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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

How rapes are impacting the mobility of women

A heinous gang rape of one girl impacts the mobility of many others, affecting their ability to participate in public life

columns Updated: Sep 21, 2018 17:51 IST
Members of All India Democratic Women's Association and various other organisations protest against the Rewari gang rape case, Haryana Bhawan, New Delhi, September 17, 2018
Members of All India Democratic Women's Association and various other organisations protest against the Rewari gang rape case, Haryana Bhawan, New Delhi, September 17, 2018(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
         

The first-year BSc student was on her way to coaching classes to prepare for the railways entrance exam. She was abducted, drugged, gang-raped and then dumped back at the bus stop from where they had taken her.

The crime touches so many aspects of what it means to be female in Haryana.

Clearly, there is aspiration and ambition as a new generation of girls surges ahead in sport and education, the Phogat sisters as flag-bearers. In classrooms, 45.8% have completed 10 years of schooling, well above the national average of 35.7%.

“The girls are motivated to study and do well in life,” says UNDP’s state project head Kanta Singh who looks after skilling programmes in Haryana and NCR.

But, says activist Jagmati Sangwan, crimes against women are also increasing at a “very large scale”. Haryana ranks #1 in gang rape, #2 in dowry-related deaths and #3 in stalking. “A patriarchal mindset makes these girls soft targets. State machinery, which is expected to protect the dreams and aspirations of these girls, is completely absent,” she says.

Away from the spotlight, what future does a rape survivor have in a culture that sees rape as an irretrievable loss of honour?

In Dabra, a young woman who had been abducted and gang-raped while on her way to her grandmother’s house to study for her Board exams told me of her struggles. She had enrolled in college but continued to be ostracised and eventually gave up on her BA.

In Karnal, a 16-year-old gang-rape survivor dropped out of school when her mother was murdered soon after, leaving the girl the sole caregiver for her younger siblings. The girl had been raped while on her way to school.

But the fallout is rarely contained. “When one girl is raped in a village, parents of the other girls will impose even more restrictions on their movement outside the house,” says Singh.

A fact-finding report in 2012 by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights found that “many people stopped sending their daughters to school” following a spate of gang-rapes of Dalit girls by upper caste men.

Haryana’s women are struggling to be seen and heard. They are being whitewashed out of public life.

The state officially regards the ghoonghat (veil) as its pride. Its khap panchayats prohibit jeans and mobile phones for girls and advocate early marriage as a bid to curb rape. Its sex ratio is India’s worst. Its streets and public transport are demonstrably out of bounds for women.

No wonder then that despite their educational attainment, only 19% women in Haryana are in paid employment, well below the already low national average of 24%.

If there is hope, it lies in the state’s exceptional, talented girls who are straining to get ahead. One day they will stand up and say, enough. One day they will demand to be equal citizens.

Namita Bhandare writes on social issues and gender

The views expressed are personal