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How To Make India Safer For Women

By Merlin Flower

10 January, 2013

You and I, by now, know the story of our India perilous for women. That there was only one conviction for the 635 cases of rape reported in Delhi last year, according to the Home Ministry. But, do you know that marital rape in not a crime in India, so long as the wife is above fifteen years old? That women are asked not to venture into the streets after eight at night? Not safe, the women in the country.

So, we’ve had calls for more active involvement of police in the protection of people. Yes, the police force needs to be modernised but who will protect the people from the police?

Last February, Soni Sori wrote, “that by giving me electric shocks, by stripping me naked, or by brutally assaulting me and inserting stones in my rectum-will the problem of Naxalism end? Why so many atrocities on women? I want to know from my country people.”

So, who is Soni Sori [i]? A tribal school teacher in Chhattisgarh arrested by the police on October 4, 2011 for alleged Maoist (Naxalite) links. Sure enough, Chhattisgarh has had problems with Naxalism, which wants to free India from the present political system to be replaced by a government with and for the peasants/farmers. Ruled by a predominantly Hindutva party this state has its own mechanism for dealing with the Naxalite movement- no, not the police, but rather a movement named Salwa Judum, with men armed to kill any alleged Naxalite. One can, thus, imagine how this state would treat anyone arrested for Naxalite links. Well, Soni Sori, a mother of three, unfortunately, is facing the emphatic wrath of the establishment. There are, many more Soni Soris, of course, languishing without justice.

And, as it befits the torturer, the Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg who supervised Soni’s torture was gives the President Medal. So, of course, this police can’t be expected to protect the women of India.

So, what to do now? Ah, there’s the magnificent Indian culture, hoary and shining. But, what’s Indian culture? Frankly, I am not sure of the definition. I, seriously, have disdain for any culture that blatantly leers at a woman for wearing t-shirts but permits the man to masturbate or defecate by the roadside. As for the Indian family set-up? Yes, it’s unique and contrived. An Indian girl doesn’t marry a man alone but his family too. She has to take care of her husband’s parents, his siblings, kids, and the house. Viola, you don’t have to pay her. Indeed, to get married she’d have paid him in cash and gold. Convenient, isn’t it? There, I fail to understand how the women return from office tired, only do the household chores, without fanfare, while the husband (hunts in the jungle with a hand axe?) blithely sits in front of the telly. On the other side of the coin in patriarchal India, the established rules of this society are, often, safeguarded by the mothers and mother-in-laws rather than the men in the family. Besides, uncomplying to a gender divide, there were as many men who protested in the aftermath of the violent death of the young woman in Delhi. This time, anguish over the monstrous crime wasn’t restricted to a particular gender. And, of course, sexist remarks don’t come from the men alone. The other day, a member of parliament, who incidentally happens to the son of the president, said of the female protestors ‘highly dented-painted’. Not to be outdone, Kakoli Ghosh Dastida, a Trinamool Congress leader said, ‘If you're referring to the Park Street rape....It was a misunderstanding between the two parties involved between a lady and her client. This was not a rape.’ In my country, should I wear a sleeveless dress and should I get raped, I know I’ll be blamed for dressing ‘provocatively’. Truly, tradition and culture (?) are as misogynist.

Law, perhaps? Trust the politicians to being in some perspective. You see, I was confused. Would or would not strict laws on sexual assaults deter such crimes? Indeed, for weeks now, I’ve been hearing people demand stringent punishment, including death sentences and castration, for sexual assaults, like those given in Arab countries [ii] ? But, it’s more to do with respecting oneself and others, or along the lines went my thoughts. So, down came a cabinet minister from Madhya Pradesh saying, ‘One has to abide by certain moral limits. If you cross this limit you will be punished, just like Sita was abducted by Ravana.’ That it, someone who abides by ‘moral limits’ (whatever is the definition) doesn’t get raped. The men and women raped, across the world, had it coming, you see. Hang on. I am I more confused or not? Isn’t violence, sexual or verbal, still violence? Isn’t Rama, the man who asked his wife to prove her chastity, the bonehead here?

Anyway, what’s to be done to make India, a country where women are veneered in the temple and beaten at home, safer for women? Also, the fact remains that it’s the men who rape. Nor should one discount the physical might of Adam. Asking women to carry pepper sprays (unavailable), knives, blades and machete is such a miss-placed burden for the deeds of the opposite sex. Instead, why not teach the Indian boys to respect women and themselves? Seeing the deeply ingrained ground reality, that may be impossible, so let’s send the misogynists to the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Heard they need people to tend goats in the deserts?

[i] http://www.indianexpress.com/news/soni-s-story/983928

[ii] http://www.firstpost.com/india/we-need-capital-punishment-strict-laws-like-arab-countries-lalu-577302.html

Merlin Flower is an independent artist.




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