Can braveheart’s death lead to birth of a new attitude?

We should start a discussion at dinner table, or on the kitchen floor, in every house about the tolerance we have for assertion of male power in silencing the voice of affected children, women and others. It is a struggle for social justice now

anilkgupta

Anil K Gupta | January 2, 2013



There are times when a society discovers new meanings in existing idioms. The death of the 23-year-old, who was violated brutally by some youths on a Delhi bus, is one such moment that has now become an idiom. An idiom that will change a few things forever.

I am convinced that it will be very difficult for the ruling class to dismiss these things and give tickets to candidates carrying such offences (against women) against them the next time. The fact that incidents of rape have continued in all parts of India despite this case shows that nothing has changed yet. But the alacrity with which senior police officers are taking corrective action is an improvement which is noticeable.

I only hope they will continue to defy political pressure (to either not arrest or release the culprits, or dilute the FIR), and not delay filing of FIRs, or delay investigations, or harass women who complain.

But the respect for women in a family or the attitude of men at home or on street must also change. Eve-teasing, or harassment, must become a serious offense. The attitude of police will of course take time to change but if we don’t try now this may never change. 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. And not just plead for capital punishment. I am not convinced that single aim of the social protest, worthy and legitimate as it is, should be death penalty.

The stigma which prevents a large number of women and children to come out and complain about abuse (at home or in workplace or educational institutions) is the greatest fear that men who assault the dignity of women use to silence the victim. Unless we, as a society, reflect and change this extremely unfortunate and unacceptable attitude, large-scale involuntary silence will continue to give legitimacy to irresponsible men.

We must begin with a 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 dinner table or a kitchen floor in every house about the tolerance we have for assertion of male power in silencing the voice of affected children, women and others. It is 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 — the 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 need to be raised. How many institutions have regular sensitisation sessions on gender imbalance and safety? We will have to reopen certain cases, if for no other reason than just to create examples.

The Ruhika Girotra case and Nithari killings are just two cases that come to mind; there are many, many more such cases. Priyadarshini Mattoo would never have got justice had popular pressure not been intense. Will there be regular reporting of such cases and action taken?  Will the national database of offenders come into existence in a month’s time? Will any young person convicted of eve-teasing and such offences be made accountable in the labour market?

We must, however, also take care that this process is not misused by vested interests. We know that in dowry cases a large number of women and their families do foist false cases and thus harass the other side. But notwithstanding a few cases of miscarriage of justice, I will still suggest that vigilance not be lax, that women are 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 toward women and weaker sections of society.

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