STELLA PAUL on eliminating violence against women
It’s 25th Nov – the day for Eliminating Violence Against Women. I began my day with the news of a senior government official in Uttarakhand – a state in northern India being accused of raping a 29-year old woman. And I thought “well, here you go – the official proof that we really do need a day to end violence”.
In the following hours, so many other pieces of news came in, each of them about a woman or a girl who’s been violated or tortured. In Delhi, a journalist from Tehelka news magazine who was recently sexually assaulted by her boss and chief editor Tarun Tejpal, said that she was intimidated by one of Tejpal’s relatives. Also in Delhi, the court convicted –and Nupur Talwar -a doctor couple of murdering their teenage daughter four years ago. (And, not to forget, every 40 minutes a girl also got raped).
Now, when a day brings you such a deluge of news that makes you shudder and also sick in tummy, you ask yourself, ‘How on earth can we ever eliminate violence against women in a country that has most numbers of ways to hurt a woman – feticide, infanticide, rape, molestation, beating over family dispute, acid attack, witch hunt, burn for dowry etc ? How can we end violence in a country where man form any background – from illiterate laborers to highly educated medical professionals to religious gurus to conscience-building journalists – is committing hideous crimes?”
I asked myself these questions. Surprisingly, every time I get the same answer: first we need to end impunity”.
Yes, aside from committing crimes against women, if India can score big in any other area of notoriety, it is letting the criminal go away with little or no punishment.
Consider this: In past 10 years, rape cases in India have risen from 16,075 to 24,923 . But, the rates of conviction have dipped from 40.8% to 24.2% (source: National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
What does this actually look like on the ground? Here’s an image: a woman is molested. She overcomes threats, social stigma and takes great courage to go to police and report the crime. He neighbors, friends and ordinary citizens get to know. They agitate on the street. The intelligentsia – journalists, academics and activists create pressure. Govt orders a probe.
But then, after all that, the case is adjourned with the culprit getting away. Why? Because there wasn’t enough evidence. Hmm…gathering evidence – whose duty was it to do that? Who failed? Will he be held guilty of failing on duty? We don’t ask those questions often enough and laud enough. We gotta do that.
In fact, when the authorities tell us things like “victims don’t report a case”, we actually need to turn the light back on the investigators and ask “what have you done on the cases that were reported?”
But, causing impunity isn’t something we can only accuse the govt of . You and I – we the ordinary citizen are also guilty of that. No, I don’t mean, we must deliver mob justice. But, when one of our relatives or a close person commits an assault, we hush it. We try to settle it ‘quietly’. We blame the victim of bad character or provocation. We destroy evidence. We shelter the fugitive. Now call it forgiveness or ignoring or whatever other fancy name you want, but it is nothing but efforts to ensuring impunity to the criminal.
We need to stop that. We need to stop siding with the assaulter and move to the side of the victim and say ‘there must be justice’.
Of course it is not easy, especially if you are determined to stand by your man, no matter what.
But, if we think of the victim – especially from the eyes of a woman whose eyes have been gorged out, or whose tongue has been cut off, or who has been forced to eat a man’s excreta, we will know that an act of violence or crime can not go unpunished. If it does, it will encourage the next criminal to go and commit a crime. Precisely, that is what is happening right now.
I remember a couplet by Rabindra Nath Tagore – the Nobel-winning poet “(lord) may your hatred burn like grass those who commit injustice, as well those who tolerate that”.
Impunity is injustice. If we can end one, we can end the other. And then, we can end violence. Yes, that’s the belief I am going to bed with.
Tomorrow, its a brand new day!