If the public spirit that we saw after the December 16 gang rape in Delhi had been taken to its logical conclusion, there would have been lots of good news to report on this International Women’s Day.
While many women have made giant strides in their own fields, the issue of violence against women remains an enduring blot on Indian society. The girl who died after that horrific assault in Delhi seemed, for a while, to bring about a real change in attitudes towards women. But alas, it was short-lived. The helplines set up after that, where people could phone in to report violence against women, are today in danger of shutting down due to employees not being paid.
The attacks on women in the Capital have not abated one bit. Even little girls have not been spared. In many cases, the perpetrators of rape and murder are those known to the victims. But the increasing violence against women is not a Delhi phenomenon.
In Kolkata, which is ruled by a woman chief minister, there have been several rapes and murders of young women. In fact, there was even a tribal panchayat-sanctioned rape. Each time Mamata Banerjee has chosen to dismiss the women’s allegations of rape as a plot against her government by her political opponents. In Uttar Pradesh, almost daily there have been incidents of violence, including the rape and murder of a six-year-old girl.
Many women were raped during the Muzaffarnagar riots and live in fear in the camps as their assailants walk about scot-free. The murders of young women on their way home from work too have seen a rise. In short, women’s vulnerability has increased and the strengthened laws have not really been a deterrent.
Of course, once a culprit is apprehended, the laws make it much more difficult for him to get off the hook. The Tarun Tejpal case comes to mind here. But, by and large, the safety of women has not been debated by our lawmakers who were too busy squabbling among themselves.
The need to provide safe public spaces for women, to protect them from violence both in public and at home, has hardly figured in any of the blueprints that political parties are drawing up. This is odd, given that women form half the electorate. At least in enlightened self-interest, it would make sense to cater to their needs.
The mushrooming of khap panchayats, which invariably pass anti-women verdicts, seems to have political sanction when those passing such retrograde orders should have been behind bars. The good news is that women themselves have become far more vocal than before. We can only hope that if they are denied their legitimate rights, they will at least be able to make political parties listen through their votes.