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The Uber rape case is another reflection of the vulnerability of women in our society, which is unwilling to accept men and women as equals.
This heinous sexual assault holds up a mirror to Indian society’s aversion to a modern, self-assured woman who dares to break the age-old mould of the submissive woman.
Our aspirations of emerging as an economic and cultural superpower will come to nought as long as women continue to be victims of discrimination and violence in our country.
It is a matter of national shame that in a recent Thomas Reuters poll, India has been ranked the 4th-most dangerous place for woman to take public transport and the 2nd-most unsafe country for women at night and for verbal harassment.
More damningly, security for Indian women have not showed any improvement even two years after the gruesome Nirbhaya rape and murder case. On average, 40 cases of crimes against women are registered daily by the Delhi Police, including at least 4 rape cases a day. The statistics are no better in the rest of the country.
Gender Inequities Spur Violence Against Women
The numerous sexual assault and rape cases we read about daily point to an unravelling of the dark side of the Indian society. It’s no secret how scores of Indian women living in joint families have to silently endure sexual assault by family members. These crimes are more often than not hushed up in the name of family honour.
Outside the family set-up, women from so-called “lower castes” are molested and raped with impunity by “higher castes” without any fear of censure or punishment.
Our cultural mind-set vitiates against a fair treatment of women. Society aids and abets this cultural prejudice by saying that our women need not be educated because their role should be limited within the four walls of her house.
Now, as women are coming out of their purdahs and ghungats to enter the workplace, this male-centric view of society is being challenged.
Women were previously asked to dress in a certain way, but now when they decide to dress differently they are made to feel vulnerable.
Women were previously expected to remain quiet, but now when they speak up they are made to feel vulnerable.
India has Failed Her Daughters
In India, we have pushed women to a position of extreme vulnerability by depriving them of both societal and judicial protection.
Everybody from law makers to law enforcers have failed to inspire trust in women. All they have to show are policies and pronouncements, but nothing in terms of on-ground action.
The implementation of Vishakha guidelines that outline the duties of employers with respect to sexual harassment/assault at the workplace have been patchy at best. Though Rs. 1000 crore Nirbhaya Fund has s no clarity yet on how the funds will be utilized to bring about systemic change.
Except for a handful of cases, I am yet to see the promise of easing the filing of FIRs in rape cases and dealing with them in a time-bound manner through fast-track courts.
The political establishment has also failed to set an example. Allegations of sexual misconduct should be reason enough to bar a politician from holding public office. Instead several politicians alleged to have been involved in rape and other sexual crimes continue to hold ministerial berths in India. This sends out a very wrong signal making a mockery of the administration and belittling the gravity of sexual crimes against women.
Exemplary Punishments Can Be Deterrents
As long as we continue to be apathetic to the subject of sexual assaults, ‘safety’ will continue to elude women in the country.
Here, I must point out that the corporate world in India has shown spine by taking a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude towards sexual misconduct. Several head honchos like Phaneesh Murthy (Infosys, iGate), Gopal Kanda (MDLR Airlines), Pradeep Srivastava (Idea Cellular), Tarun Tejpal (Tehelka) and many others have been made to pay for their erring ways.
If corporate India has implemented a stringent Sexual Harassment policy in the work place, why are the political class exempt?
Women in India have a huge trust deficit today because neither society nor the government has tried to build credible confidence. Women constantly feel vulnerable, threatened and unsafe because there’s nothing to give them hope or trust that something is being done to rectify the situation.
It is time we said enough is enough and do all that it takes to create a society for women “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high!”