Galvanise reforms

We need to make women feel safe.

The 23-year-old girl whose gruesome gang-rape and struggle against assault and death galvanised an entire nation to begin taking a hard look at issues of sexual violence in the country is no more. Her suffering, struggle and death have evoked an outpouring of grief, anger and outrage across the country. The political class, which either sought to downplay or plainly ridicule the angry protests in the capital over the past fortnight, will seek to quickly close the issue by handing out ‘maximum punishment’ to the six offenders. While there must be no delay in delivery of justice, the issue cannot be ‘closed’ by simply punishing the six accused in this case. The government should use the present case to signal to the people that it is capable of dealing with various types of atrocities on women, including rape cases, efficiently. It must follow up on this by ensuring fast-tracking of trials in the hundreds of rape cases that are moving at a snail’s pace in other parts of the country.

Importantly, India needs to take steps to prevent sexual violence. This will require a radical change of mindsets. Our society is a deeply patriarchical one, where rape is widely condoned as a tool to subjugate and silence women. This mindset which systematically devalues women and justifies violence against them must be dismantled. It will require women-friendly laws and their proper implementation. This is a task that the government and civil society, indeed every one of us must take up within our homes, families, schools, and workplaces. We need to move beyond making our streets safe for women to deal with marital rape and sexual abuse of children, often by close family members. This will require us to question our notions of marriage, family and ‘family honour’.

Selective concern and action on rape will not make our society safe. We looked the other way when Muslim women were raped in Gujarat in 2002, when Priyanka Bhotmange, a Dalit girl and her mother, were paraded naked, reportedly gang-raped and lynched to death by dominant caste men in Khairlanji in 2006 and when a Manipuri woman Thangjam Manorama was brutally raped, tortured and then murdered by the security forces in 2004. The government should make suitable amendments to laws to ensure that the police, the prosecutors and the judiciary work in tandem to dispose of rape cases in less than year so that the punishment is never far away to the culprits. That’s the best way to pay homage to the Delhi braveheart.

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