‘If your daughter has eloped, then you should… end your life. I would have killed my sister if she had eloped or… committed suicide.’ These sentiments don’t come from some ghastly khap panchayat but are words of advice from the deputy inspector general (DIG) of police, Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, to a distraught father whose daughter has been abducted. When the custodians of the law advocate the murder of those they are meant to protect, the punishment must be exemplary.
The DIG’s appalling remarks show how to many it is perfectly legitimate to murder a woman if she dares to ‘step out of line’ or ‘sullies’ the honour of the family. In this case, the DIG should have been striving to retrieve the girl and see to it that she comes to no harm, instead of advocating further violence against her.
The old shibboleths that education and superior socio-economic conditions will automatically translate into equality for women is now conclusively shattered. The successful programme ‘Satyameva Jayate’ hosted by film actor Aamir Khan in its recent episode showed how highly educated and wealthy people went to great pain to get rid of unwanted girl children. This treatment of women as non-people begins before birth and is perpetuated throughout their lives.
In the first place, if a girl is lucky enough to be born, chances are that she will not be wanted. If she survives infancy, she is subjected to all sorts of deprivation from food to education to basic human rights like choosing her own partner. As a daughter-in-law, the subjugation continues in the form of harassment for dowry to the extent of murder. Those who outlive their husbands are treated with contempt and are considered a burden to be got rid of at the earliest. This is not a blanket condemnation of every Indian but just to underscore the prevalent trend when it comes to women across all strata of society.
The usual refrain that mindsets need to change is a truism, it is quite clear that this change is coming about far too slowly. India has very progressive laws to protect the rights of women from birth onwards. The law prescribes severe penalties for harassment of women whether within a marriage or outside. These have to be implemented rigorously.
It is only the fear of being put away that will deter those who inflict harm on women. At present, too many get away scot-free encouraging others to violate the law. The DIG must be made to pay for his unpardonable conduct. Perhaps this will send out the signal that howsoever powerful you are, you are not above the law.