2012 was the year in which the discourse on violence against women stepped out, from the dingy nooks and crannies that it inhabited, the hushed whispers it was talked in, to the public space with a full blown agitation – a cry for reform.
It began with actor Aamir Khan in his show Satyameva Jayate – discussing the issue of female foeticide and casting a glance at the attitudes of people from all sections of society towards the girl child. A Bollywood actor was able to achieve what crores of rupees on advertising, thousands of editorials and op-ed pieces, and a plethora of conventions could not achieve – get the discussion of foeticide from closed hierarchies, out to the polite and not so polite society. Just as collective consciousness was recovering from the fact that everyone got rid of unwanted daughters, the Guwahati molestation case occurred. A teenage girl returning home was hunted, beaten, groped, molested, assaulted, stripped by a gang of well-heeled men, with a TV crew filming every little aspect of the girl’s torture. So, it was no longer ‘boys’ from poor families who molested – it was everyone. And, then came the story of the girl in Kerala raped by her father, brother and uncle. It was no longer a case of a girl going outside the house at strange hours to face rape – it could happen at home, by the very people who are supposed to protect you. And, finally the straw that broke the camel’s back was gang rape, torture and murder of the 23-year-old student in Delhi.
Suddenly the floodgates opened and every girl and every woman remembered every incident that made her feel unsafe, and came out on the streets to protest. Fathers, brothers, husbands and sons – joined in these protests fearful for their loved ones. We began hearing about case after case of goriness from across India. Infants, toddlers, pre-pubescent girls, teenagers, college students, wives, mothers, grandmothers – no one was safe. Given that sexual and physical abuse is now a part of mainstream conversation – there is no better time than now to push for systemic reforms that makes gives a fillip to women’s rights, security and safety in modern India. But in addition to that there are some very basic steps that one can take to enhance this reform.
The first thing to ensure is the sensitisation of police to gender issues that makes it easier for women to approach them and file complaints. Both men and women in the police force need to undergo continuous training on how to approach cases of sexual and gender violence, so that women can approach them with confidence. The second thing is to simplify the laws governing violence and have them translated into colloquial languages. Most of the laws and rules are framed and written in language as it existed generations ago. Either provide translations or rewrite these in modern spoken language. Also, given the number of people who have bare bone literacy skills, the government may want to look at providing audio recordings with translations.
The next thing is to build a social services team at the local government level. Their job is to identify women, and children (and also senior citizens) who are at risk and ensure that they remain safe. Currently this role is played by some police stations – but ideally it needs to be at the local government level. Associated with this are safe houses and shelters for battered women and children. Ideally these will be run not by the state but by various other agencies – the government will merely monitor. Small things like lit roads, more closed toilets and bath areas, neighbourhood patrols by people from the locality could also make that difference between safety and violence.
Finally, it is easy to pick on the Abhijit Mukherjees and the Banwari Lal Singhals and express outrage at their views. And outrage one must, because such views by elected representatives is simply not acceptable. However, the focus on solely the negative, makes it the only point of view. But there are millions of people — including political leaders — who have a more progressive view of women, believe in women’s rights, believe in the capability and competency of women at work, and would not decry women. The regressive ones get the ratings, because they represent the prejudices of a certain section of the audiences. The progressive ones will actually make the change by being role models.
Can this prevent a random attack like the Delhi gang rape case — highly unlikely. But, can it prevent the hundreds of other every day incidents of violence against women — possibly.
Harini Calamur is a media entrepreneur, writer, blogger, teacher, and the main slave to an imperious hound. She blogs at calamur.org/gargi and @calamur on Twitter l firstname.lastname@example.org