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Dispatches from Charleville

Programme on multi-agency coordination in tackling violence against women & children deliberated on improving the ecosystem tasked with upholding rule of law

Dispatches from Charleville

The National Gender Centre at the Academy played host to a capacity building programme on multi-agency coordination in Tackling violence against women and children which drew participants from judicial, administrative, police, prosecution and medical professionals from 21 states in the country. Spread over three days — December 19–21 — the workshops had lectures, case studies, group work, poster presentation and intense deliberations on different aspects of understanding the nature of violence, discrimination, investigation, state and societal responsibility towards women and children who were victims of sexual abuse and violence. The conference started with context setting and a presentation on understanding the multiple perspectives on Gender-based violence in India by Sarojini G Thakur, an erstwhile faculty of the Academy and the founder of the National Gender Centre. This was followed by an address on 'Gender-based violence: legal scenario in India' from Vrinda Grover which set the ball rolling, followed by a session on looking at issues from the point of view of the survivor.

The full report on the conference, including the address by Justice Sudhanshu Dhuliya of the Nainital High Court, will soon be placed on the web; this is not the forum to discuss changes and amendments to the law that have been tweaked in favour of women and children. Let's look at who all are the stakeholders, or rather duty holders, who are paid by the state and bound by their solemn oath to the Constitution to uphold the rule of law. And so, while women and children who were victims, as well as children who were in conflict with the law, were the ones who needed the protection of the state, such was the asymmetry of power that there was need for greater sensitivity on the part of those who had the power to make a difference.

Where women and children are in an institutional setting — from an ICDS centre to schools and universities, or in workplaces or public spaces, systems have to be in place to ensure that women and children get a safe environment as a matter of right. If, as and when there is violence, sexual harassment or the violation of the dignity of the woman or the child, we need to have systems in place to address their issues and concerns. Thus, the doctor who first examines the victim, the police officer to whom the case is reported, the executive magistrate under whose jurisdiction the case lies, the investigating officer, the prosecutor and the trial judge are all part of the ecosystem, in which the civil society organisations and media also have an important role to play.

Among the many firsts of this programme was the range of participants and resource persons — from serving and retired Justices to academics, doctors, AIS and state service officers, judges prosecutors, drivers, self-employed professionals and head constables who shared their experiences. Many professionals from different streams came together in a non-adversarial and (almost) non-hierarchical setting in a salubrious clime and discussed the issues in a frank and forthright manner. The number of men and women were also almost equal, and this by itself is important. The best part was a resolution taken by participants themselves: As duty holders in the criminal justice system of the nation, we resolve and shall henceforth practise in unison that there are no limitations in our capacity to eradicate crime against women and children while upholding the rule of law.

In his Valedictory address, Justice Dhuliya laid great emphasis on the term dignity, as also Article 14 of the Constitution which should form the core basis of our thinking. He complimented the Academy and the National Gender Centre for organising this programme and suggested that we should focus not just on the knowledge of the law but also on skills and institutional infrastructure like forensic labs — most importantly, an attitude of sensitivity to those who were clearly victims of circumstances well beyond their control.

Your columnist was asked to speak on mainstreaming gender in administration, and in his address, he stated that the main issue was the continuing hegemony of patriarchy in the discourse on empowerment. Everything was still looked at from that lens, and it was the collective failure of society to take the intellectual and mental leap forward even in the post-modern age where technology had made physical might almost redundant. The everyday practises of patriarchy — with its emphasis on names of fathers' paternal forbears, and the unconscious acceptance of everything that patriarchy and patrimony entail made us all complicit in this continuing hegemonic practice. He referred to a paper by Nancy Fraser on 'Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History' where the author talks about how capitalism and its variants had ensured that emancipation was still illusionary in many significant ways. In fact, most people in the hall (including yours truly) knew names of their great-great-grandfathers and had probably seen their portraits as well, but when it came to great grandmothers, only three hands stood up. Till very recently, even the Pandas at Haridwar would also record only the names of the paternal forbears. We had to make a conscious effort to break these notions of 'normal', and make way for an equal and equitable society where women and men walked, talked and worked together without any visible or implicit discrimination.

Dr. Sanjeev Chopra is the Director of LBSNAA and Honorary Curator, Valley of Words: Literature and Arts Festival, Dehradun. Views expressed are strictly personal.

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