Crowdfunding Countercurrents

Submission Policy

Popularise CC

Join News Letter




CC Youtube Channel

Editor's Picks

Press Releases

Action Alert

Feed Burner

Read CC In Your
Own Language

Bradley Manning

India Burning

Mumbai Terror

Financial Crisis


AfPak War

Peak Oil



Alternative Energy

Climate Change

US Imperialism

US Elections


Latin America









Book Review

Gujarat Pogrom

Kandhamal Violence


India Elections



About Us


Fair Use Notice

Contact Us

Subscribe To Our
News Letter


Search Our Archive

Our Site






Nirbhaya - Fearlessly For Men

By M.S. Sreerekha

15 October, 2014

It was a hot morning. Hundreds of girls in uniforms had lined up for a two-week long gender training experience, learning ‘self-defense’, taught by women trainers. As I have never been able to convince myself about the worth of such physical training programs and disciplining people, I was reluctant being part of it in any manner. However, I was keen to see how it goes and excited to see something new too. I began happily clicking away those moments of them, learning confidence with their body movements. When
I actually saw them in their salwar kameez and most of them in their hijabs, moving their bodies up and down and shouting, frankly speaking I had a feeling that it is not as bad as I thought. And then it happened. The trainer woman, hefty looking smart, dressed in her salwar kammez, wearing a bindi and sindoor in her forehead, came closer to a shy slow girl and before I realize what was happening, the trainer slapped her on her face and rebuked her in Hindi to stop day dreaming and learn to move faster and
properly! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Next moment, with horror and anger on my face, I walked straight up to the trainer and warned her against it that she shouldn’t touch a girl again.

Learning self-defense! It may not be as simple as one imagines it to be! I still haven’t figured out what all it means. But I do have a few things to say about ‘teaching’ girls and women in this country anything anymore! What are the ways in which a girl can improve her self-confidence and do self- defense? Should we, activists, academicians, NGOs and the government spend money on teaching self-defense and how much money should we spend on it? Can it actually be government or public responsibility to teach and train women self-defense? Why is it that across the spectrum, everyone from left to right, recommends self-defense for safety? Does it reflect anywhere and anything beyond the training given to women, in their day to day life at home, the patriarchal values taught to them at homes and other places? It is important at this point, to think and rethink this self- defense and disciplining process and ways of empowering women into safety especially considering the massive plans for the future in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya incident and the gigantic amount of Rs.2000 crores kept for the safety of women and girls in this country.

The Fund and the Empowerment of Women

In the aftermath of the horrendous episode, the gang rape and murder of the young physiotherapy student in Delhi (Nirbhaya) in December 2012, the Central Government announced the Nirbhaya Fund for Women’s Safety in India. The fund was an enormous amount of Rs. 1000 crores corpus announced by the then Congress Government in its 2013 union budget. The then Union Minister claimed to use it to support initiatives by the government and NGOs working towards protecting the dignity and ensuring safety of women in India. The fund was to be administered by the Department of Economic Affairs of the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Women and Child Development along with several other ministries who all had to work out the details of the application of the fund.

The fund can be used thus in many varied forms of projects, which could include anything in whichever way, that could be interpreted as contributing to the goal of empowerment of women. Interestingly, one of the initial project proposals was to buy new buses reminding one fearfully of the experience of Nirbhaya (the name given to the girl who got raped to hide her original identity). This proposal that was under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission was supposed to put in place steps to make the public transport system safe for women, though one is not clear how the buying of these new buses in itself will contribute to the safety of women! Soon after the proposal to buy new buses, the ministry clarified its position to avoid the embarrassment on the issue, that no new buses will be bought if safety measures for women are not provided in the buses or in general in the public transport system among states. And this includes asking for buses, autos and taxis to be fitted with intelligent transport systems (ITS) like cameras and tracking devices. However, whether with or without applying for the Nirbhaya fund, no state government seems to have done much toward this direction.

A press release from the finance ministry in December 2013 shows that the proposals from different ministries under the fund include the following: a proposal from the Ministry of Information technology asking mobile phone manufacturers to introduce mandatorily an SOS alert button in all handsets and to integrate the police administration with the mobile phone network to trace and respond to distress calls with minimum response time, the expected outlay for which is Rs.1000 crore. Along with the proposal is another project for the development of an affordable electronic personal safety device in the form of a wrist watch. Another is a scheme taken by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways for the security of women in road transport with the following features: a Global Position System (GPS) devices for all public transport vehicles for tracking and enforcement, along with GPS is a national level vehicle security and tracking system and city command and control center, Closed Circuit Television Cameras, Passenger Information Systems through smart phones, display on bus stops, women enforcement wing etc of which the expected outlay according to reports is about Rs.1700 crores. The third is a proposal from the Ministry of Railways, to set up an SOS alert system in trains in select zones as a railway helpline system with other facilities through call centers, the estimated budget for which is Rs 25 crores.

Since the three ministries -- Ministry of Information Technology, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and Ministry of Railways -- have submitted proposals for the Nirbhaya Fund, it means that the money, Rs 1000 crores and an additional of the same amount proposed again in the next financial year in 2014 by the finance minster which makes it Rs. 2000 crores should go into these ministries and their plans to contribute to the safety of our women. However, Rs.1000 crores declared initially was lying unused when another round of the same amount of money got allotted immediately in the next financial year. Reports till 2014 February shows that no money is being spent in any form though two proposals got cleared bythe Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). The approved project proposals according to the finance ministry include proposals which address the facilities to track and monitor public transport and provide alarm buttons for alerting authorities, installation of closed circuit television cameras at important public places, GPS and emergency buttons in transport buses to link them with police stations, toll-free numbers, and self-defense lessons for the needy.

Ministry of Home Affairs also received proposals from the state governments of Kerala and Karnataka which include deploying police vehicles at educational institutions for girls and other public spaces, special police units for women and children, training for police personnel, advertisement campaigns, workshops and seminars, all women battalions, all women police stations, more police women etc. The solution against increasing violence against women is seen as stringent surveillance everywhere and educating women in self-defense and vocational training all of which will help empower women. Meanwhile Delhi police wrote to colleges and schools and females working in MNCs in the city to organize workshops and trainings using the Nirbhaya Fund. In this way female students will be taken through a well-defined module of two weeks where they will be trained to tackle stalkers and molesters by women commandos and professionals; this is under a self-defense training unit created under the Special Police Unit for Women and Children (SPUWAC) and these SPUWCs will also conduct workshops with the help of NGOs and with the Nirbhaya fund. Now they have enough money for all these activities.

In June 2014, the Ministry of Women and Child Development prepared a concept note for setting up Nirbhaya Centre – One Stop Center for Women Affected by Violence. One Stop Crisis Centers (OSCC) are a good idea which will provide medical, legal and psychological support services under one roof to women survivors of violence and this has been based on the recommendation of the Justice Usha Mehra Commission report and the Delhi Government plans to call these centers Nirbhaya Centers. At the national level and state level this proposal includes national and state taskforce under the three ministries involved. The idea of the OSCC has come from following the models implemented of the same in other countries successfully like Malaysia, Bangladesh, and South Africa. MWCD sent a proposal to the Finance Ministry for OSCCs seeking Rs. 487 crores for two years, to create mechanisms to ensure speedy justice to rape victims and also create safe spaces to allow free movement of women. Most interestingly, while this one seems to be the most meaningful proposal with a long term but direct impact on the issue and lowest budget, this is the only project ‘referred’ back by the Finance Ministry for ‘more concrete ideas’!

Empower whom, why and how?

The epistemological debates about addressing inequality and discrimination and relationship between the oppressed and the privileged bring in two ways of addressing the problem. One is to of course empower the powerless and the oppressed. But the other equally important side, which is always forgotten or intentionally forgotten, is to take away the privileges and power from the privileged or the privileged and the powerful giving away their unearned power and privileges which results in or contributes to the inequality. This debate is relevant here and if one could place men in the debate and see how relevant is the role of men and masculinity as the powerful and the privileged here who can give away power. Within this framework, the possibility of empowerment and safety of women can be thus addressed and initiated in better ways than what is being done at the moment.

One way is to certainly find consistent and effective mechanisms which will help improve the condition of women in crisis both technically and structurally leading to long term effective changes in their lives and final solutions to their experiences of violence. This would mean developing effective structures and measures which will help women survivors to overcome their crisis and win the struggle for justice; to win the struggle legally and socially, ensuring that the culprits are punished. Here, the proposals from the Ministry of Women and Child Development like the One Stop Crisis Centers (OSCC) and others like to provide financial assistance for empowerment and safety of women through a number of schemes like Working Women’s Hostels, Shelter Home schemes etc makes much more sense that than the high tech empowerment measures. Then, why does the government consider such steps as impractical or irrelevant?

The other is to bring in men and especially boys into the picture helping them to unlearn whatever they have imbibed from the patriarchal structures in our societies. Men and boys are taught through their rigorous gender training to not to recognize the privileges they enjoy being men. Some men do attempt a recognition of this as a first step towards changing themselves however many prefers to remain ignorant or intentionally be oblivious to their privileges. Considering the challenge of this ignorance or obliviousness, addressing this would mean special trainings for boys and men of all levels to overcome their traits of patriarchal masculinity and violence to save themselves and others in the process. Addressing the gender order and gender regime created by patriarchal societies and understanding how such societies have taught and disciplined men within the patriarchal regime is extremely relevant as it is done in the case of women in patriarchal societies.

Till now whatever minor attempts to involve men in contributing to the struggle of empowering women have resulted in either men engaging in violence against men who are abusive or passively participating in struggles in support of women. There are innumerable incidents of men celebrating their masculinity engaging in violence against men in the name of protecting women. However there have been some though very few initiatives to help boys address and learn about their own masculinity and the processes of unlearning of the social patriarchal traits inherent in it. In the academic world, a lot is written in the field of masculinity studies in the recent years along with the works in sexuality and gender studies. However, when it comes to specific issues of addressing violence against women and empowering women, the need is for a direct attempt to see men in this picture as the initiators of violence and an attempt to transform them and in many ways this is intentionally forgotten. It is also relevant in this context to remember that many young men or boys are victims of sexual and gendered violence with no space to go to, though the extent of violence and sexual abuse of violence against women is not comparable with that of women in an extremely patriarchal society like India. It is important to understand that there are severe punishments for men and boys in Indian society for any variation, change or challenge towards the gender regime and the regime is as hard as that for women. So, while it is important to provide enough for women survivors, as far as gender training and attempts for empowering women and girls are concerned, it is high time that we shift our focus towards the men and boys in our society. It is certainly high time at least we stop teaching our women what they should do and how and for a change, move towards men and boys, teaching them what they should do and shouldn’t do.

So, how should we spend this Rs. 2000 crores in the Nirbhaya Fund? As the proposal cleared by the cabinet shows, should we spend it on CCTVs, GPS, Smart phones and self-defense classes for girls? Or should we at least at this point, do something more sensible with a long term vision? Isn’t it a luxury to be paid for the self-defense trainings which actually could be money given for thousands of women and girls raped or abused to fight for justice? The important point here is not about whether the girls or women should get the self-defense training or not, it is to have the state spend its public fund massively for these trainings. Those who can afford to do it, to teach physical training and self defense methods to their girls must do it and probably it is one best thing parents can provide for their girls. Frankly speaking, if the Indian state is promising Rs. 2000 crores for the safety of women in this country, I wouldn’t want a single penny from that money to be spent on either teaching our girls karate or buying smart phones! In fact, if the government is planning to spend this money on smart phones and cameras, making these new technologically advanced facilities to reach millions of ordinary people in this country, it does not require much intelligence for one to figure where actually the money will be going. It will be unfortunate to spend this money paying to IT companies to help to empower women when thousands of women who are victims of violence in this country can’t afford to have basic and effective medical and legal facility. Forget about larger issues like education, health care or issues like growing sex selective abortions or honour killings in this country. One is not even going there. Here, the only question is to see more effective and sensible mechanisms and steps towards curbing violence against women. Rs. 2000 crores is not a small amount. It could feed many and it could save many. There has been umpteen number of debates about whether we want fast-track courts or more police force, more street lights or more toilets or shelter homes for women. But the point is, how does one make sure that at least such money is not wasted paying corporates for that one SOS alert, which is free for a woman who has a mobile phone in her hand, when she is attacked and who is sensible enough to use it and all the more, lucky enough for receiving help?

Sreerekha is an Assistant Professor at the Sarojini Naidu Center for Women’s Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She has been an activist with women’s groups and democratic rights groups in Delhi. Email: sree.sathi@gmail.com



Share on Tumblr



Comments are moderated