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Women unsafe: We are all to blame

Wthe protests at India Gate about the gang-rape enter its fourth day on Sunday -- and get out of control by the hour -- is startling evidence of the disconnect between the public and those in authority, writes Ayaz Memon.

mumbai Updated: Dec 24, 2012 02:49 IST
Ayaz Memon

Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement from ODIs sprang up suddenly as I began writing this column. I must confess to being disoriented for a while because considered every which way, a magical era in limited overs cricket come to an end. I reckon this is going to be a season to make cricket lovers – especially Sachin’s legion of fans – maudlin. If this is a comma, so to speak, how far away is the full stop?

Nevertheless, for all its newsworthiness and ramifications for Indian cricket, Sachin himself would agree that his quitting ODIs must settle for second place to the Delhi gang rape -- which has riled the entire country -- as the issue of the week. The plight of the young 23-year-old battling for her life is a severe indictment of the political class, the police and -- let’s not mince words -- of ourselves where the status of women are concerned.

For instance, watching the protests at India Gate about the gang-rape enter its fourth day on Sunday -- and get out of control by the hour -- is startling evidence of the disconnect between the public and those in authority. What prevented chief minister Sheila Dikshit and central home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde from coming out with folded holds to assuage people of the horrendous incident is impossible to fathom.

Protests getting unruly or people taking law and order in their own hands and demanding summary justice outside the judicial system is not the best way forward. But there are times people want to feel that politicians and police are on their side, not peddling hollow promises.

But Delhi being typified as the ‘rape capital’ of the country is wholly misleading and must be dumped if the matter of atrocities against molestation, women, children, elderly and the helpless are to be countered on a war footing across the country.

Let’s get more pertinent. Mumbai, which prided as a metropolis where women were safe at all places at all times has been found seriously wanting. In the last five years, for instance, crimes against women have gone up by 30 per cent, with figures for rape and molestation showing corresponding growth.

Why, even the state women’s commission has not had a person at the helm for four years; till the recent sordid saga in Delhi sent files moving in Mantralaya. The only proactive public concern about women I can recall is the campaign run by this paper, Make Mumbai Safer for Women, from December last year.

A seminal case in Mumbai – which incidentally also shows up the problem in several dimensions but also offers some solution – involves constable Sunil More at the Marine Drive police chowky in April 2005.

A girl and her boyfriend were hauled up by a watchman from a nearby building and taken to the police station on grounds of obscenity. Constable More, instead of applying the law (if at all was necessary) intimidated the couple and raped the girl.

On a complaint More was dismissed from service and tried for rape. The case was fast-tracked. Within a year he was sentenced to 12 years rigorous imprisonment by the Sessions Court. This was revalidated in 2011 by a higher court.

What the Sunil More case showed is where the fault-lines often lie: In the watchman who sees a young girl canoodling with a man as ‘chaalu’ and deserving of punishment; a cop who sees a young, helpless girl as easy-prey.

The fact that those in charge of preserving law and order are often themselves perpetrators of crime — or uncaring — is now so well-founded in India that criminal minds don’t see the law as a deterrent.

But this case also shows how a judicial system, if it is invigorated, can move even against the seemingly powerful too. In effect, laws exist in India and are not all bad. It is the will to implement these swiftly that is the bane.

Of course, how we all perceive and treat women is at the core. This is too huge and complex a matter to address here, save that to say that some massive, collective soul-searching is imperative.