Looking back at the many turbulent moments of 2013, the eventful year further radicalised discussions around gender relations: particularly around the discourse on violence against women. The silence broken by the gang rape of a young medical student in Delhi on December 16, 2012, catalysed meaningful conversations around gender relations. The Justice Verma committee recommendations transformed the legal framework of gender justice. The seemingly inviolable hegemony of men suddenly appears vulnerable. Seldom before — as now — has the issue of women’s violence been so forcefully discussed at all levels, and incorporated as part of the national agenda.
True, a long journey still lies ahead. And making that journey will be tough in a country which, many would argue, has virtually institutionalised violence against women. Where our politicians and policymakers still continue to make sexist remarks, symptomatic of the robust roots of patriarchy entrenched in every walk of life. But the male culture of toleration is now being challenged and challenged without fear or shame. The tacit understanding that has kept the male-dominated establishments safe till now is becoming impossible to preserve any longer.
Women are ready to walk that extra mile to secure their rights and lead a life of dignity, without fear. There can be simply no turning the clock back.
Consider this: Powerful men in media, politics and the judiciary, are no longer able to hide behind the armour of influence and position. This year, a young journalist in the Tehelka magazine, took on her editor, the powerful Tarun Tejpal for sexually assaulting her. Tejpal is currently in judicial custody, awaiting trial in the case. Since then, a young intern has gone public accusing the former Supreme Court judge AK Ganguly of sexually harassing her. Despite attempts by a powerful section of the judiciary to muzzle the victim, Ganguly’s case has gone for Presidential reference, seeking to remove him from his current position as Bengal’s National Human Rights Commission chairperson.
These are just a couple of high-profile cases which have hogged media attention. But the 2013 gender narrative goes far deeper than that. Away from the high-voltage media scrutiny were countless incidents of gender-based violence, the victims refusing to be terrorised into silence.
It’s such fearlessness that has kept the heat on the political class. The victims’ refusal to retreat into oblivion is clear from the increasing number of FIRs that are lodged against perpetrators. As 2014 unfolds, it’s important for women to keep this conversation going inside and outside Parliament. Equally imperative is to keep the pressure on to repeal the Armed Forced Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which protects men in uniform, guilty of committing sexual violence in the conflict-regions of J&K and the Northeast. The conversation must go on.