Sunday, February 24, 2013

The only true crime... the journey of an ordinance

Two months ago, India was on its feet expressing its outrage at the barbaric rape and subsequent murder of a young woman in a Delhi bus. We were angry and ashamed and swore to not give up the fight till justice was done. We decided to wear black bands and keep up the fight. The media was replete with stories on women's safety. Brought to its knees the state constituted a committee meant to look at women related issues and the said committee worked relentlessly to bring about a report many of us were thrilled out. For the first time, issues that are normally brushed under carpets were highlighted. We were all on a high. But then surreptitiously, the dark forces set to work. A hurried ordinance which diluted many of the main issues was promulgated leaving us all perplexed. Why the hurry? In the mean time, the media found greener pastures (the death and beheading of soldiers, the much awaited hanging of a terrorist, the curious case of a Party President, and now blasts in a southern city) and even the tiny news item that informed us of the daily hearings of the case of the accused in the Delhi rape, stopped. Our black bands faded and I wonder how many of us replaced them.

But atrocities against women did not stop. Rapes continued with alacrity and seeming impunity. But we remain silent. The Delhi rape is undoubtedly horrific but what about the recent rape of 3 little sisters in Bhandara. Why have we not felt outraged as we did a few months ago? Is it because these 3 little souls belong to a social background we cannot identify with? Imagine three little girls, between the age of 5 and 11, waking up in the morning as they do each school day, wearing their uniforms, hurriedly gulping a breakfast lovingly prepared by their mother, picking up their bags and setting off for school. Only on that day they never came home. A predator was lurking on the way; he may have enticed them with some treat or the other and then hijacked and destroyed their dreams in a flash. I shudder to imagine what  their last moments on earth were like. The confusion, the bewilderment, the helplessness, the pain and the realisation that it was all over. Their journey from home to school ended in a dark well. Were they still alive when they were pushed in? And imagine the plight of the mother, widowed a few years back and who  now loses her children. No amount of compensation can begin to heal her agony.

What is worse is that the police did nothing for two days. The investigation was shoddy and truly began only after the enraged villagers resorted to violent protest. According to the latest news the Principal of the school they studied in has been suspended for not having reported that the girls were missing. The question that begs to be answered is whether the police would have acted had the principal reported the incident? Sadly this is not the only incident. Rapes have been committed with alacrity and impunity every single day since the terrible Delhi rape. But we seem to have lost our voice yet again.

The Delhi case has resulted in an ordinance that needs to be passed by Parliament but trends indicate that though it seemed that everyone once agreed, it may lapse for want of time! And there is more. It also seems that some of our esteemed politicians have raised some doubts. One of these seems to be that if stalking is included then it could be misused. Others objections have been against voyeurism and even sexual harassment at the work place. All this augurs well for the Government who can then allow the ordinance to lapse. The existing laws will remain and nothing would have changed.

What is frightening is that the 'doubts' expressed reek of patriarchy and seem to condone the conspiracy of silence that has prevailed. It seems that the only true 'crime' against women that all are willing to address and condemn is rape. But rape is the culmination of a series of albeit smaller crimes that embolden perpetrators. Perpetrators are often misguided youth who begin their descent with crimes like teasing, stalking, groping etc. If these will be smiled upon benignly by a patriarchal society that considers women as second class beings, possessions and objects then women will never get justice. Men will never understand the rage and hurt felt by a woman who is leered at or groped. In every way it is a violation of her being. If crime against women is to be addressed then every from of crime has to come under the ambit of law. By objecting to stalking, voyeurism and any form of harassment, men want to retain the right of indulging in such low games with impunity. Diluting any law is as good as discarding it.

Is there no hope then. One would be tempted to say yes. Since time immemorial women have learnt to live with such aberrations and build defenses. The Delhi rape did shake us out of our immobility and we would have liked to believe that our rage would bring about change. But the enemy is wily and strong. It will require subtle tactics and a long war. Delhi was just the first battle and we still have not won it. The Bhandara culprits roam free. The Suryanelli survivor has still not got justice even after 17 long years. To bring about change we need to raise our voices in each and every case; we need to convey our outrage each time a crime is committed against women and children. We need to refuse to accept aberrations and stop building defenses. But will we? Every day children and are abused within the so called safety of their homes but no one says a word. If the child garners the courage to share her/his hurt with an elder, (s)he is sworn to the code of silence, a code meant to protect the patriarchal equilibrium. A girl his told not to talk about sexual assault she may have incurred because it 'may ruin her chances on the marriage market'. What is this society where the victim is criminalised and the perpetrator roams free. I am sure than men who may be guilty of stalking or groping asre still good marriage market material.

True men need to be sensitized, but more than them, it is we women who have to be freed from patriarcal mindsets and learn to respect ourselves and other women. When will that day dawn?


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