CAN STRICT LAWS CURB CRIME?
New stringent laws against sexual harassment have certainly empowered women to speak up and take the offenders to task. But can these laws alone act as a deterrent in checking sexual crimes against women? These points were highlighted during the panel discussion on ‘Women Safety: Challenges and Way Forward’ organised at the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC) by Hindustan Times on Friday. The session marked the conclusion of HT’s three-week campaign ‘Safer tricity for women’ that stressed upon sexual harassment and ways to curb it.chandigarh Updated: Dec 17, 2013 15:51 IST
First woman IPS officer
‘You are making society lame by depriving women of her rights’
I thank Hindustan Times for allowing me to speak on a subject which I have lived for in the last 40 years, including 35 years of policing, besides being a woman myself.
I joined the police force to live life on my own terms and with dignity. I have been asked a few questions. Has the ground reality changed? I can say, marginally.
Since the Nirbhaya case, there has been a change. There could not be a more brutal and heinous incident than this. It was preventable. But we all failed to prevent it as a society. Three positive things
emerged following the incident -- Nirbhaya case, protests by youngsters and the Justice Verma Committee report. Men and women joined hands and protested for Nirbhaya until the government reacted. This was followed by the Justice Verma Committee report, prepared by justice JS Verma (retd), justice Leila Seth (retd) and Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium. Everyone should read the Justice Verma report and Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
We should cultivate the habit of reading the Act. Recent amendments in the IPC and CrPC for sexual harassment must be read. Sexual harassment of women is an issue of human development not only gender. Are women feeling safer? I’m not sure yet. Can law alone bring about the change? Yes, law has to drive the change, but it is not possible without a change in society.
Will the social mindset change? No, the social mindset cannot change at the pace of law. Is woman safety a gender issue? Woman safety is a human rights issue.
You are actually making pygmies out of women. You are making society lame, moving on one leg if you are depriving the women of her rights and not ensuring safe environment.
What will work is the 6 P plan. We will have to deal with the present, past and future. The six Ps can work together. An annual survey of women safety every year can bring to the fore the rise or dip in women-related crimes. A hub of 6 Ps can also be constituted under the leadership of the UT Administrator. The city can become a model of crime prevention with all representatives taking a holistic view of the issue every six months.
1. People, parents, principals: The prevention goes back to homes. Every home is a primary prevention. The change in society also depends on how you groom the child. School principals should come up with programmes to educate children on sexual harassment. Universities can have specific campaigns on the issue, besides media campaigns.
2. Politicians: Politicians are equally responsible. They should indulge in responsible behaviour. There should be courses in the Parliament and assembly wherein politicians should be guided on dos and don’ts and their behaviour.
3. Police: Police comes as a response authority. Policing can be part of the first P too. Earlier, the police used to be reluctant in registering cases to keep crime figures low. As per the recent amendment, if a cop refuses to register a sexual harassment case, he can be booked.
4. Prosecution: We need legal support of courts. Prosecution should support the court and expedite the justice process. Nirbhaya case was a well-tried case in court and should be a precedent for others.
5. Prisons: Those accused of crime against women are released on bail without any condition. The main accused in the recent rape case of a woman journalist in Mumbai was already booked for rape and out on bail. His, being out on bail unconditionally, was a failure on the part of the court. He was not reformed in prison, it was failure of the jail authorities. The police were not aware that a rapist was out on the prowl.
6. Press: Press means print, social media, movies songs. The projection of women through media also plays a major role. The radio, television, newspapers have a corporate social responsibility to play. As per it, media should link themselves with a case and create awareness.
A demand or request for sexual favour, sexually-coloured remarks, showing pornography sites or books, unwelcome verbal or non-verbal advance.
Director, Institute for Development and Communication
‘Implement revised code to check incidents of sexual harassment’
The problem of women safety is more glaring and unfortunately, much of it is not showing the way forward.
Women safety is a major cause of concern across the board. Change is the law of nature. Rape alone does not signify the volume and diverse expression of sexual harassment of women or violence against women. Though extremes are seen as violatives, we only respond to extremes. The law on its own cannot alter the scenario, we need to look into the processes.
Even if a woman reports an abuse to her friends, the community, panchayat or police perceive her to be the wrongdoer. In cases of domestic violence, it is common for the woman to be told, even by the police, that she must have provoked her husband and, therefore, she got what she deserved. Even in cases of rape or eve-teasing, the woman is blamed for inviting ‘abuse’ on her, either by dressing in a provocative manner or by moving alone in dark or secluded places. Reporting of crime against women also suffers due to the popular perception regarding the insensitivity and gender bias of the police. Every institution such as schools, colleges, government departments, private enterprises, public and private transport, have to implement the revised Model Gender Code of Conduct to check incidents of sexual harassment.
Assistant Director General of Police, Punjab police
‘Saanjh Kendras’ started for women safety
Gender equality is the basis of any strong society. If gender equality is enforced properly, women safety will not be a major issue. The constitution not only provides gender equality to women but also empowers states to ensure that there is no discrimination towards women.
The main causes for gender inequality are social and economical structure, which make women -- hailing from the weaker and backward classes -- more venerable. All stakeholders have to work together to find solutions by way of empowering women and strong laws.
Our society is facing cultural deficit. The opposite sex is generally attracted towards each other. The problem starts as men cannot take ‘no’ for an answer. Through community policing, the Punjab government has introduced a system “Saanjh Kendra” across the state for the purpose of women safety. Now, women need not to go to police station to get their complaints registered.
Women police personnel and members of the community have been deployed at all Saanjh Kendras. Anybody can get their complaints lodged, particularly woman.
If a complaint is a cognisable offence, it is referred to a police station, while in other cases, members of the community play a vital role in resolving issues. Besides this, members of the community keep making assessments about what needs to be done for the safety of women. All kendras are regularly monitored. Also, special police stations for women have been set up. The Punjab government recently recruited women constables and the process to recruit women sub-inspectors is underway. The aim is to ensure that more police stations have women SHO’s.
‘Glass ceiling of silence has been shattered’
How do we make every place safe for women, men and others? How do we make freedom from the fear of violence a part of who we are? Violence against women has always existed but it was always buried, unspoken and hidden.
Today, the issue has acquired visibility and awareness, which has forced society to take cognizance of this distressing reality.
Why are Indian women and girls not safe? Who is supposed to be responsible for their safety? How should that safety be assured? Here, I would also like to state that women should not be singled out for special pleading as both the sexes have suffered alike.
Ever since the horrific Delhi gang-rape of 2012, these questions have become a fixture on the national agenda, as has the issue of safety, or more precisely, freedom from violence. These fears have always occupied women as the threat of violence is pervasive and shadows them throughout their lives. These issues limit their mobility and activities, and forces them to strategise everything -- from when to use the toilet to choosing the timings of their travel.
Now, this glass ceiling of silence has been shattered. Today, women are willing to make their private dilemmas and fears public and give a voice to which was once considered a ‘woman’s shame’. Rather than apportioning blame on the perpetuator -- women took the onus on themselves for the defilement towards her body and soul. Gender-based violence is a result, sometimes, of structural inequalities like caste, poverty or identity.
Whenever there is a debate or discussion on sexual harassment, the same clichés and platitudes are aired. To reduce a problem of such a complicated nature involving sociology, anthropology, history, gender politics, patriarchy, status, power and arrogance, is to suggest that women can only be safe when they behave and speak in ways that ensure their safety by following templates of behaviour and norms. This becomes the stick and the carrot syndrome.
Today, the skeletons in our cultural closet are tumbling out. But the burning question is -- how should we change our vision of reality? How do we change attitudes entrenched for thousands of years? This is an imperative that has to be faced head on. Education is one of the most powerful agents of change, education as a tool of transformation, of enlightenment, of awareness of understanding -- of cutting through the stratifications of class, caste and gender.
Director, research, Gender Studies Unit, IDC
‘Laws provide relief but not prevent violence’
One courageous person makes for a majority. Women safety has acquired a number of majorities, but the challenge is no longer of courage, but to channelise this courage, as based in human rights, and for the promotion of justice.
The issue is not that women are victims and they need to stand up. By making women ‘the victimised’, the implication is that men are the violators and women, the silent sufferers. This has reduced the issue to a male-female power struggle.
The issue is also not of changing the attitude and mindset. Mindsets are rooted in living practices, economic consideration, in the construction of identity and it is these that need to be changed. If the female remains the ‘other’ reproducing a family, her identity revolves around her sexuality, which remains a highly marketable commodity with the cash registers ringing in with ‘chikni chameli’ and ‘pinki hai paise walon ki’.
It is not only brutal violence, stalking and ogling, which are treated as normal and acceptable. The need is to make this form of sexual abuse visible, so that the scope of Tejpal’s ‘error of judgement’ does not exist.
The specific forms of violence -- female foeticide, sexual abuse and honour killing -- are targeted for intervention and not the entire gamut of gender-based violence.
The dependence on a legal enforcement and improvement is no solution. Laws can only barricade, provide relief, are protective but not preventive. These cannot change the circumstances that cause violence. Law alone does not control values. We need to change gender differentiation.
Parents and schools are the first institutes to educate children, but something has gone wrong. We need somebody to guide parents, who in turn will guide children. It is an institutional collapse. We need to question every institution. Ronki Ram, professor of political science, Panjab University
Women safety is a human rights issue -- it is an allopathic medicine which has side effects such as insecurity in man. But one needs to clarify that if a malicious complaint is filed by women, she will be equally punished. To have a more civilised society, performing artistes need to step in as they cater to a large audience.
Harkishan Singh Mehta, former professor, Guru Gobind Singh College
The question is where does one go when the agencies, that are responsible for making, enforcing and delivering the laws, go haywire? There is pendency in court cases where there is a provision for disposal within a few months. This is violation of law. The problem is not simple. We need to change the society.
SL Sharma, professor (retd) Sociology
People market (context) in which we are living today has its own yardsticks of ethics which completely differ. We don’t go beyond the boundaries of middle class or urban cities. People are living beyond these boundaries. It is a market-driven society, which is leading to growth of ills in society.
PS Verma, professor (retd), political science
The issue is too complex as there are contradictions in society. There is too much exposure and a lot of provocative content is available. But, with moral policing and no freedom, existing contradiction is leading to an increase in sex crime.
Baljit Balli, editor, babushahi.com
Homes are very different these days. There are domestic servants, incest and domestic violence is prevalent. The practice of servant verification is functioning in Chandigarh. We need to focus on it and strengthen the same.
Dr Rajni Lamba, anthropologist
Complaints are false as well. We are trying to work towards a situation when women will say they feel safe. A large police presence will instill sense of security among them. Women are bold and need to speak up. "Tere mathe pe ye Aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin, Tu is Aanchal ka ik parcham bana leti to acha tha..".
Rajbir Deswal, police commissioner, Ambala-Panchkula