Monday, 28 November 2022 | Neeraj Kumar Pande
Neeraj Kumar Pande
Is Indian society a living paradox? On the one hand the country has recently achieved the distinction of becoming one of the leading economies of the world while on the other it is still among the most unsafe places for women. Does history really repeat itself in circles? Because this paradox is a reminder of the golden age of India during the ancient period where despite commercial prosperity women suffered massive social disability. What has really changed today? Inspite of many women claiming economic- political empowerment, most continue to be very vulnerable. Simple reason being descriptive representation of women has not led to substantive representation in India across various fields. No wonder then that the rate of femicide across Indian States is worrisome.
Every time, molestation and killing of young girls eventually gets embroiled in political controversy. While for the world community it is hard to metabolise the callousness of perpetrators of the crime, those in the business of power continue to pass the buck onto one another. Then there is the lobby of some activists across the media, who fan these endless and bootless controversies. Anyone who is someone assumes the moral authority to blame everyone when such offenses come to light. However, it remains no one’s mantle to chalk out a constructive redressal. A sensitive society must realise that expressing solidarity with the victim’s family is not enough. Unless punitive action is undertaken towards the accused, all policies and welfare programmes are mere farce.
We may stratify societies into various groups and development models but the physical violation of women continues to be one factor which runs at parallel ratios in all of them.The reason behind such a widespread and increasing abuse of women remains rather obstruse at a time when we claim to be living in a world of women empowerment and gender equality. More than anything else, the problem here is a two-sided paradox. On the one hand, there is a set of laws to protect women, but these are definitively not cogent enough to curb the potential violators. On the other hand, if at all there is a sense of awareness of women’s rights and entitlements, it is masked by archaic patriarchal norms and the resulting lack of assertiveness in a majority of women.
‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ is far more than an overused cliche in this context. The lumbering legal processes which follow the reporting of such crimes not only keep the victims from coming forward for legal help but is also a shot in the arm for those, who have the proclivity to commit such crimes. Subsequent to repeated interrogations of the victim and her family, traumatic face identifications and medical confirmations, attempts are made to bring the accused to book. Then, of course, there are judicial rounds to grapple with. Finally even when the convicted perpetrators have been sent behind the bars, it is seldom for life time imprisonment or the death penalty. That is, until recently when the milestone law was ammended, which accords death penalty to those guilty of sexual assault on a minor. Those convicted of violating adult women still get away with barely a seven or 10 year imprisonment however. Moreover, victim blaming is still popular. What is the fault of the victim? Educating herself, working for her livelihood, voicing her grievances? Does this not serve as a deterrent to many other women from participating in the workforce? Then why is it a surprise that India has lower women work force participation as compared to even Sri Lanka and Nepal.
In our society the accused pays just a fraction of the price, whereas the victim is left with harrowing physical and emotional scars, psychological challenges and even the threat of serious sexual infections. Add to all this, the social stigma that has been tagged to sexual offences, which makes resuming a normal life extremely daunting for such victims of sexual assault. The feebleness of these laws designed to protect women from sexual offences, has in fact enabled the perverts to commit such acts several times.
On the other end of the spectrum is an inherited social structure which has always propagated the ‘weaker sex’ ideology. The entire notion that females are inferior to males because they have been traditionally envisaged as being economically dependent on their male counterparts, has granted a rather sublime status to males in our society. This docile, domesticated and enduring version of women is a symbol of femininity which the society has always idolised. In fact in most acts of sexual violation of women, the crime stems from this very notion of women being inferior to men. These are acts of subjugation by the use of force. These are symbols of assertion of a shallow masculinity, which renders women helpless and hurt; acts which not just physically mutilate them but erode the very fabric of their self respect and dignity. There is a wave of awareness for empowering women across all sections of the society, by equipping them with police and women rights organisation’s helpline numbers, sensitising young girls and tightening general security standards everywhere. However these are never sufficient unless the entire equation of gender power is challenged in society. The real equality can not be taught out of the blue but has to be perceived in all the institutions of socialisation from childhood itself. Be it family or school, workplace or marriage, we need an overhauling of mindsets alongside the overhauling of laws. Equality between sexes has to be imbibed right from early years even within the family. It has to reflect in both the work distribution pattern in the family and workforce. An engendering of roles in households and larger society has to be put an end to. The idea that women are unfit for certain professions and suited for the more domestic roles, is highly suggestive of social bias and inequality.After all even today how many women/ girls are involved in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields ?
When children right from the primary school age are taught equal division of labour and responsibilities irrespective of their gender then they grow up into adults who believe in equality. Then boys in their later years do not have an inclination to subjugate their female counterparts at least not through unjustified use of force. The sensitisation has to begin from the initial phase of socialisation itself. The traditional approach of drafting schemes for women safety and empowerment and then washing hands off the issue has proven to be a failure. No grassroots level change can happen unless gender based power equations are challenged in the society. Social sensitisation has to be a precursor for any legislative intervention to take effect.
(The writer is a retired civil servant. Views expressed are personal)