Everyday the headlines scream at us, with alarming frequency, of yet another rape. Every 32 minutes somewhere in India, a woman is getting raped. There is certainly a breakdown of the social fabric; large sections of the people are feeling a sense of anomie. Then there is rampant unemployment fuelled with pornography and an increased objectification of women. What is even more horrific is the rising incidence of child rape. According to the National Crimes Record Bureau, there has been a 336% increase in child rape over the last decade, for as many as 48,338 child rape cases have been recorded between 2001 and 2011. This is the tip of the iceberg, as most cases go unreported, due to social stigma.
On receiving this shocking news, many of us, particularly mothers, respond with alarm and renewed concern about our own children. The response is to tell mothers to keep children within closed doors (although often the rapist is a 'known person') or under increased vigilance. The onus of responsibility for the safety of the child finally falls on the mother.
The state and all other agencies, seem to shrug their shoulders, with a 'you did not protect your child' attitude. The other counsel blithely meted out to mothers is, 'why don't you keep an ayah?' This Marie Antoinette style solution seems to blindly ignore the reality that the ayah, if at all available, leaves her own children untended and, therefore, vulnerable to sexual abuse. Besides, this class conscious solution is only available to the middle and upper classes. Do not all children deserve a thought or our care? That mothers have to work to make a living; cater to the endless needs of families while juggling home and work is not reckoned in the GDP, for women's work is simply not evaluated. It is outside the pale of reckoning and so women and their lot exist, make a living, but remain on the margins of society. Women's work and lives are unaccounted for. In particular, children don't count as citizens of India, because they are not vote-banks, as yet. Looking around, it strikes me as rather odd that every land transferred in the name of the people has a parking lot, a reception, wash-rooms, a fire exit and so on, but no room for children. I notice that even community centres, public libraries and significant centres of intellectual and public activity in the Capital, rent out their space (often on prime land) for parties and functions but shrug off the basic responsibility of having a room for children.
A small children's room with an attached bathroom and a female attendant would not burden the existing infrastructure. In fact, it would be a space where women could place their children for a short while, knowing that they are safe, as they do their relevant chores. Corporate houses could do their bit through corporate social responsibility as well. And mothers (as always!) could routinely volunteer and supervise. Employers too would find reduced absenteeism among their employees. In all Scandinavian countries, child care is the responsibility of the State, that sets up well planned, thoughtfully executed, child care and day care facilities.
Along with this, the introduction of secular ethics in the school curriculum that would teach both boys and girls about gender equality and sensitivity to each other would create a more humane society. We need ethics for the new millennium that would create a more compassionate society. We need to care for each other, rather than rely on a corrupt and well entrenched police force and yet more surveillance. The thought of rape arises first in the mind. Gandhi's favourite bhajan, Raghupati Raghava had 'sabko sanmati de bhagwan' as one of its lines.
Finally, all police stations should have a women and child cell, with a sensitive and well-trained person, whom people can alert, when their suspicion is aroused, before a situation arises. Society fears the police and men in power. The onus now lies on the men in power to change their rather ugly image. I hope, that the suave, internationally travelled minister of state for HRD Shashi Tharoor and the women & child development minister, Krishna Tirath, will put their heads together and respond to the crying need of the children of India.
Sagari Chhabra is a writer, film director and social activist
The views expressed by the author are personal