Women Safety | Is Our ‘Streedhan’ Gajar, Mooli ?

India is at war with its girls and women. As terrifying tales of savagery and nightmarish murders, rapes, acid attacks, domestic abuse and violence occur daily. But three incidents over the last one month have shaken and horrified the nation once again. Twenty-year-old Anjali Singh is killed when a car hits her scooter, she is dragged by the vehicle for over 7km in the early hours and her body dumped on the road on Sunday in Delhi.

Twenty six-year-old Shraddha Walkar is strangled by her 28-year-old live-in partner who dismembers her body into 35 pieces, chars her face to hide her identity, stores her body parts in a fridge which are individually disposed off over 18 days in Delhi. Twenty-year-old Tanisha Sharma is found hanging on the sets of her TV show. Her ex-boyfriend Sheezan Khan is arrested for abetment to suicide. The police are also investigating a ‘love jihad’ angle.

Confronted with conscience-jolting and repugnant acts of depravity, India reacts with vindictive anger and revulsion. But the howls of vigilantist fury that reverberates through corridors of power stands apart for their immaturity and impetuosity

This begs a question: Why is India failing its women so miserably? Are they gajar-mooli which can be relished and then spat out?

Perhaps it has something to do with our patriarchal lineage and misogynistic culture whereby, we show utter disregard and disrespect for women. The Hathras rape case brought forward the barbarism of those who sit at the top of the gender and caste hierarchical systems.

In a society which lives with a regressive mindset that freedom and equality for women tantamount to promiscuity, we swing between two extremes. One where a girl child is bad news and nurtured on “conform” paranoia: Not rock the boat, be fearful of what lies around the corner and subjecting her to countless restrictions in the name of women’s protection. Whereby fathers make rules, husbands enforce them, male bosses reiterate them hence speaking out against someone’s wrong doing is tough.

A girl raped by a male relative in locked at home, told to keep quite to avoid repercussions on the facetious pretext of ‘what will people say’ and ‘nobody will marry you.’ Several women who face sexual abuse at work stay quite to avoid further harassment and unwanted attention. Or are hesitant to speak out fearing they will be dubbed ‘loose charactered’ at best or ostracized at worst.

Sadly a large section of women do not have rights over their bodies and are viewed as sex objects and mince-meat for male lust camouflaged as human animals to either comply or reconcile to battling it out at every level. They are morally policed by society, their bodies sexualized right from their choice of wearing dresses to make-up.

Recently, ex-Uttarakhand Chief Minister Rawat charged “women in ripped jeans and running towards nudity” for rising cases of moral turpitude, a Bihar leader advised women to carry condoms and accept rape, a Rajasthan Minister blamed advent of TVs and mobiles for “fast” girls read loose morals, a Haryana khap leader said eating Chinese chowmein caused rape, another counseled women to get ‘godfathers’ who can “make them” professionally. A Maharashtra Minister asserted liquor sale would increase if they are given women’s names ‘Bobby’-‘Julie’.

Instead of punishing attackers for the heinous crimes victim-blaming and slut-shaming a woman for the choices she makes is what our society resorts to save its “honour.” One only has to see our community attitudes and derogatory comments on social media to comprehend how women are treated. Either way the damage is done.  Getting married and raising kids is the core of female existence. Sic.

Violence against women, especially sexual, is of serious concern. Shockingly, the National Crime Records Bureau reveals crime against a woman is committed every minute, rape every 5 minutes, dowry death occurs every 77 minutes and cruelty committed by either husband or relative occurs every 9 minutes. Any wonder our high rate of female infanticides and sex-selective abortions. Alongside, female literacy rate is 60.6% less than the male literacy rate 81.3%. Far fewer girls than boys are enrolled in school and many girls drop out.

Paradoxically, it is not legal or constitutional shortcomings but minds of men and women that are the decisive factors in India’s social predicaments. Traditional attitudes and rigid customs or just wilful denials of human rights still beset women and the reformative Acts remain largely ‘paper tigers,’ either not accepted or out of reach of most women for lack of awareness about their existence and or application.

Undeniably, crimes against women are a blot on our national conscience and we must spare no effort to punish the perpetrators. Women protection from all forms of abuse and oppression is a national duty and national task. The cry for tougher and tougher laws to deter crimes against women seems to fall on deaf ears as there seems a tacit refusal to disentangle rape from the law and order framework.

Governments time and again have made false promises of ensuring safety and fast-track courts still remain a far-fetched promise for assault victims. The status of women in India needs the continuous attention of the Government, civil society; all those who are role models must play an important role in shaping public opinion, thus aiding in the evolution of collective and combined efforts to ensure women safety, security and dignity.

Time our polity and administrators walk their talk. They need to bring stricter laws, threadbare discuss rudimentary women-friendly safety protocols to deter opportunistic crime like visible presence of law guardians during night-time, reliable public transport and proper lighting in public spaces. Perhaps, Yogi’s UP model could be replicated whereby the State puts the perpetrators behind bars, bulldozes houses and takes the police to task for inaction.

Simultaneously grapple and address multiple and deep-rooted social and cultural dimensions of atrocities against women. Keeping women’s safety hostage to the ebb and tide of shifting public frenzy and media publicity will divert attention away from the need to initiate transformational legislation.

As pervasive blindness to the co-relation between power asymmetry and gender inequality has tragic consequences. If India really wants to develop, it will have to find ways to back-up laws with quality action, not shoddy symbolism. If we want to use our finest resource, we have to start taking our ‘Streedhan’ seriously and treating them like worthwhile investments. In the final crunch: Follow a ‘womb to tomb’ policy of keeping one girl-child happy.

Additionally, given our male-dominated society, high time women break the glass ceiling to speak up as it will make more people aware and come out in support thereby taking action collectively. Alongside, the right groundwork must be laid for women education, welfare and healthcare at anganwadi, panchayat, zila parishads etc.

The best thermometer to gauge progress of a nation is treatment of its women. There is no chance for welfare of the world unless condition of women is improved. Will women continue to constitute the weaker gender? Can we break new ground and unshackle them? Or will we continue to wallow in tokenism? Will there be beginning of a new dawn to make “Her Story?” —- INFA


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