Will this collective outrage lead to change?

Published: 21 December, 2012 07:46 IST | A Correspondent |

Meenakshi Maheshwari, a chartered accountant who faced sexual harassment at workplace and is fighting a legal battle for the past five years, raises questions lurking in every worried citizen's mind

As outrage over the horrific rape incident in Delhi brings people together from across barriers of gender and social class, I am compelled to wonder if this too will soon peter out, reducing the case to yet another figure in a long list. Or will this case have a lasting impact on the elected representatives of our country? Even as the women MPs appeared shaken and disturbed by the gruesome crimes against women and made emotional appeals for stronger laws in the House, their vehemence does nothing to dismiss the fact that this is a House that hasn’t passed the Women’s Reservation Bill till date.

If women are indeed 50 per cent of the population, why aren’t they recognised as the vote bank, the only language that politicians seem to understand?

The revolutionary furore that followed the death of an Indian woman who was denied abortion in Ireland forced the Irish government to change its abortion laws – this effectively made sure that no other woman has to suffer like she did owing to a regressive law. So will the collective outrage in India help in the rehabilitation of the gang rape victim, on the slim chance that she survives? Will she live a life of dignity?

NCP's women's wing protest
We condemn: NCP’s women’s wing protest against rising incidents of sexual harassment against women at Churchgate station. Pic/Bipin Kokate

What has changed?
I live in Parel. While driving past KEM hospital, I think of Aruna Shanbaug. She was a junior nurse at KEM Hospital who has been in a vegetative state at the hospital since November 27, 1973, when she was brutally assaulted by a ward boy, Sohanlal. She had castigated him. Desperate to avenge himself, he choked her with a dog chain and sodomised her, which led to brain stem contusion and a cervical chord injury.

The police registered as a case of robbery and attempted murder. Sohanlal was caught and convicted, and served two concurrent seven-year sentences — for assault and robbery, not for rape or sexual molestation, nor for ‘unnatural sexual offence,’ thanks to the intervention of the dean of KEM hospital. In 2011, the Supreme Court rejected the plea for euthanasia filed by journalist Pinki Virani.

Did she deserve this? What was her crime, to have diligently done her duty at her workplace?

Forty years have passed. Various feminist movements and NGOs have been actively involved in various awareness campaigns for sensitisation. A few more laws have come into existence from those efforts. We are seemingly more educated, more progressive, more empowered. But has this empowerment given women a feeling of safety and security?

‘Nobody is afraid’
Justice V M Kanade, while hearing a suo-motu PIL filed on the safety of women, observed, “Something is seriously wrong somewhere … there was a time when the presence of a single constable was sufficient to deter criminals. Now, nobody is afraid.”

Amidst all the debate and angry outbursts, does anyone actually see it from the victim’s standpoint? For only empathy can make the sundry institutions strive to deliver justice – from the Women’s Commission, to the investigating authority, the prosecution and the court.

It is the state police machinery under the Home Ministry that is responsible for ensuring the safety of its citizens. When citizens become victims of crime, thanks to the lack of adequate safety measures in place, an FIR is filed. The same police is then the investigator and the State is the prosecutor. The victim then watches helplessly, as investigation begins to slacken, the chargesheet is loose, and the prosecutor ineffectual.

The advice of the police commissioner is well taken, that women should carry pepper spray. But how effective is this solution, considering the fact that the woman is often attacked with corrosive chemicals and acid? Moreover, the concern is not just over physical safety.

The concern is over the erosion of a culture of respect towards women as equal human beings. The State and Centre have failed to demonstrate this through constructive and meaningful action. 

For starters
>> Implement reforms in the criminal justice system.
>> Make molestation and outraging a woman’s modesty non-bailable offences
>> Bar those accused of rape and molestation from contesting elections
>> Create a fast-track court for women

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