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India: Everybody's Invited To Rise and Strike Against Violence

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2012 has been a depressingly violent year for women in India. There were very public acts against women, with case after case of sexual assault, rape (sometimes with murder or suicide) and molestation merging, one into another, to produce a maelstrom of violence.

It is time to tag and shame the perpetrators, those convicted of violating a woman's rights. Women's and girl's rights are being violated in many ways. We want to salute women, and stop naming the victim, stop giving clues about who she is, because this causes more pain.

The Roster Of Shame

  • Guwahati (Assam) was witness to a young woman being sexually assaulted in public. Some men noticed her leaving a pub alone and followed her, attacking her right in the middle of a busy street. The sneering, leering images of the men attacking the hapless girl cannot be easily forgotten.

  • Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) can easily be dubbed as the crime capital. Here, women and little girls were raped, gang-raped, some were abandoned and others, less fortunate, were killed. In one case, a 17-year-old was gang-raped by her male friend and his cronies. The police "accidentally" leaked her name and details. In another instance, a woman was abducted from outside her workplace (a pub) by a gang of men before the horrified eyes of her younger brother (who had come to "escort" her home). She was subsequently gang-raped and dumped at a metro station. The initial reaction of the local Gurgaon administration was to decree that women who work after 8 pm should register themselves with the Labour Commission. No word about what the men should do to change their behaviour.

  • In the IT city of Bengaluru, a father was accused of sexually molesting his four year old daughter; his wife stood by her accusations against her husband in the face of intense media scrutiny and societal skepticism. He has just been let out on bail; the case is going on.

  • In Kolkata, two women were raped. One's character (what was an upper class, divorced mother-of-two doing at a nightclub?) and the very act of being raped was questioned ("was it concocted for political reasons?"); while the other one, a rag picker, she did not stay long enough in public memory for people to wonder what happened to her.

  • Haryana was witness to 21 rapes in October 2012 in districts including Jind, Rohtak, Panipat, Hisar and Kaithal. Ages varied from minors to teenagers to older women. Some of them were dalit; a factor that added to their vulnerability. Some of the victims attempted suicide, some committed suicide, some took their cases to the police.

  • Women in different parts of India were also victims of acid attacks. Sonali Mukherjee, the courageous woman from Dhanbad, Jharkhand, who was attacked when she was 17, has once more brought this issue into much-needed focus.
  • The Statistics

    Shaken. Shocked. Now, take a look at the statistics.

    As shown by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2011, the proportion of crimes committed against women under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) vis--vis total IPC crimes has increased from 8.8 per cent in 2007 to 9.4 per cent in 2011. West Bengal (at 12.7 per cent) leads the states in total cases of crimes against women while Tripura reported the highest crime rate at 37.0.

    All India, the incidence of rape went up to 24,206, while a total of 51,538 cases of molestation and sexual harassment were registered under separate IPC sections. At 14.1 per cent and 15.5 per cent, Madhya Pradesh reported the highest percentage of rape and molestation cases, respectively. Andhra Pradesh accounted for 42.7 per cent of all sexual harassment cases. Among 53 mega cities, Delhi accounted for 13.3 per cent of the total crimes against women. Alarmingly, NCRB reports that the perpetrators were known to the victims in 92.9 per cent of rape cases.

    A Society That Dishonours Women

    What does this say about us as a society? That the importance of women and girls in our country is decreasing from year to year. That a woman is not allowed to use her judgement and make decisions, whether it is about the right to education, work, to marry or not to marry, or raise a family (or not). That patriarchal notions of ownership, possession, honour/dishonour and entitlement over women's lives (her mobility, sexuality and her very thoughts) push communities in general and men in particular to stake claim over her in ways that are often inhuman.

    The most disturbing part of this is the impunity with which the crimes are committed. Male community leaders routinely speak out in the media, dictating rules for women's behaviour as a way to end the crimes.

    These insensitive attitudes have been further emphasised in an article in 'Tehelka', a weekly newsmagazine, which exposed what police personnel in Delhi-NCR, at varying levels of seniority, think about women and the crimes that are committed against them. Displaying an appalling attitude, the police talk about how women "ask for it", about how women will do "it" for a few thousand rupees, but "the day someone uses force, it's rape". Is there some other definition of rape and non-consensual sex? The reasons for the increase in crimes range from women becoming independent and assertive to co-education to migration and even, holding unconventional jobs. If this is the attitude of the police in the Capital, imagine what would be the situation in smaller towns and villages.

    World Ranking

    Internationally, India's image is no different. TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, conducted a poll among the economically powerful G20 countries. They polled aid professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, journalists and development specialists with expertise in gender issues to rank the G20 countries in gender terms.

    In 19th place, India was ranked as the worst place for women (even Saudi Arabia was ranked higher) while analysing parameters such as infanticide, child marriage and slavery. While it is easy to discount this - and other - polls and surveys, our own experience and statistics reveal that the status of India's women is steadily declining.

    Women Resisting This Repression

    So are Indian women passively letting men take control of their lives? An emphatic 'No' would be the answer to this! A healthy resistance exists. One such example is the Citizens' Collective against Sexual Assault (CCSA) started in Delhi in early 2012, as a spontaneous reaction to the attack on the woman who was assaulted outside her workplace in Gurgaon. The Collective does fact-finding about specific cases of violence (information about progress of the investigation, charge-sheeting and arrests, if any), raises awareness about these issues, meets with officials, holds protests and interacts with the media to bring about a change in attitude towards women and other marginalised groups.

    Women against Sexual Assault and State Repression (WSS) is a national-level collective that raises questions about the State's role in the increasing violence against women. Through fact-finding, hands on investigation and publishing reports, the group demands state responses about on sexual (and other) violence against women in states as diverse as Assam, Kashmir, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Manipur and Madhya Pradesh.

    Calling for global action is the One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign launched by V-Day, an organisation working to end violence against women and girls. It's an out-and-out refusal to watch more than a billion women around the world experience violence. Sangat, a South Asian feminist network, and several of its partners across the South Asian region have endorsed the campaign that urges people to "Strike. Dance. Rise." against violence on February 14, 2013. The OBR campaign was launched in India in several states during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence starting in November 2012.

    The time has some to name the crime, tag the perpetrators and shame those convicted of violating a woman's rights. We have to stop naming the victim or - what is increasingly happening - stop giving clues about who she is. We need to re-learn the myriad ways in which a woman's or girl's rights can be violated. And to salute her when she turns a survivor.

    Womens Feature Service covers developmental, political, social and economic issues in India and around the globe. To get these articles for your publication, contact WFS at the www.wfsnews.org website.

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