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  October-December  2012           



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Women & Sexual Crimes – It’s time to talk!

By Roopa Bakshi

 "Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex" – Mahatma Gandhi


It did not require a poll or a survey to tell us, Indian women, that we don’t have it right in our country. We have known it for long. A recent poll conducted by TrustLaw, a legal news service by Thomson Reuters Foundation, ranked India the worst place for women among the G20 nations – citing three reasons -  female infanticide, child marriage and slavery. The report overlooked the biggest under-reported crime against women in India today - sexual molestation, assault, and rape – and the incidence is escalating. It outnumbers any other crime in the country.

A couple of months ago, in July of this year, a young woman – a student – walked out of a bar at 9.30 pm in the city of Guwahati, in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam. It was a summer evening, the streets were bustling with people and traffic. A gang of twenty-odd hooligans surrounded her, dragged her by her hair, tore off her clothes, molested her – smiling before a street audience, while a cameraman from a local TV channel filmed the disgusting and horrific abuse for the entire 30 minutes that it lasted without calling the police.  No one did - they all watched. The police arrived on the scene too late – the young girl had already suffered the humiliation, trauma, and the violation. The girl cried out for help – no one offered. The video of the gruesome assault went viral in no time – for the wrong reasons. This happened on the busiest road of Guwahati, in a country which takes pride in calling itself the largest democracy and the oldest civilisation in the world. The beasts fled at the sight of the police but their laughing, sickening faces were on the web for all to see. It would be several days before the state machinery began churning its wheels – and a few weeks before they rounded up all the criminals. It was national shame at its worst. Samar Halarnkar, the noted journalist and columnist, commented: "This is a story of a dangerous decline in Indians and India itself of not just failing morality but disintegrating public governance when it comes to women. Men abuse women in every society, but few males do it with as much impunity, violence and regularity as the Indian male."

Now that most of the Guwahati molesters of the young victim have been arrested, it is time and the right opportunity to make an example out of them in terms of meting out the strictest punishment possible. These guys should not be spared. By giving them the maximum punishment possible, a strong message needs to be sent out countrywide that any form of violence against women will not be tolerated.  They need to be shamed and humiliated publicly – and then thrown behind bars. Women have lost confidence in the authorities, which have failed in bringing such criminals to justice in the past and have failed even more in providing a safe public environment for women. Sexual crimes against women in India are increasing relentlessly. The Guwahati incident exposed the brutal and sadistic side of the molesters – they were apparently enjoying every moment of what they were inflicting on their victim. What happened in Mangalore to a group of girls a couple of years ago was no different. Every day, newspapers carry stories of rape, abduction and dowry deaths and many more tales of humiliation.   A very sad truth in our country is that women are responsible for their own safety – they are on their own, with very few safety nets.

Violent and sexual assaults against women remain high even in western nations despite strong gender equality – but India appears to have real issues of violence against women – sexual as well as domestic. Sexual harassment is part of everyday life. Crowded streets, buses and trains are notorious for gropers. 

According to the National Crime Records Bureau in India, there was a 19.4% increase in kidnapping and abduction of women, and 9.2% increase in rapes from 2010 to 2011. These are alarming figures, considering the bulk of cases that go unreported. Actual figures would be a lot higher.


There is no single answer to the why for this pervasive male behaviour. Sociologists, psychologists, behavioural scientists – all have propounded various theories, but very few seem relevant in the Indian context. The reasons are far more deep-rooted, and complex. Traditionally, very little value is placed on women – millions of little girls lost to female foeticide and infanticide are ample proof of that. Centuries-old belief system has viewed women in secondary roles, as second-class citizens – meant to cook, clean, and raise children. Post-independence, the constitution brought women more rights than ever before, gradually they became more visible in public life – but only from a miniscule segment of urban society. Very little has changed for the vast majority of female population in rural India. And even less has changed in the way most men perceive women. But a lot has indeed changed for the urban woman – many more are employed, they dress with the times, are more independent, not marriage-focused, have disposable incomes – and want to live life on their own terms. This freedom of thought is interpreted by the vast majority of males (both rural and urban), still entrapped in their feudal values, as a wrong signal. A departure from the traditional dress-code for women is interpreted as a departure from morals, a drink at a bar even worse. The editor-in-chief of a television channel recently ‘twittered’ that “prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs".  This is the perception of a supposedly educated, urban male – the rest should not come as a surprise. Progressive thought has never been mainstream.

 Read the entire article in the print edition of The South Asian Life & Times



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