By Leena Kundnani
“History made when mindset changed.” ~ Toba Beta, Master of Stupidity
The recent headlines in India’s leading newspapers seem to be screaming for attention towards bringing change in a twisted and perverted society in a so-called developing country. Unfortunately, most of the news that one reads the first thing in the morning in leading newspapers is typically as follows:
“Two minors raped in Panchmahal, Ambaji”
“Raped by 42 men in 40 days. Supreme Court to hear case after eight-year gap”
“2-yr-old rape victim dead”
“19-year-old boy arrested for rape and molestation”
(The above are actual headlines taken from leading newspapers such as Times Of India and websites such as www.ndtv.com)
Sexual violence against women isn’t a new concept. In fact, it has been going on for a long time in the subcontinent (both India and Pakistan).
Women have always been victims of sexual abuse. In fact, it is sad that India is a ‘so-called’ developing country where a female isn’t safe, either in the womb or outside.
And because the society as a whole has miserably failed to educate and evolve, the male mindset is hard coded into passing the blame on the victim.
In fact, Freda Adler, US author, educator and theorist rightly quotes, “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.”
In recent years, India has witnessed an exponential rise in the number of rape cases. And there seems to be no restriction or constraint on the age of the victim.
So while, at one end, a young girl in her 20’s is raped, on the other hand, a man may lust after a lady in her 50’s or 60’s. And shamefully, the consciousness of some of the men in our country has stooped to such a level, that they don’t even hesitate to sexually exploit innocent girls of 2, 3, 4 or 5 years!
While it is not uncommon to find instances of rape and abuse on a woman being reported in the newspaper, sexual harassment towards women has particularly got a lot of attention in the last two weeks of 2012, following the brutal rape and assault of an innocent 23 year old girl in the capital city.
The spine-chilling and horrendous gang rape and brutalization of the 23-year-old Delhi girl, named ‘Amanat’ or ‘Nirbhaya’ by the media, has sparked an outpour of national grief and ire, and has put a question on everyone’s mind: Will this tragedy finally prompt a change in laws and attitudes toward women, in the world’s largest democracy?
India is screaming for attention and change so that we avoid such incidents in the future. We see such incidents because these men were never taught to respect women, or told that by defiling women’s bodies they do not somehow establish their superiority.
What is needed today is only one thing – a complete change in attitude to women, a change in the legal process of dealing with the crime, and educating and ‘sensitizing’ men about women’s issues.
We need to ensure that the shameful incident of 16th December 2012 is never repeated. We need to protect the females in the society so that no other girl suffers the fate ‘Nirbhaya’ did.
To avoid such crimes from occurring, we require a change in the criminal justice system. Studies have revealed that only 27 percent of rape accused are actually convicted. This is perhaps one reason why rapists are not scared.
Social stigma and fear of being shunned and boycotted by society also makes victims reluctant to seek justice. At the same time, the people who are supposed to prevent such incidents from taking place (the police and state agencies) are usually controlled and run by men, creating a closed loop of dominance, violence and subjugation.
We also need to insure that police reforms, which have been waiting to be implemented since the 1980s, are actually implemented rather than just lie on paper.
Quicker trials enabled by more judges and courtrooms are the need of the hour. We also need better investigation procedures as well as ways to find and preserve evidence. Unfortunately, we don’t have proper witness protections programs or efficient prosecutors.
Another way to avoid such incidents from happening is to allow women to sue for money damages and injunctions in civil cases along with criminal cases. We need civil damages for victims of crime in India as it’s an easier forum for her to navigate.
Also on principle, it is only right that the victim of sexual abuse is recompensed for the psychological and physical damage caused to her in addition to have the culprit punished.
And while improved law enforcement is part of the solution, women’s rights advocates believe that alone is not enough. “We can’t only have action, we need to address the root cause of this problem,” says Anne F. Stenhammer, who heads the South Asian chapter of the United Nations women’s agency, UN Women. We first need to alter our mindset.
First in foremost, we need to inculcate a sense of equality in women. Women’s rights should be taught starting from primary school. Unfortunately, in a patriarchal society, girls are treated as inferior to boys. Women are often given sermons on what to (or what not to) wear, how to behave etc.
These days, even our politicians have known to give sermons on how a woman should dress and behave. This is dangerous as it implies that women must take the blame of abuses of which they are victims. It also goes on to absurdly suggest that women actually invite getting raped.
Women must be made to believe that they are equal to men. “I think a total change in mindset is necessary.” Ms Stenhammer also believes that several rape cases go unreported, as women in a patriarchal society have restricted liberties, and are discouraged to speak out in their own defense, especially in sensitive issues such as rape.
Teachers and parents should, from a young age, teach boys that there is no difference between them and their counterparts. Boys should also be given empathy training to show them what it’s like to be a girl.
But in a warped society like ours, where sadly, even women willingly agree to perpetrate crimes like female foeticide, this change in mindset is perhaps a long way away.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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