The passion, the fury, the intensity — we had never seen anything quite like it before in India on a gender issue. Yet, as International Women’s Day approaches, we can only wonder why all that anger against the December Delhi gang rape has not made any serious dent in social and official attitudes on violence against women. The unfortunate rape victim is to receive an international award for her bravery in resisting the brutal rape which claimed her life, but hopes that her death would not have been vain seem belied if recent events are anything to go by.
Leading the way is the completely insensitive and ham-handed manner in which our home minister revealed the names of three minor rape victims in his statement in Parliament. We can only assume that the issue was of so little concern to him that he did not even bother to read through his statement beforehand. The latest in a series of outrages against women comes from Punjab where a girl who approached the police for help after she had allegedly been molested by truckers was savagely beaten up by the so-called custodians of the law. Their brutality was there for all to see in broad daylight as they pummelled the victim even as curious onlookers cruised by in their cars. In another appalling case, a tribal girl who had been raped has been denied education in the school she studied in as this would ostensibly unsettle other students. The most frightening part of these incidents is that the perpetrators of violence and prejudice do not even think that they may be wrong.
In a study of lower court judges done some years ago, a majority of them felt that it was perfectly legitimate for a man to slap his wife if she had not cooked his dinner properly. We have seen that this prejudice does not stop with just the lower judiciary or the police. The recent attempts to discredit the Suryanelli rape victim in Kerala by senior politicians is a case in point. Worryingly, many of those who condone violence against women do not even feel that they are wrong. The only thing that will work is the severity and certainty of punishment. And that is where the criminal justice system seems to have failed quite spectacularly. Right from the filing of a case of sexual harassment or rape, the victim encounters barrier after barrier whether in evidence-gathering or in just getting the law enforcement officials to believe her. The prospects of a long-drawn out battle in which the victim is further traumatised make many women unwilling to seek legal help. Women’s Day would amount to something if even a small part of the spark that was lit in December were kept alive forcing a change for the better.