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Mainstream, VOL LII No 1, December 28, 2013 - ANNUAL 2013

Ending Gender-based Violence: Need for a Civilisational Response

Sunday 29 December 2013

WOMEN’S WORLD

by Sagar Preet Hooda

The murderous gangrape of a young girl in a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012 had deeply shaken the conscience of the nation. The surge of feelings of fear, anger, and frustration in society, though unprecedented, was, however, not new. It had happened in the wake of similar incidents in the past too. After such incidents, invariably instantaneous protests emerge but generally evaporate soon and the situation on the ground remains the same. But, last year’s spate of outburst was an expression of a deep desire of society at large to ensure that no such gruesome act recurs: and it was also wished that the government would certainly bring about substantial changes in laws, procedures and practices to improve the situation on the street. It was hoped by the intelligentsia that the anger would help us evolve a comprehensive long-term action plan to combat this epidemic.

One year has elapsed since the unfortunate incident and many positive steps have been taken, yet the situation on ground leaves much to be desired. Both the Nirbhaya case and the Tarun Tejpal episode need to be viewed in the context of gender-based violence and its interplay with patriarchy and power in our society. The recent anti-women utterances by some public figures clearly indicate towards a deeprooted disease in our society which warrants a much serious attention and treatment. It is a civilisational crisis; necessitating a huge civilisational response.

It is a fact that since independence, we have so far brought about many significant legislative, executive and judicial changes to deal with this problem. There is also no dearth of well-intentioned politicians, judicial officers, law enforcement officials, civil society members and feminist academics in India. Since the early 1980s, the women groups have played a very vital role in making the government take various legislative and policy measures. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, and various amendments in IPC and Cr PC can largely be attributed to the fact that violence against women has become an issue in India.

Notwithstanding this, it is highly disturbing that the violence against women continues unabated so much so that the

gangrape has emerged as a cultural phenomenon

. We have failed to ensure safety, dignity and well-being of women in this country! Though there are no official national level ‘victimisation surveys’ available in India unlike in the USA, UK and other developed countries yet various city, specific surveys by NGOs show that women today feel unsafe in the cities. There is a feeling of helplessness and despondency among people. We must seriously ponder as to why women in this country continue to be the subject of such heinous attacks.

It is, therefore, imperative to analyse whether gender-based violence is too complex to be understood by our state, academia, and civil society; or they are failing in their efforts to comprehend the phenomenon; or people of India are not interested in the matter beyond paying lip-service to it. In my humble view, my answer to all the three parts of the above question is in the affirmative. The problem is far too complex and gigantic than different stakeholders assume it to be. It has been further compounded due to the disconnect and lack of trust amongst various stakeholders.

No single segment of society can be blamed for its occurrence; it is the society as a whole that is responsible for it. The family, community, and schools are the three primary fountain-heads of its genesis; and they alone could be the best bulwark against it. Women’s safety and well-being requires societal commitment and it can’t be relegated to the state and its law enforcement agencies exclusively. However, a new movement needs to be initiated by some segments preferably by the state with constructive engagement of the civil society on the issue for successful translation of various measures/government policies on the ground besides spreading awareness about the gender issues.

I propose some measures that could be taken to create a culture of safety in our country.

First, the government should commission an annual national

‘victimisation survey’

by an independent research agency to fathom the extent, magnitude and spread of gender-based violence.

Second, a

National Task Force

should be constituted to understand the nature and genesis of gender-based violence in its all manifestations, for making a long-term action plan.

Third, the government should carry out consultations with the civil society to make the laws and prosecution mechanism more women-friendly.

Fourth, representation of women in police, judiciary, public services, private establishments, political institutions etc. should be increased at least to 40 per cent as it would lead to greater parity between the two genders.

Fifth, changes in school curriculum and pedagogy need to be carried out for making it gender-sensitive.

Sixth, the police, judiciary, schools, University Grants Commission, hospitals, corporate sector and civil society must undertake massive gender sensitisation programmes for their personnel as well as the for the larger community with particular focus on deconstruction of gender stereotypes.

Last but not least, let us accept that a massive majority of us suffer from patriarchal thinking though in varying degrees. I am sure acceptance of this reality will herald a beginning of a new revolution in our society. A revolution for gender-equal, gender-sensitive and women-safe society.

Dr Preet Sagar Hooda, an alumnus of the London School of Economics, is a member of the IPS and was associated with ‘Parivartan’, an initiative launched to combat violence against women in Delhi in 2005.

The views expressed by him here are personal.

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