It is a decidedly odd statement to come from the minister for women and child welfare and its impact will be felt all the more coming as it did just before Women’s Day today. Maneka Gandhi has said that women’s hostels need early curfew to protect girls from what she termed “hormonal outbursts”. She defended her position saying that she felt boys should have such a curfew also. It is passing strange that the minister feels that the natural process of maturing into adulthood is equivalent to being “hormonally very challenged” and for which a lakshman rekha is needed for the safety of girls. The minister is actually advocating sequestering women for their own safety and also saying that biological processes will lead women into danger.
She seems dismissive of security saying that “two Bihari gentlemen at the gate with dandas” was not the answer but that time limits were. The greater concern for the minister should have been that women are not safe either in their homes or in public places. Shutting them away would be to concede defeat to the predators who roam the streets molesting and harassing women at will. The real challenge is in ensuring much better policing and creating safe spaces for women so that their movements are not bound by timings.
It is bad enough that many people hold women responsible for their own safety. We have heard ugly remarks often from our political leaders on how a particular kind of dress invites unwelcome attention and how women should dress modestly and conduct themselves circumspectly in public.
The real issue of men feeling that they have the licence to misbehave is rarely addressed. The police too often feel that the woman who is harassed or molested asked for it. The minister should be looking to change this mindset, prevalent in many of her own political colleagues, rather than reinforce the notion that women should be shut away to keep them from harm.
Many of those who engage in violence against women do so because they feel they can get away with it. The conviction rate for crimes against women is poor as cases fall apart due to lack of evidence, again thanks to shabby policing and the attitude that boys will be boys and minor transgressions should be overlooked.
A strong message should have gone out from the minister that there will be zero tolerance for crimes against women. Instead what we have is a peculiar and regressive prescription which amounts to saying that staying out of sight is the right way of protecting women.