The sustained national outcry over an unspeakable sexual assault has put the spotlight not only on crimes against women, but also exposed the underlying patriarchy that is holding India back. The crisis of femininity and masculinity has never been more apparent. How do we heal?
How? All aspects of society — from the state to popular culture and education — need to introspect and act. Every woman needs and deserves a better life
*How should the State respond?
Curb entry of criminals into politics: Members of political parties with criminal charges against them should not be allowed to contest elections. Six sitting MLAs face rape charges and two MPs have been charged with sexual assault. Another 36 politicians also face charges.
Moral charters for political parties: There is a need for a normative charter of moral behaviour for parties.
Passing key legislations: Key bills are left hanging in Parliament. The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2012 is crucial as it seeks to make rape gender neutral by widening its definition. The bill also defines acid attacks with separate punishment.
Also, under current and proposed laws, marital rape is not defined and falls under the domestic violence act as cruelty.
Define stalking: Stalking was dropped from the Criminal Laws bill. There is no law or punishment to deal with it.
Sexual assault does not need intent: Anything short of rape is considered bailable under section 354 CrPC. This is antiquated and needs amendment. A major flaw is that it looks at intent of sexual assault — whether aimed at outraging modesty of a woman or not.
Sexism of public officials: Public officials who make sexist comments — about attire or behaviour of women — should be taken to task. Although the penal code protects women through the Indecent Representation of Women Act, the law needs amendment for strong punitive mechanisms.
*How should judicial process be swifter?
Modernising courts: Technology in courts needs drastic improvement to speed up the judicial process. Indian courts should have video recording of witness statements and testimonies with automatic transcription machines.
Indian judges can currently dictate upto 25 pages of an order in a day while American judges can go through at least 300 pages.
“There is nothing wrong with the law. It just moves at bullock cart speeds,” says senior advocate KTS Tulsi. He adds, “It’s ironic that an IT superpower like India cannot even provide better technology to enhance the criminal justice system.”
Speedier processes: The real need is permanent fast-track courts on the basis of a regular structure (not in an ad-hoc manner on the basis of a social outcry). Fast-track courts were earlier set up in 2001 but the Centre refused to finance them beyond March 2011.
The courts also need to ensure day to day trials in such cases.
*How should policing improve?
Increasing strength: Over five lakh posts lie vacant against the sanctioned 20 lakh all over India. The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) puts the number of policemen at 81-131 per 100,000 across states, compared to the required 174.
Separate VIP duties: 7% of the Delhi police is dedicated to VIP duties. Besides those, nearly half the force is used in doing odd jobs.
Increasing female force: 7% of the Delhi police is female and most are on the desk, leaving few in the field. The home minister ordered recruiting female cops in each Delhi police station, a step required across country.
Sensitisation: Citing the Zee news interview of the victim’s friend who revealed how three PCR vans wasted time instead of helping, BN Chattoraj, a criminology expert says, "Not just gender sensitisation but a general sensitisation is also necessary."
Upgradation: The weakest links are the police stations in the country which need drastic changes. Senior advocate KTS Tulsi said that if there were standardised designs for stations with tamper-proof recording of processes, there would be no hostile witness.
*How should families adapt?
See-saw family structures: While Indian families are glorified for their close-knit joint family structure, this is also where problems like a disjointed attitude towards women stems from, a fact that can be corroborated by figures too.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau figures of 2011, out of 22,549 reported rape cases in India, 1,560 rapes were committed by relatives and 267 by parents and family.
The attitude where a woman is regarded less as an individual but known more by familial ties, subconsciously shapes the behaviour of male members towards women say experts.
Provide a happy environment: Most crimes are committed by individuals who had a troubled upbringing. If a woman is ill-treated in a family, it serves as a case of bad solidarity amongst other male members.
Check for deviant signs: One should report deviant behaviour in the family at the onset. Abnormal behaviour should be brought under mental health surveillance at the earliest.
*How should culture engage?
Re-look at older tribal cultures and bring those ideas into the mainstream. People shouldn’t feel pressured to conform to set notions.
"Every human is a composite of both genders and older societies recognised that," suggests critic Sadanand Menon. There also has to be a return of the feminist movement of the 80s and 90s. "Women have to display militancy."
Sense of volunteerism from all including culture practitioners. Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980), billed as India’s first anti-rape film, had seven rape scenes.
"People felt uneasy whether it condemned or sensationalised rape," says Menon. "Acquiescence, male aggression and stereotyping in cinema reflects society and endorses sexual violence. But censorship is not the answer," he explains.
There has to be a change in consciousness, for example creating a song/piece of art that celebrates the equality of sexes.
Pay attention to popular culture: "Unless consumers are vigilant, you can’t expect much from producers of pop culture. They’ll continue to hit the lowest common denominator dictated by market logic. For example the Honey Singh rape rap," says playwright Sudhanva Deshpande.
*How should education evolve?
Starting young: For lasting change start with young children now. Show them important films/documentaries. Teachers can weave in ideas of gender equality in social sciences; principals can speak to students about gender issues and open them to different ideas at a young age.
Spirit of enquiry: It is better than prescriptive teaching. "Instead of a book on life-skills, equip children to question and analyse their lives," suggests educationist Abha Adams.
The national curriculum framework says that till class eight, schools can devise their courses. "But nobody is prepared to break free or train their teachers," she says.
Boys end up growing up with misogynistic views, which could be helped by gender interaction. "Teach boys to respect girls as equals," says Adams. Other problems include outdated curricula and lack of appreciation for a teacher as a professional.
Teacher, leave those kids alone: There’s a kind of exclusive division among boys and girls aged 11-12. Some suggest letting them work out their sexuality without policing/over-bearing moralities. Complex issues need to be addressed at various levels.
*How should corporates reinvent?
Ensure equality: From recruitment and leaves to promotions and wages, women (who make up 29% of the workforce, down from 39% in the last ten years) need equality. According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and
Development, only 6.9% of women are board members in listed companies, compared to 10.3 among other OECD members.
Balance the gap: An OECD study says Indian women spend 351.9 minutes per day in unpaid work, while men spend only 51.8 minutes. Of all the countries surveyed — United Kingdom, Australia, France, China — the average unpaid work time for women was 277 minutes.
Indu Agnihotri, Director, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, says more women should be hired to balance the gender gap. Leave, in particular maternity leave, should be flexible. Promotions should not be discriminatory.
Break the glass ceiling: Sensitising male colleagues helps break this invisible barrier that keeps women from rising to the top. Most companies still don’t follow the Vishaka Guidelines by the Supreme Court which recommend steps such as a compulsory sexual harassment cell.
*How should cities be designed?
Gender-friendly architecture: 40% of India’s population are expected to be city dwellers by 2030. That demands a gender-friendly planning of cities and implementation.
Daf Ne, a Spanish architect working on gender-friendly architecture, says "developing gender-friendly architecture is not only building new infrastructure, but more about improving the existing one. India has potential to move ahead."
The most frequented area for a woman is her neighbourhood. "Its the most productive part for a woman as a key producer of any residential environment, but our city planning doesn’t reflect that," she says.
Make colonies self-sufficient with nearby stores and offices to reduce transport.
Calming cities: Urban designer KT Ravindran says there is a general increase in the speed of cities which makes activities on road unnoticeable for speedy vehicles.
He suggests a "calming of the city" with proper traffic management. Visibility of the city has to increased with small steps like lower or netted boundaries in your houses, proper lighting at intersections and street lights on the sides of the road.
*How should women change?
Fight for it: While awareness about individual rights and sexuality is increasing and the phenomenon can be compared to the sexual revolution in the west during the 1960s and 1980s, most women in India do not understand their rights completely, leave alone standing for them.
Also, just because Indian women didn’t have to revolt for a right to vote like the 19th century women suffrage movement of Europe, they cannot hope that their liberation would come easy.
Instinctive fear response:Women need to listen to instinctive responses. Being brave is different from being sensible. A woman should try to get out of a situation that she knows she cannot control.
Understanding violence: Often violence begins at home. Dowry demand, verbal, physical abuse, glass ceiling are all manifestations of larger ills. The Women’s reservation Bill continues to be pending.
Unless women are in power there is precious little that can be done just by protests. Women need to identify what will bring difference and strive for it.
*How should men change?
Change the macho image: The cultural macho image needs to change. Men need to get comfortable with women asserting their rights.
Emotive beings: In our patriarchal society it’s regarded less manly if a man shows emotions.A man who shows his sensitive side is more likely to be gentle towards women.
Scared of sexuality: While it may be the new cosmopolitan culture to talk about women asserting their sexuality, lawyer Rekha Aggarwal says, "Men continue to be narrow minded. Neither have they understood the real meaning of the cosmopolitan culture nor are they comfortable with it."
It’s time that men start from their homes and give rights to female members at micro and macro levels. "Men in particular need to stop looking at the excuse of provocation," says Dr Sameer Malhotra.
He adds, "It’s easy to hide behind an excuse that it was the woman who provoked a crime. One has to get real and understand that the fault lies within."