It is deeply regrettable that the cycle of violence against women continues unabated, and in spite of all the rallies, media trials, heated public debates and discussions in the wake of the horrific and fatal 16 December Delhi gang rape incident, there seems to be practically no decrease in the number and intensity of the crimes against our women. Repugnant instances of sexual crimes are being reported from all corners of the country, and the latest to bag the ugly spotlight is Uttar Pradesh, where a college student was brutally raped and then set on fire in Etawah, incidentally the hometown of the ruling Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. The revolting incident that took place this past Tuesday evening, wherein the girl suffered over 80 per cent of burns and is battling for life in a UP hospital, is not alone, for in another instance, an 18 month old child was raped, once again in the heart of UP. To add to the long list of woes, a Mumbai man has slashed his ex-wife a hundred times with a blade, ostensibly for divorcing him for abusing her while she was married to him. What kind of a society have we collectively degenerated into, where such heinous crimes against women are not aberration and horrifying but routine, casual and terrifyingly commonplace? Why after having in place a fortified anti-rape law, a suitably bolstered security awareness campaign and the governmental stressing on equal rights and freedom for women, do we witness, on an everyday basis, a relentless and vicious attack on the bodily and psychological well-being of women everywhere in India?
It merits a scrutiny that goes beyond broadening the realm of law, defining more inclusively and accurately what constitutes rape and sexual assault, what punishments should be meted out to the guilty, and what kind of counseling should be available to the victims of such horrific crimes. Clearly, police protection and security provisions fall flat when the perpetrator is known to the victim, or when the rape, or assault, happens in the hallowed precincts of domesticity or other secure premises such as colleges, universities, tuition classes, clubs and restaurants. How can suspension of a few individuals, who have been caught by the law, address the entrenched culture of prejudice and rampant misogyny that is enshrined in our system as a whole? Cutting across class, caste and other axes of discrimination, rape and sexual assault comprise that confoundingly difficult zones of grey that will not be accounted for by putting more people behind bars, although rapists (now more often than not, also morphing into murderers as fatal cases of rape come to the fore) should be given the harshest of punishment that is legally permissible. Nevertheless, what needs to debated right now is how to change the pathological mindset that is at the root of such gendered violence, the menacing linguistic and cultural systems in place that augment and encourage such repulsive behaviour as manly and just. From the police official who refuses to land up on time at the crime zone, to the one that refuses to lodge an FIR, to the ministers and political figures who endorse stalking as romantic and domestic violence as marital quibble – the shift needs to be sociocultural and all-pervasive.