Though I have been very busy with my other travelogues and office work, the recent tragic event in Delhi that shook India’s ever asleep national conscience also changed my priorities, and I decided to write something on the subject first.
Over the years, through my study, travel, and general observations, I’ve always maintained that the state of women in a society (along with the condition of public toilets) is a good measure of its development. India, which is one of the few countries where women technically are worshiped, is turning out to be another story. A couple of years ago, I proposed a sort of social development spectrum, where factors like the state of women (along with others) determine a country’s position along the spectrum with one end representing the best and the other the worst. Scandinavian countries, Australia, NZ generally lead the pack where as the other end has countries like Somalia and Sudan, which really have no governance or social fabric.
The important point here is that crimes against women is not the only measure I am talking about because crimes against women are lower in Saudi Arabia than Sweden. Despite this, I don’t think my women readers would want to live in Saudi Arabia over Sweden if they had to choose a safe place to live in. This is because the approach to protection of women and other laws is very different in these societies. India has consistently been amongst the worst places on earth to be born a woman. Giving us company are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Congo, and Sudan; elite company, isn’t it? Even a recent survey of the G20 countries placed India at the tail, one position behind Saudi Arabia. So, the next time some one talks about our economic progress, tell them about this. Keep this spectrum in mind and we’ll come back to it later.
It’s a bane to be woman in India for several other reasons too. Even today, women must get up before sunrise to pass their stools (so that no one can see them…although men can shit and pee in style). Increasingly, they must contribute to the earnings and also be the homemaker. Add to this the humiliation of wife beating, violence, liquor problems, divorces (stigma), and giving birth to a girl. This is a society where the wife must keep giving birth till she gives birth to a son. Last week, in Rajasthan, I routinely saw scores of families with several girls and one son with no roof, no money, no education, staying on railway platforms. It used to be quite a sight with the whole family hidden below a blanket, and when someone removed the blanket, one realized that there ware eight people there. Women have also traditionally been the ones who have bore the brunt of follies made by others. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, women, even today, are exchanged as compensation for bad debts or family honour. Over the centuries, women have been raped and tortured during war. In Europe, women were routinely burnt as witches during the dark ages.
How I hate saying this, but the rape case in Delhi is just another rape case, which becomes so difficult to digest due to its brutality. Just today, a woman was raped and thrown outside a police station in Hanumangarh, a minor was raped in Gujarat, and a mother of two was raped at a bus stand in Uttar Pradesh. A women is raped every 22 minutes in India. In 2010, there were 213585 crimes against women that were registered in India. Don’t forget that these are only the registered cases especially keeping in mind the state of Indian police and also the problem of stigmatization. Estimates put the figure at double of what I quoted, which means there is one crime against a woman in India every second. Why have we reached this state? What are the factors that have turned India into a country where women are mere objects of pleasure? Let’s examine a few reasons:
Frustrated society: If you sit back and analyze the state of India across all spheres, people are very unhappy. 70% of India doesn’t even have a place to shit. There is anger in the minds and hearts of people due to variety of issues all of which combine to make their life miserable. Just this morning, a motorcyclist got into a scuffle with me because I asked him to use the left lane so that other vehicles can pass him from the right. When I look back, the motorcyclist was frustrated and ended up venting his anger at me. Perhaps he doesn’t have water at home or his child didn’t get admissions or some other reason coupled with the fact that there is a rising socialist mindset in Maharashtra, which makes me the villain for being in a car in the first place! Angry people do stupid things. People can only vent their anger at people/things that can’t really respond (which is what the motorcyclist thought too…I was well dressed, not likely to fight/retaliate). Power is a very tricky element. Through the ages, men have imposed themselves on women due to sheer physical strength. Women make an easy target; not just for rapes but other stuff as well. Domestic violence, wife beating, blowing hard earned money on liquor and prostitutes is very common in the lower strata of society. Our national kettle is overflowing with negative emotions and crimes against women is one of the side-effects of the soaring temperature levels.
Islamic/Arab influence in the North: Directly related to my study. If you study the crime graphs, the north sees far more crimes against women as compared to the south. Ranging from rapes to female infanticide, states of northern India have the worst record. This is due to years of interference of male-dominated Islamic culture and complete destruction of India’s original social fabric. In the Muslim world, women were always commodities and are so even today. For example, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they are routinely raped, sold, and traded. Over the years, the Arab world, while retaining the deplorable status of women, put in place very harsh laws that deceptively appear to have made those countries safe for women. For example, Saudi Arabia has very low crime rates and one might argue that it is a very safe place for women. Well, it is, but that is because you just keep women inside the four walls of the house all the time with no rights. They argue that this is to protect the women from the big bad world. They say, wear a Hijaab to protect yourself from the prying eyes of rapists. Essentially, this means that they admit that their society is a society of rapists and that it can’t be fixed, so let’s just keep the women out of sight. Fair enough, that’s one way of doing it! Unfortunately, the men of northern India aren’t too different from the Arabs (with prying eyes), but we haven’t got the systems in place that they have (however abysmal those systems are). You can get a sense of the culture influence quite easily. Khap panchayats, covering faces with sarees or dupattas in public, not wearing ‘revealing’ clothes, no love marriages, dishonour killings etc. are common ground rules in northern India. If you notice, women in south India don’t follow many of these commonly accepted north Indian practices. Dowry, which is the source of so many other crimes against women, is also a direct derivative of the Islamic concept of Jahaz.
Sex deprivation: One of the major issues in India is that people don’t have enough opportunities to enjoy sex. A sexy woman makes such an interesting sight that the whole street focuses their attention on her. If she is fair then all hell will break lose. Why is this not the case in Holland or Australia? I am sure that the men there like sexy women too?! But, its very difficult for a common man in India to find a partner to have sex with, because it is such a taboo. Sex deprivation causes tremendous mental anger which results in bursts of violence. For example, even in animals, when your pet reaches puberty, you find him a mate because unless you do so, he will become very irritable and violent. Our society is facing the same problem. Forget sex, you can’t even marry whom you want. Half the people who marry in rural and semi-rural India marry is because it legitimizes sex in a way; albeit with one woman. Truck drivers in India routinely hire prostitutes during their long journeys across the country as the satisfaction and mental comfort that sex provides compensates for their otherwise woeful job. The skewed sex ratio in favour of men makes finding ‘good’ women all the more difficult. Bhutan is a good example that I’d mention here. It is a poor country as such, not white, but still is very relaxed and open. Sex is not a taboo there and condoms are available at every junction. Incidence of rape and crimes against women are much lower than say a similar country (demographically) like Nepal.
Men will be men: One woman isn’t enough for a man. ‘Honest’ men have to fight with their own desires and constantly remind themselves that they should not look at other women (because they are married for example). Some would just satisfy their lust through fantasies. Others are not able to satisfy their urges through fantasies and rapes along with other crimes are a direct result. A sex deprived society coupled with non-existent law and order will result in men following their instincts, which I am afraid aren’t very different from other animals who turn violent when not provided with a chance to mate regularly. Don’t forget that crimes against women in the US are extremely high too despite the fact that they have a perfectly functional administration in place.
Non-existent law and order: India is virtually a banana republic and I have no qualms about saying this. A lot of people have been clamouring for stricter laws. Many laws are fairly strict in India. In some cases, they are actually skewed in favour of women. But there is no implementation. The police force is a joke, courts are overloaded, there aren’t enough specialists to deal with women’s cases, there aren’t enough forensic experts etc. Even if rape was punishable by death, unless rapists are actually sent to the gallows, it won’t make a big difference. It takes years and years to even hang a terrorist in India; who cares about one rapist from some small town in Madhya Pradesh? National Commission for Women (NCW) is a toothless entity whose members roam in air-conditioned cars visiting victims and briefing media. Women shelter homes are gateways to prostitution and recently there was case where the caretaker of a shelter home for disabled women sexually exploited them. Does anyone know where is he or has he been convicted? NCW have been giving suggestions after suggestions to the government but none have been implemented.
Sheila Dikshit states that she requested for fast track courts more than four years ago, but nothing has happened. When I say law and order is non-existent, it is in every sphere. From traffic signals to smoking on railway platforms. Once you break a ‘simple’ law and aren’t reprimanded, by nature, you will continue into breaking more significant laws. Today, a criminal whistles at a girl, tomorrow he gropes her, then he molests her, and finally he rapes her. If he was stopped at the first instance, chances of going further would drop significantly. The rapists in Delhi were drunk. Drinking in public and drunk driving are both crimes. If those crimes would have been addressed in the first place, the possibility of the rape would have also decreased. I am not sure how blaming the Delhi Police or having the commissioner resign will help. With an under-equipped, unmotivated, and ill-trained force, they are to administer a crazy and dynamic population.
Commodification of women: Its really sad that even the educated side of society completely itemizes women. Look at the role of women in cinema or in ads. You want to sell a cold drink…get a half naked woman. You want to sell a deodorant…have a half naked woman drool over you. I’ve even seen a cement ad with a half naked woman! In movies, what’s the first thing people talk about these days? X or Y heroine has an ‘item’ number in the movie. What’s her role? Nothing, just coming on screen with some skimpy clothes and dancing to some vulgar moves with ‘brute’ men (Bidi Jalaile, Bido duji thali ka, Munni badnam hui!). Senseless and meaningless content with which those ‘brute’ men relate. The more you feed these things to the society, the more will this ‘women are items’ psychology rise. The slang in Mumbai to refer to a sexy women is in fact ‘item’. One one hand Aamir Khan does a show highlighting dowry related deaths and the next thing you see on screen is one of what I mentioned. This has to stop.
Now that I’ve pointed out some of the many reasons for the state of women in India, I also propose a few solutions. You must have heard the intelligentsia say that increasing penalties won’t change anything, we must change the mindset. Well changing the mindset will take fifty years; are we prepared to have another million women raped by then? No. That is why we need to have short term and long term solutions:
Law and order reforms: We need an immediate overhaul of the law and order machinery. Not only do we need better laws, we need far better implementation. Police and judicial reforms must go hand in hand. Often, the parliament passes a law but the state police is so under equipped (recently dealt with Rajasthan Police, such a joke) that they just can’t implement the law. Just compare the police force with the Indian army. They don’t stand anywhere on any parameter. Why is that the case? The job of the police is as important as that of the army, if not more. There are a zillion laws in India. People simply don’t follow them because they don’t respect law and neither do they fear law. The long term goal must be that people respect law, but the short term approach could be to instill a sense of fear in possible perpetrators. The quota in promotions bill has been almost unanimously approved in the parliament where as the women’s reservation bill has been pending for two decades. So has the Lokpal bill.
The politicians should have formulated harsh laws long ago; for me having strict laws is something very simple. A girl doesn’t need to be mutilated and dumped in Delhi for this to make the parliament. Neither do I know what about it needs to be debated. NCW has proposed a new Sexual Assault bill for ages now. Parliament can easily summon a special session and reform the archaic laws in a day especially because the subject has unanimity too. But doing so doesn’t win them votes. We also need to place our self on that spectrum that I mentioned earlier and decide where we want to be and by what approach. People are demanding that government start flogging and castrating rapists publicly. This is also a misplaced demand which purely arises from the frustration and ineffectiveness of the government. As a nation, taking measures such as these does not go well with the national fabric. But there is no question that people like the rapists in Delhi should have no place in society. Either hang them, or send them to work for all their life helping women in some remote part of India. Don’t keep them in prison with my money.
Cases need to be tracked till closure. Just arresting suspects and filing the FIR under media pressure isn’t enough. After 10 years, the foreign diplomat who was raped in Delhi, has not got justice despite the fact that she traveled to India several times to testify and help law take the correct course. Punishment must not only be severe but also be certain. That is the most important point.
More women in important positions: Women makes better administrators and I find them better human beings on the whole. They are usually less violent, less likely to be corrupt, less likely to cheat and more likely to be compassionate. That’s how nature has made them. If we don’t have equal or more women occupying important positions in the country, the well-being of women will never become a national issue. Also, to deal with cases of high sensitivity, there must be women investigators and prosecutors, who are better equipped to understand the pain a victim might have gone through. Just having some 12th standard pass lady constable sitting at each police station in the name of women’s protection or having a helpline that no one answers isn’t going to help. Even though the UPA chairperson is a woman, Delhi CM is a woman, Lok Sabha speaker is a woman, last president was a woman; the safety and well-being of woman is not a national priority. We are OK with having 65 rapes everyday in India. Another 65 would have happened by the time I publish this post. On account of recent massacre in Connecticut, USA, the US flag is hoisted has half mast. By that standard, the Indian flag should be at a permanent half mast in shame. Only when there will be enough sensitive women at decisive positions can the country move towards social change.
Social change: A long term solution. There must be a concrete and more tangible effort to eradicate social evils. Till women remain unwanted and helpless, they will be raped and exploited. Cases of dowry, gender discrimination, female infanticide etc. must be punished as harshly as rape. If this isn’t done, we might reduce rape cases but just end up increasing marital rape, which is another big issue. Rape victims in India often commit suicide, which means that they feel that they aren’t fit enough to live in society. Are they the ones who aren’t fit or are the rapists the one who shouldn’t have a place? A few months ago, there was a series of rapes against Dalits in Haryana. Sonia Gandhi visited the house of one of the victims, where the father committed suicide. What happened to that case? Does anyone know or remember about it? The life of that woman is over. This is a serious problem which needs long term measures. Killing rapists will not solve this problem. Also, religious and social edicts issued by religious and social leaders should be banned. Unilateral divorce over the phone has Allah’s sanction. Girls in Bihar should not use mobile phones. All this should not be tolerated. Women should have access to each place in the country. Each mosque. Each temple. If men or their male gods have a problem with it, we have a problem with them.
Commodification of women must stop. Trafficking of girls, forced prostitution etc. must attract the strictest penalty. There has to be some system in place to keep a tab on how women are portrayed in the media. Believe me, I don’t buy Axe in the hope that I will get lucky as the man in the advertisement does. There has to be a national effort towards eliminating crimes against women. A man, before indulging in inappropriate behaviour with a woman should know that the complaint of a woman would effectively seal his fate. The whole notion that sex is a taboo/something sacred needs to be got rid of too. People should feel comfortable asking a person of the opposite gender for sex. I know that’s a long shot, but as I pointed out earlier, sexual frustration is a huge problem in India. It is all interlinked. As of today, as Farhan Akhtar aptly pointed out, I wouldn’t recommend India to any female friend/traveler as a safe place to roam around. This is a good litmus test to know where have we reached.
When there was need for a need for promoting national integration, Doordarshan came up with ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’. Technology and times have changed and there is lot more the government can do to bring this issue to the forefront.
Changes in education: Education must sensitize young boys about the problems that their girl companions face. I’ve repeatedly seen young and mature men make fun of something like a woman’s menstruation cycle. I don’t really understand what’s funny in an organ secreting some excessive fluids. Education must address these issues at the formative years of a boy’s mind. Also, very importantly, women need to be assured, empowered, and told that they are equal or superior to their male friends. Their protection, physical and mental, should be a priority right from the beginning, and they should have a sense of security and self-esteem instilled in them. If a school girl faces sexual abuse, she should know what to do, and must not feel like hiding the issue and I can’t stress on how important this is at a young age.
Encouraging neutrals to help: In a lot of cases of crime against women, there are mute spectators who turn a blind eye to what’s happening generally due to fear. Other reasons include indifference (why should I bother, she’s not my sister) and the fear of getting involved with the police/law. If you remember a recent case in Mumbai, some rogues molested a couple of women, and when their friends (Keenan and Reuben) tried to interfere, they stabbed and killed them. The culprits were wasted teens and not some gangsters. This happened in a place where there were many others (outside a hotel). If 20 people would have confronted the molesters instead of two, chances of the molesters trying to assault them would be negligible. Police and the administration should hold meetings with neighbourhood committees imploring youth to come forward and protect women in need and assure them of police support after the incident. I distinctly remember another case in front of Maratha Mandir in Mumbai where a man threw acid and stabbed a young girl who had earlier refuted her advances. That place, at any given point of time during the day, has at least 100000 people present. How and why does this happen? I am sure you remember the recent case where a girl was molested on an upmarket street in Calcutta by more than 20 men. There were hundreds of people and cars that passed by including some on whose windows the girl knocked for help.
Break the Indian union: If all else fails, the most radical and well thought of solution. India and Indians are incapable of taking care of 1.2 billion people. If you analyze, each issue somewhere or the other is linked to overpopulation. Only Pt. Nehru and Indira Gandhi are the major leaders that I distinctly remember as having taken important steps to empower women in independent India. This means that in the last 30 years, we haven’t had a single leader bring this issue to the political forefront. The central government takes a decision which the state can’t implement either due to lack of infrastructure or lack of political will. Tomorrow, the parliament will pass a law that each police station must have a lady officer on duty at all times. Where will Pune get those officers from unless Maharashtra Police recruits them? Where will the debt ridden Maharashtra state get the money from? Its main source of revenue is Mumbai and Pune and put together Mumbai and Pune contribute to more than 25% of India’s GDP, yet their infrastructure and livability standards are dismal. Why should Mumbai pay for the metro in Delhi? As of today, Pune’s traffic (highest motor vehicle density in India) is managed by a mere 900 constables. Break India into smaller nations and let each state/region take care of itself. People relate to their immediate leaders far more than leaders who might be from other regions. Also, a lot of other issues might also be a solved as a result of such a step. These are harsh but logical questions and I am going to conclude at this thought.
These were some of the things that have been in my mind for quite some time. By now, I am reasonably convinced that federal democracy+secularism is not a suitable model for governance in India, although that is another debate. People of our age must be very aware of these issues. By no means do I think that what I have written above is the most comprehensive problem-solution analysis. There are many experts on this matter who work hard towards helping women. Talking about the gravity of the problem and raising awareness about it also helps solve the problem in the long run. Plus, there are several people around us who might not be related to us but face abuse. Come forward to help them and feel free to comment on this article.
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