Women fighter pilots, dynamic women entrepreneurs, a woman politician riding a Harley Davidson into the precincts of Parliament, the atmospherics were all very positive on Women’s Day. But in the nasty, brutish world that many Indian women inhabit, life does not change either before or after high-profile days commemorating the achievement of women.
This year, the aftermath of the day brought with it three particularly horrific cases. In one, a teenager was raped and set on fire by a young man. She has now succumbed to her burns. In another, a woman travelling on a bus to Bareilly was gangraped by the bus staff and her infant son dashed to death. The incident was witnessed by her three-year-old daughter who miraculously escaped. In yet another, a young woman was set on fire in public view on suspicion of an extra-marital relationship.
This suggests that the push for reservation in politics or otherwise, women are no safer now despite changes in the law on rape and impassioned calls against the sort of violence against women being advocated in khap panchayats. We cannot wait around for mindsets to change, they are changing but far too slowly.
The fact that women are attacked so openly and frequently is undoubtedly due to a patriarchal mindset but it is because the culprits seem to believe, and quite justifiably in many cases, that they can get away with this. The criminal justice system simply does not seem to work in favour of women right from filing FIRs, to collecting evidence to building a watertight case against the culprits. The police are often either prejudiced against the woman, especially in rape cases, or simply do not know the correct procedures of the law.
There are no quick solutions. The law has to be made to work and the certainty and severity of punishment made non-negotiable. Even in cases of educated women, for example like the sexual harassment one in Teri, there is no guarantee that empowering laws actually work in favour the victim.
There has to be a concerted political push for gender justice. We often hear how India’s image is tarnished when such instances of attacks on women are reported. If for nothing else, in enlightened self-interest, our political establishment should lend its heft to the civil society and the law enforcement agencies to ensure that half the population gets a fair deal. Having taxis and public transport bearing stickers proclaiming respect for women seem meaningless, even insulting, given the pace at which atrocities are taking place almost every day.