win because youth form a very large part of our society and will hopefully carry this progressive mindset to future generations. 

And of course, political damage control. The Chief Minister of Delhi, Mrs. Sheila Dikshit, under whose nose the incident took place, got into major damage control for her own self. She lost no time in claiming that the Delhi police were not her responsibility but that of the Home Ministry. Having clarified this, she was happy to lash out at the police, saying they had lost the confidence of the public, they needed to be “sensitized” and “trained” etc etc. With Delhi elections not too far away, she was also careful to always be on the right side of public sentiment. Let’s just say if a seasoned politician like Ms Dikshit had been any less astute in deflecting accountability for the incident that happened in her own backyard, it would’ve been surprising.

With all the attention the case was getting, it wasn’t surprising that the rapists got arrested. Interesting how things somehow “fall in place” when the heat’s really on you. While the rapists undergo trial, the debate on an appropriate punishment for them – and for rapists in general – rages on. 

As does the discussion on bringing changes to the legislation relating to rape.

As does the discussion on police reforms.

With violence against women suddenly becoming a “hot” subject for the media too, the papers (and TV too) have been full of this. Pages and pages have reported rapes from all over the country.

But I’m not writing this piece just to narrate what’s happened in the last month. Most people know most of this anyway.

I’m writing this mainly because I really NOW WANT TO SEE CHANGE.

I want to see visible improvement in women’s safety. I want to see visible reduction in VAW.

The thing is we can all protest, we can all outrage. And we do a lot of that using appropriate channels. And I’d like to think some of it is effective too. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.

But it can only go so far.

We need to have concrete steps taken to make women safe. We need to have concrete steps taken to reduce violence against them. And until we have these in place, we shouldn’t feel satisfied. I know I will not.

As we know, it’s not particularly straightforward. There are many elements at play here. From society, to laws, to our police, to our politicians – and more. In many respects they are connected – and that adds to the complexity of it all. And where there’s complexity, there will be confusion, endless debate and consequently, delay.

So, even if everybody is well-meaning (and even that’s a big IF), a composite solution may remain a pipe-dream for a long while at least.

And I don’t think we can wait till eternity. We have already waited for far too long, as far as I am concerned.

I would therefore like to think of some “quick wins” (if one can call them that) to at least try to minimize the magnitude of the issue. These are not in conflict with the more structural solutions that we need to have in place – like legal and police reforms, and changing the mindset. These “quick wins” are in addition to those steps – the main advantage here being that these should be relatively more easily implementable.

1)  Hold local elected representatives to their promises of “safety measures”. They’ve made all sorts of promises – now let’s make them accountable to deliver. Usually they make promises, win some political brownie points – and move on. Not this time. Let’s follow up, demand a deadline for delivery. Make the promise real.

I won’t be surprised if they chicken out, citing practical issues like budgets, need for multi-party consensus and what not. Fair enough, but then they stand exposed yet again for failing to deliver. This time, publicly. This itself will put pressure on them to go that extra yard. Even if they deliver on SOME of the promises they’ve made, it should make a positive difference for women.

To make this work, we probably need the help of our media. Mainstream media has more access to politicians and policymakers than the aam janata. They need to relentlessly follow up on these promises, not just publish the initial soundbytes. (This is one of my grouses against our media – they flit from one quote-of-the-day to another, but they rarely follow up and hold our elected representatives accountable for what they promise).

2) Bar tainted politicians from holding, or standing for, office. Some of the politicians have themselves admitted to cases of violence against women. There are others who are accused, even if not convicted yet. Some of these are MPs and MLAs. Let us insist that the pending cases are fast-tracked to conclusion. Then, not only should the guilty MPs/MLAs be removed from their positions, but a law needs to be passed to disallow any politician from aspiring for, or holding, office. Or from contesting elections. For life. This may sound like a very tough line but I don’t think it is too much to ask of an elected representative.

3) Get more VAW cases reported to the authorities. VAW often happens because the perpetrator is confident of getting away with it. So it  is absolutely imperative that VAW gets reported promptly. That way at least there’s a start in the case – and there is SOME chance of action against the perpetrator. As things stand today, reporting is at a woeful level at the moment.  For a whole host of reasons. Fear of the police station. A sense of shame about reporting violence (especially rape). Often the perpetrator is known to the victim – the victim often suffers in silence. Fear of being ostracized by society and even by one’s own family.

This has to stop. And stop NOW. I think this is where society – and a number of our well-meaning NGOs - could help.

They need to be immediately available to a victim, to be able to provide that support and strength so badly needed in such situations. They need to take the victim to the police station to get the FIR filed (and ensure the police station does not try to back out from filing the FIR). The police might take an individual lightly but will be less likely to be dismissive of an NGO.

The victim needs to be given re-assurance that she isn't to blame at all for her situation. That she has EVERY right to expect justice for herself. And that there is a support network for her, should she need it.

I presume this is what NGOs are doing today anyway, so what I’m talking about is hopefully already working to some extent. It just needs to work much better so that more cases get reported and there is more chance of justice for the affected person. Also, I think it might help if the NGOs have a strong network of their own so that they could collectively do a much better job than each one operating on its own.

Once more VAW cases get reported, we need to follow up on these, right up to their logical conclusion. Getting the FIR is only the first step. The media can again help  by keeping the police on their toes, by highlighting cases of delay, or mismanagement of a case. (This will also expose structural weaknesses in police infrastructure – and could be a good learning experience when trying to bring about police reforms).

Perhaps a central database of all reported cases can be maintained. Today the data is too scattered, too unreliable, in my opinion. Some of it is just anecdotal. A central database will give us visibility and a tracking tool to put pressure on the police, if necessary.

4) Provide more tools to women for their day-to-day self-defence. We can talk about better policing and all that, but the fact is that women are often physically in a situation where they just have to instantaneously take care of themselves. And prevention is anyway always better than cure. So if there’s a solution out there that helps prevent rape and other violence against women, why not use it?

I’m thinking pepperspray. I’m thinking even simple whistles/alarm instruments. Simple, inexpensive stuff, easily available. Stuff that can easily fit into a woman’s handbag. Maybe more women should start carrying these items with them. It’s not the ultimate solution but, in that moment of self-defence, surely it could be effective? Maybe it will teach the guy(s) a lesson or two too.

This is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure there are more such short-term (as in “implementable in a few months’ time”) solutions out there. Probably far better than the ones above. These just came top of mind to me.

Much more needs to be done. And NOW. While points 1 and 2 require politician intervention (and will therefore presumably require an element of persistence), points 3 and 4 are very much in civilian hands. So what prevents us from actioning them rightaway?

In any case, action would be a whole lot better than just outrage. And waiting for things to somehow improve. If the daily papers are any indication, that could be a very long wait. As if we haven’t waited long enough!

(I’ve deliberately not discussed legislation change or police reform here because I’m not very competent to talk about these subjects. I know what I’d like to see, but I think I don’t know enough about the repercussions of my ideas. So I’d rather leave them out of this piece. Having said that, I think there is enough competence - and attention - on both these subjects to give me hope that there will be concrete action on them in the near future. If there isn’t, I’d be very disappointed).

2 comments:

Ava Suri said...

Your ideas are very sound Raja, and you express them very well too.

I hope someone somewhere is listening. I hope someone implements these suggestions.

Avinash Scrapwala said...

" Kaho ki aaj bhi ham sab agar khamosh rahe, to is damakte hue khaakdaan kii khair nahin, Junoon ki dhaali huyee atomi balaaon se, zameen ki khair nahin aasmaan ki khair nahin" that is what Sahir said in the context of war, though the 'atom bomb' is not their we are still going through a war like condition, war aginst the 'enemies' of humnanity, enemies of the society, enemies of the nation (not on border), but within ourselves, everyday we notice several incidence happening around us and we know it is wrong, we know it should stop, but all that we know is within ourselves, we helpless watch it all, it is time to speak, time to speack collectively and revolt collectively ....