There are times when society discovers new meanings in existing idioms. The death of the girl who was violated brutally by misguided youth is one such moment, which has now become an idiom. An idiom that will change a few things forever.
I’m convinced that it will be very difficult for the ruling class to dismiss these things and give ticket to such candidates with such offences against their name. Also, the fact that incidences of rape have continued to surface in all parts of India, despite this incident, shows that nothing has changed yet. But the alacrity with which senior police officials are taking corrective action is an improvement, which is quite noticeable.
I only hope that they continue to defy political pressure (to either not arrest, or release the culprits or dilute their FIR) and not delay in filing of FIRs, delay investigation or harass women who complain. But respect for women in the family or the attitude of men in the homes or on streets must change. Eve-teasing must be labelled a serious offence. Given the low conviction rates in such cases, harsher punishments may go some distance in creating deterrence but the real answer lies in a fundamental shift in social attitude.
Capital punishment simply isn’t the answer. I’m not convinced that the single aim of the social protest, how worthy or legitimate it may be, should be death penalty.
Stigma, which prevents large number of women and children to come out and complain about abuse (at home or at the workplace and educational institutions), is the greatest fear that men, who assault the dignity of women, use to silence the voice.
Unless we, as a society, reflect and change this extremely unfortunate and unacceptable attitude, large scale involuntary silence will continue to give legitimacy to the irresponsible men. We must begin with series of steps to ensure safety of women. I don’t want to repeat the case for police reforms, fast-track cases or other such expedient measures.
My concern is that we should start a discussion at the dinner table or in the kitchen of every house about the tolerance, we have for assertion of male power in silencing the voice of affected children, women and others. It’s a struggle for social justice.
The fact that women suffer even in poor families makes this case of injustice more complex. It cannot be seen only in class terms. Majority of women who suffer in farms and firms may be from poor backgrounds, but not always.
We also need to look at the educational system and see if the debate on the subject can become a regular issue, on which consciousness needs to be raised. How many institutions have regular sensitisation sessions on gender imbalance and safety? We will also have to reopen certain cases, if for no other reason than just to create examples. Ruchika’s case and Nathihari killings are just two cases, there are many more of them. Priyadarshini Mattoo would never have gotten justice had popular pressure not been intense.
Will there be regular reporting of such cases, and actions taken to public? Will national database of offenders come into existence in a month’s time? Will any young person convicted of eve-teasing and other such offences be made accountable in labour market?
We must, however, also take care that this process is not misused by vested interests. We know that in dowry cases, large number of women and their families did foist false cases and thus harassed the other side.
But notwithstanding a few cases of miscarriage of justice, I will still suggest that vigilance be not lax. Women should be taught the essentials of law, and health steps that need to be taken to safeguard themselves, and rest of the society decides how long it will take to change its basic attitude towards women and weaker sections of society.
The author is a professor at IIMA.