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Why does punishment not fit the crime?

It’s become very fashionable to discuss the issue of women’s safety these days. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Dialogue and discussion are always the precursors to change. Not denial. Gul Panag writes.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2012 00:35 IST
Gul Panag
Gul Panag

It’s become very fashionable to discuss the issue of women’s safety these days. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Dialogue and discussion are always the precursors to change. Not denial.

Yet, it’s denial we seem to be in. The women chief ministers of the two states that have been in the news lately, clearly are. According to them, there’s nothing amiss in the attitude of the administration vis-à-vis the security and safety of women. They, in fact, place the onus of protecting themselves on the women. Women must not go out after dark. They must dress conservatively. They must not indulge in any activity that might raise the hackles of the moral police, including, but not limited to, the consumption of alcohol.

Because if the women don’t conduct themselves in accordance with these ‘rules’, then the state cannot protect them — a rather convenient abdication of the responsibility of protecting half the country’s population. Interesting, the concepts of freedom and democracy the State propagates.

To be fair, the State cannot possibly post policemen at every corner. There is no preventive mechanism to check crimes against women, sexual or otherwise. Specially when there exist certain people in our society who think it’s their birthright to tease, grope, molest and rape women. What, then, is the State to do?

The issue of why certain men (I think it’s unfair to paint all men with the same brush) behave the way they do is a complex one. The shroud of anonymity crowds offer makes this behaviour worse. All women have been touched inappropriately in crowded places like buses, railway stations, places of worship — the list is endless. Some have been raped and then killed. Many of us have been victims of teasing bordering on hooliganism. I can personally recall at least two dozen such incidents, the last one at the time of boarding the Shatabdi Express a month ago. The rich and poor are victims alike. So are filmstars, entourage notwithstanding. What happened in Mumbai and later in Gurgaon on two separate New Year’s Eves was downright shameful.

At which point in history did this start? Women have certainly been humiliated and ill-treated for a very long time. Could it perhaps have to do with our patriarchal culture? If not killed before being born, girls live a second-rate life even within their own family. Even mothers give their sons preference over their own daughter in everything, be it food or pocket money. What do you expect boys from such families to grow up thinking about women?

While the State may not be able to prevent these crimes, how it punishes the perpetrators can influence whether such crimes occur in the future. And with that the ball is back, firmly, in the State’s court.

Why are rapists out on bail? So that they can rape again? (As in the call-centre employee rape case in Delhi).

Section 376 of the IPC provides for a maximum sentence of life-imprisonment for rape.

Why such few convictions, then? Why can’t fast-track courts be set up? The questions can go on and on.

I don’t have the answers. But I can question the apathy. You can question the apathy. We can start a dialogue that will eventually bring in that change. I think that’s the least we can do.

(The writer is a Bollywood actor)

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