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Empower Women

By Praveen Dalal

08 March, 2005
Countercurrents.org

In our society, whether they belong to the majority or the minority group, what is apparent is that there exists a great disparity in the matter of economic resourcefulness between a man and a woman. Our society is male dominated both economically and socially and women are assigned, invariably, a dependant role, irrespective of the class of society to which she belongs. A woman on her marriage very often, though highly educated, gives up her all other avocations and entirely devotes herself to the welfare of the family, in particular she shares with her husband, her emotions, sentiments, mind and body, and her investment in the marriage is her entire life a sacramental sacrifice of her individual self and is far too enormous to be measured in terms of money. This sacrifice is mischievously embodied and engraved into the mindset of the society as the natural destiny of women by misinterpreting the benign mandates of various religions.

The history of mankind is witness to the fact that the religion has been used as a façade to perpetuate violence against women from time perpetual. The solution to this problem should not be pursued under the banner of religion. The solutions to such societal problems of universal magnitude pertaining to horizons of basic human rights, culture, dignity and decency of life and dictates of necessity in the pursuit of social justice should be invariably left to be decided on considerations other than religion or religious faith or beliefs or national, sectarian, racial or communal constraints (1). It must be appreciated that a nation that does not respect its women cannot be described as a civilised nation at all. Such a nation cannot grow and develop and will ultimately perish due to its own rudimentary and tyrannical dogma (2). Thus, the national consensus should concentrate on betterment of women by suitably empowering them.


II. The menace of violence

The menace of violence has its genesis in the history of mankind. It is time immemorial and not the product of a single century. Women inherited this maltreatment from generation to generation, sometimes voluntarily and at other times with protest. The end result, however, remained the same. The patriarchal nature of society always allowed legitimizing the most heinous acts and omissions on the part of men. So much so that now the problem of violence against women is permeating almost all the spheres of life. The forms and manner of violence are numerous and for the sake of convenience they have been grouped under the following categories:
(1) Violence to body,
(2) Violence to mind,
(3) Violence to property, and
(4) Violence to reputation.

(1) Violence to body: The violence to the body of women is the most ancient and most commonly practised evil. It may take the following forms:

(a) Sati system: This is the most ancient mode of committing violence against women in which the unfortunate woman has to face the rigours of double jeopardy. Firstly, she has to bear the grief of her husband's death and to aggravate it she is forced to give her life away. If we reverse the equation than there is no obligation on the part of husband to do the same. In fact, neither a man nor a woman should be forced to take his/her life. The same appears to be not only inhuman but also equally barbaric.

(b) Dowry deaths: The concept of dowry was initially followed as a practise of giving voluntarily some share in the property of the father to the daughter at the time of her marriage. The main purpose of that practise was to give some share to the daughter who was not entitled to property unlike her brothers. This practise has, however, taken a precarious shape and the same results in many unfortunate dowry deaths.

(c) Rape: The forcible ravishing of the body of a woman is also a form of violence against body of a woman.

(d) Outraging modesty: An act or attempt to bring disrespect to women by outraging their modesty is another form of violence against body.

(e) Criminal intimidation and annoyance: The sick mentality of few creates a nuisance for many women in the form of criminal intimidation and annoyance.

(f) Forced prostitution by blackmailing and other coercive means: Sometimes women are exploited by blackmailing methods and forced into prostitution.

(g) Sexual harassment at workplace: The unsafe working environment and sexual harassment at workplace is another form of violence against women.

(h) Female feticide: The preference of a male issue results in the commission of the most barbaric and inhuman violence against women in the form of female feticide.
(2) Violence to mind: The violence to mind may take the following forms:

(a) Dowry demands: The demand of dowry results in extreme emotional trauma and stress to the mind.

(b) Mental torture and cruelty: Sometimes women are also mentally tortured on trifle issues that can be avoided at all counts.

(c) Matrimonial matters: The violence to mind can also result out of matrimonial relationships. For instance a husband entering into a second marriage during a validly subsisting first marriage causes immense mental pain to the wife.


(3) Violence to property: This may take the following forms:

(a) Discriminatory succession matters: Traditionally women were not entitled to shares in property of the joint family, except a maintenance right. The position has now changed though it is far from satisfaction. The enactment of a "Uniform Civil Code" can solve many proprietary and matrimonial problems.

(b) Deprivation of property: The women are deprived of their property by satisfying the unjustified dowry demands.

(4) Violence to reputation: This may take the following forms:

(a) Practicing untouchability: By practicing untouchability the reputation of women is maligned.

(b) Naked parade of Dalits: This is a practice that we see even after half a century of independence. This is the most humiliating and severe blow on the reputation of women.

(c) Allegations of illicit and adulterous relationships: The allegations of illicit and adulterous relationships also create immense harm to the reputation of women.

(d) Allegation of illegitimate child: A more severe variation of the abovementioned allegation of adultery is the allegation of bearing of illegitimate child.

(e) Illegal manipulations resulting in pornography: The use of latest technology for facilitating manipulative pornography is also a form of violence against reputation of women.

III. Need of the hour

This situation of gender discrimination requires an immediate attention of the society at large since the problem is societal in nature. The mindset of the society has to be changed by both voluntary and involuntary measures. The positive and voluntary measures consist of public awareness, public education, public motivation, etc. The involuntary measure relies primarily upon the support of the law for its existence. The law regulates the social interests, arbitrates conflicting claims and demands security of persons and property of the people and is an essential function of the state. It could be achieved through instrumentality of criminal law. Undoubtedly, there is a cross cultural conflict where living law must find answer to the new challenges and the courts are required to mould the sentencing system to meet the challenges. The contagion of lawlessness would undermine social order and lay it in ruins. Protection of society and stamping out criminal proclivity must be the object of the law, which must be achieved by imposing appropriate sentence. Therefore, law as a corner stone of the edifice of "order" should meet the challenges confronting the society. The social impact of the crime, e.g. where it relates to offences against women, dacoity, kidnapping and other offences involving moral turpitude or moral delinquency which have great impact on social order and public interest, cannot be lost sight of and per se require exemplary treatment (3). This fact should be kept in mind by not only the judiciary but also by the government. Thus, the government should refuse to extend the benefit of the remission to the convicts who have committed crime against women even while extending it to other convicts. It would not be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India (4). Further, safety of women victims must also be provided so that they can effectively bring before the law the offenders, especially in criminal cases. Thus, in holding trial of child sex abuse or rape a screen or some arrangements may be made where the victim or witness do not see the body or face of the accused. Recording of evidence by way of video conferencing vis-à-vis Section 273 Cr.P.C is permissible under the law (5). These measures must be supplemented with suitable "empowerment measures" like reservations in jobs and educational institutions, financial assistances, etc.

The plight of the women, however, cannot be improved till they are duly represented in the "power structure" of the nation. In a democratic country the voice of women can be heard only to the extent they are sharing the power structure in the supreme governance of the country.


Praveen Dalal is Consultant and Advocate, Delhi High Court
He can be reached at pd37@rediffmail.com/perry4law@yahoo.com

END NOTES

(1) Danial Latifi v U.O.I, (2001) 7 SCC 740.
(2) Praveen Dalal, "Revitalising personal laws by judicial codification", (Under publication).
(3) State of M.P v G.Singh, AIR 2003 SC 3191.
(4) Sanabona v Govt of A.P, AIR 2003 SC 3074.
(5) Sakshi v U.O.I, (2004) 5 SCC 519.

© All rights reserved with the author.


 

 

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