Zero Tolerance

t doesn’t startle anyone, anymore. With over 650 registered cases of rape this year alone and perhaps several times more left unreported due to social stigma attached to the most underreported crime in the nation, what Delhiites have suspected all along has been laid bare. Delhi is unsafe for women, very unsafe.

As if female foeticide and dowry deaths weren’t enough barbarity in themselves, metropolitan cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai seem to be shamelessly competing against each other just to prove which city can earn the distinction of being the most dangerous for women. With woman’s modesty under constant threat, India should hang its head in shame for being the most unsafe place on earth for women.

Anyone who has ever lived in Delhi for any length of time cannot feign ignorance about the loathsome behavior men routinely exhibit. It’s a common spectacle -persistent sexual advances against women on roads, buses, trains, parks, offices, and all public places with erotic gesturing, obscene talk, lewd display, and inappropriate touching. Violent sexual assault on the fearless young female student in Delhi, we call ‘Braveheart’, is an unambiguous reminder that females at every stage in their lives are unsafe, not just in Delhi but throughout India. Daily incidence of sexual violence against them has become a norm, but this time, public outrage has captured the essence of an erupting volcano.

Public protest against the heinous crime has spilled over to other parts of India. But, not everyone feels outraged at the rape or the rapists. One, Dr. Anita Shukla, was quick to place the blame squarely on hapless ‘Braveheart’ for not allowing the rapists to have their way. She even questioned why the girl was out with her boyfriend so late at night. When faced with the threat of molestation, it’s only rarest of the rare that would follow Shukla’s doctrine of instant cooperation.

Prime Minister’s repeated pleas to exercise restraint are unmistakably a sign of administration’s nervousness about the potential fallout of public protest that shows no sign of abatement. To stem the tide, some misguided politicians, prone to grandstanding, even called for quick dispensation using extra judicial means such as “mob justice”. Others have floated the idea of equipping public transportation with Marshals. Delhi Transport Minister wasted no time inaugurating DTC bus service lodging a symbolic night guard to project a semblance of safety and security in the capital.

In the absence of any worthwhile strategy that would tame the raging distrust in both, the state and central governments’ ability to curb violence against women and offer assurance to the unnerved masses, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit came up with a brilliant idea. Thankfully, the idea didn’t call for a ban on Chinese Chow Mein that is blamed to propel male testosterones to dizzying heights, but it was no less bizarre.

Devoid of reality, women were suggested not to step outside their homes after dark. For millions across the country staying indoors isn’t an option. Economic compulsions have forced them to live a life of two or more wage earners in a family, working odd hours just to get by. Earlier, her assertion that a family of five could manage sustenance on an allowance of 600 rupees per month had brought sneers and no solace to those living in poverty.

Setting up special courts in Delhi to dispense fast track justice is a step in the right direction. These courts offer an element of deterrence against future infractions while helping restore public faith in the judicial system. But more needs to be done without losing either the momentum, or the motivation to fight the scourge of sex violence.

Congress party’s proposed anti-rape bill calls for chemical castration as a deterrent. Whether chemical or surgical, castration will not remove the component of ‘violence’ from ‘sex violence’. Furthermore, absence of sex drive may cause psychological complications among the guilty which could potentially lead to increase in physical violence.

Key components of any successful campaign should include an abiding national commitment to ‘Zero Tolerance for Rape’ and enactment of “Braveheart Law” that obligates death sentence upon successful prosecution of a rape charge. For the law to be effective, financial and other incentives intended to get the charges expunged should be made illegal. Strengthening hands of the law enforcement agencies, with vigilant oversight, to allow work without any threat of repercussion, coercion, and influence from above should yield a higher conviction rate.

Online availability of a national database by a central authority, of all convicted felons with their images and particulars, including the nature of crime committed, and tracking record of their movements should become a priority. Advocacy for destigmatization of victims will help increase reporting of rape and incest. And, making self-defense training an essential part of the curriculum for all school-age girls should lessen the incidence of rape and other forms of violence against them.

Vigorous public awareness, and instilling a sense of societal obligation among the media to become agents of positive change by responsible TV programming and news reporting should be immensely helpful. Public should use the power vested in them to send an unmistakable warning to the media to mend their ways or else, perish.

A similar message should reach the law makers, as well. Many still don’t get it; some call women dented and painted while others seek a ban on certain items of women’s clothing like skirts. Still more accuse women of enticement by dressing provocatively without blaming their own outlook. Recognizing that a woman’s authority over her body cannot be usurped by man will make a world of difference in our collective fight against the fastest growing yet least reported crime in India.

Sadly, ‘Braveheart’ is no more. How many more must die before Womanhood gets justice? It’s long overdue.
*Ravi Munshi
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