Gratuitous comments about women being responsible for attacks against them coming from our elected representatives are reprehensible, but coming from a convicted rapist, this is really beyond the pale. The bus driver in the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang-rape has come out with ugly remarks to the effect that the brave girl who valiantly fought her attackers and paid for it with her life should not have been out at night. He also compounded his depravity by saying that she should not have fought back. As Women's Day comes around again tomorrow, we will see the usual pledges about creating awareness and safeguarding women. But, in the end, let us not forget that women have to live in a society where many men, even some women, think that a woman by her conduct, dress and attitude could invite male retribution in the form of physical violence, including rape.
It does not help that many of our political worthies echo these views, giving lumpen youth the sanction to attack women at will. Khap panchayats have in fact recommended rape as a punishment for women who step out of 'line'. We keep hearing about how it requires a mindset change in society to ensure that women are not at risk. This is not going to happen overnight. In fact, as more women become independent, both economically and socially, they seem more at risk of hostility from men. As a recent high-profile case shows, women in the workplace are extremely vulnerable, both in the organised and unorganised sector, to sexual harassment. As we have argued so often before, the first port of call for any woman subjected to sexual violence is the local police station. And it is here that the system fails women so badly. Often, the FIRs are not filed, the evidence is not collected and the woman is often told to make peace with her attackers. The legal system which follows, even when an FIR is filed, is so slow and painful with the victim having to relive her trauma and in many cases exist in the same locality as her rapists or attackers. The concept of counselling for rape victims is still not very prevalent, rather the victim lives with the stigma, not the rapist.
Violence and discrimination are things many women live with in India to a point where they are considered the norm. Women's Day might serve to focus attention on the issue but the real difference has to come in the implementation of the law and the certainty and severity of punishment. Even that does not seem to deter the hardened, as in the case of the noxious bus driver.