No Country For Women...Period!
Are we as a society slowly accepting rape to be just as consequential to our living, breathing existence as we did with cat calls, hand brushes and public exhibitionism.
The rape of a woman being out during the wee hours is hardly 'surprising' to the Indian mind but the Gurgaon rape case of a woman, allegedly working in a pub called The Last Chance' in Sahara Mall, by an intoxicated group of young men (who were customers at the pub during the same night) got everyone to sit up and notice. Why? Because it highlighted ancient laws in practice that were being callously flouted by many, probably since the time they were passed, and which most women were not even aware of. How did these laws come into focus?
The responsibility was first aimed at the establishment for violating The Punjab Shops & Commercial Establishment Act (1958), which dictates that every commercial establishment must provide adequate security and proper transport facility to the women workers during the night shift. Moreover, the pub was further accused on the grounds of an even more ridiculous and archaic law, The Punjab Excise Act (1914) that prohibits the employment of women in any places that serves liquor or any intoxicating drug to the public. However, when the pub denied and proved that the victim was an (official) employee and the nature of her work was revealed, the administration in an apparently misinterpreted statement chose to highlight the enforcement of the 1958 act that requires employers to seek permission from the labour department (in the steps laid out in the act) if they want to hire women to work from 8 P.M to 6 A.M.
These laws were heavily debated and scrutinized between the host, Barkha Dutt, and the panelists present in NDTV's 'We The People' show on 18th March, 2012. Being invited as an audience to this debate in relation to my active promotion of and participation in the public protests outside Sahara Mall and the Gurgaon Police Station in sector 29, I was hopeful to reflect some of the demands of our petition and discuss the incidence and factors of rape beyond archaic laws and the 'passing the buck' game between employers and police. Alas, my virgin experience with live time television proved to be a bane in being able to highlight a few 'givens' of the situation, that, however, don't get said enough.
1. The debate challenged the relevance of ancient laws in our country pertaining to working women; how they should be revised; how they can be better implemented; how we might not need them in the first place or how they, in effect, safeguard women from situations of threat and harassment. However, the written law itself has hardly ever posed a problem in this country. It is the legal system, the attitude of the police and administration and the treatment of women in society that have actually perpetuated rapes to the frequency it has reached today.
2. These laws were designed to safeguard women's safety and interest yet these same laws, especially when they don't keep up with the contemporary culture and development demands, become a dead weight on women employees who are then discriminated against for job selection or promotion.
3. At the end of the day, laws don't cause rape, rapists do. We need to start placing the onus, on them, which somehow we're failing to do. For instance, It is alright for a victim's identity to be concealed (which has been leaked in many obvious clues time and again) but why should the rapists escape the shame? They, definitely, have asked for it. Don't question the hours till which a pub should be open or blame it on the consumption of alcohol (Are you going to get into the immutable fact that the rapists indulged in under age drinking as well?) but hold the rapists directly accountable? As long as a man knows that besides him, everyone including the state, the victim's employer, parents or character that will be held responsible, his intentions and act will not be deterred.
4. The argument about the dichotomy of two cultures, wherein the lesser educated or the neo rich farmer families from the vicinity of rural North India (whether it be Haryana, Punjab or Uttar Pradesh) are more often the culprits, which although may be relevant to an insignificant extent is mostly still an elitist argument to make. The intention to rape stems from warped concepts of masculinity, not by level of educational qualification or by a person's residential code.
5. We the people? I would hardly say so. It was a panel discussion mostly with snippets of people's views chugged in. Since parliamentary sessions hardly ever bring this up as a pressing issue to solve, we can only count on media to reflect the voices of the public. But if their focus is centered only on 'expert' opinions, who will reflect the voice of the average, common person? Multimedia is already falling behind social media for this reason that it is not interactive enough to collectively gather and reflect people's voices.
In a public protest outside the Gurgaon Police Station in Sector 29, following the one organized in Sahara Mall, citizens of Delhi NCR got together to peacefully protest against the rising number of rape cases and discuss the many factors that lead to it. Here are some of the voices that spoke to Halabol:
Dr. Parul Sharma, working at Max Health Care, "There is an urgent need to sensitize men towards women in the society so that they can have more respect for them and care for them so the dignity of women could be preserved. This kind of careless attitude of the Police should not be tolerated and they should know and perform their duty of safety of the citizens. The “chalta hai…..” attitude of the authorities should also be changed and she thinks it’s a major problem. If the pub owner had performed his duty well, this could have been saved".
Mr. Somansho, "I have a sister who lives in gurgaon and whenever I read or hear about such things happening here, I fear that if it was this woman today, it could be someone else tomorrow and that makes me feel insecure about my own sister. It’s not just about standing just for your own people but everyone has to come together and help each other, to clean up the society".
Ms. Renuka, working for Srijan (an organization that empowers women in villages in Rajasthan), "In cases of rapes, the society makes such a hype of it, which makes the woman more uncomfortable in coming out of it. At that moment, a lady needs care, love, and respect and the feeling that she is still a part of the society and that she can stand again. While working for women in the villages in Rajasthan, I've got a chance to live with them and feel more free and safe there than here".
Rape cases are reported on a daily basis in our country. The statistics of the number of rapes that happen every hour, every day and every year is no longer fruitful to sit, analyze and bemoan because rape cases are being reported DAILY in our newspapers. Soon the trend is going to pick up to the point where every hour, you can expect a rape case highlighted on your Twitter and Facebook timeline. Follow @maps4aid on Twitter to understand the impending status quo I'm referring to here. And these are only the cases that the media picks up or are registered with the police.
What about the million 'hushed' instances in families, orphanages or close knit societies? Are we as a society slowly accepting rape to be just as consequential to our living, breathing existence as we did with cat calls, hand brushes and public exhibitionism.
While NDTV put forth, "No country for working women?", the question should be more broadly revised to, "No country for women?".
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