Millennium Post

Not safe enough!

Not safe enough!

Our progress as a society is put to shame upon instances of women becoming victims of violence. Time has provided grim reminders of how our society requires social re-engineering. Following the rape and murder cases that shook the country — Nirbhaya and Disha — it does appear that stringent laws have failed to act as a strong deterrent. The recent incidents of violence against women in Maharashtra's Aurangabad and Wardha districts are a tight slap on our face when it comes to women safety. In both cases, the concerned women were set ablaze by distinct malefactors — known to victims — and hospitalised, battling for their lives. While the Wardha victim appears to be 'critical but stable' — as per a medical bulletin issued by the Orange City Hospital in Nagpur — the Aurangabad victim may not be as lucky. As per the hospital, the 50-year-old Dalit women from Andhari village in Aurangabad has suffered 90 per cent burns and has been said to be extremely critical. Perpetrators in both crimes have been sent to police custody while the chargesheet is prepared. Our criminal justice system will spring into action and eye swift delivery of justice but remedying the situation cannot be the norm. Swift justice is expected and to that extent, strict punishment is desirable so that it produces deterrence. But deterrence has not proved instrumental in curbing such crimes against women. Following the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, POCSO, fast-track courts and capital punishment for rapists came to be, marking severe deterrence. Yet, cases such as Kathua and Unnao made us rethink those laws. The gang-rape and murder of a veterinary doctor in November last year gave birth to the Disha Act 2019 in Andhra Pradesh. Disha Act mandates that the total judgement time in cases of violence against women be reduced to only 21 days and prescribes the death penalty to rape crimes where adequate conclusive evidence is present. But even with the Disha Act, we are still focussing on deterrence. Women safety has been part of so many election campaigns across India. Debates in public forums have deliberated over the issue. But with every new incident of violence against women, everything done yet is put to shame. This is where social re-engineering becomes necessary. We require to educate our society — removing the deeply-rooted sentiment of misogyny — and sensitise them. Rather than long speeches on how to improve women safety, discussions on respecting women and treating as equals will yield more understanding at the grassroots. When we speak of women empowerment, equals, no gender-based discrimination, etc., ideals, we tend to forget that more than urban centres, it is the rural areas and country's hinterlands where we ought to propel those. Unless we make inroads to cut deep into societies, educating men about women rights and respect, no amount of deterrence might be satisfactory. Providing LPG cylinders under the Ujjwala scheme in the name of women from BPL households is perhaps a way to pique male curiosity and subtly push in the idea of women empowerment. These small steps are what will sensitise villages, districts and divisions to respect women more. Crimes cannot be prevented unless the ill-mindset is not cured. Given the extent of patriarchy and misogyny overlooked for years, sensitising the society is a massive but necessary objective. Unless women are respected, violence against them will not abate. Sometimes, the trend points a scary reality of men proceeding to commit violence against women despite deterrence owing to a cherished sense of impunity.

While social re-engineering will take its own course, steps must be taken to ensure both strict vigilance and punitive measures for perpetrators of such crimes. In the wake of the two incidents, Maharashtra chief minister urged the state home ministry to check the feasibility of setting up all-women police stations in all districts of the state. The object behind Udhav's idea serves more than a single purpose of making women comfortable in registering complaints. It is true that, more often than not, these women are scared of registering complaints/FIRs. The all-women police station will be a big plus for women in districts who have been victims of violence of any form. A lot of times, before serious offences surface, casual offences have taken place but submissiveness on women's part is what prevents the perpetrator from realising his wrongs. In fact, mute women not approaching police with their episodes of violence — however minor in nature they may be — is what gives these men the audacity to exploit, assuming the condescending character. While police approachability will increase, the presence of women-friendly police stations with all women personnel will also send out the message of women empowerment in rural areas. There is a pressing need to act on the issue of women safety, and not just by the book but innovatively. If instances of violence against women occur despite strong deterrence, there is a need to re-think women safety net.

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