During a conversation a few years ago, a friend wondered whether our children will go abroad simply because it would become impossible to lead a life of dignity and integrity in India. To go abroad for higher studies or for a better quality of life was an argument I was familiar with. The former I had not considered. This conversation has come back to haunt me over the past week.
There are people out in large numbers in the streets again, this time not to end corruption, but to seek justice. Not surprisingly, lumpen elements are threatening to divert the issue. The audiovisual media is in activist mode again. Yet I wonder how long their interest in this story will last. Yes, I am not just angry and scared but cynical too.
Two stories from the past and some data illustrate where I am coming from.
Nearly 15 years ago, a woman from a village in Bikaner district came to us seeking medical attention, a victim of domestic violence of a nature that I could not even imagine was possible to inflict on any living being. I took her to the police station to file a first information report (FIR). When she narrated her story and showed the bruises inflicted on her, even the seemingly heartless policemen were shaken to the core. We took her away for treatment and her husband was arrested by the evening. Within 24 hours, the political and caste leaders of the region brought such enormous pressure to bear on the police and the woman’s family that the case was withdrawn and her husband freed.
A few years ago, in an inter-college in Nainital district, a married teacher eloped with a student. In the uproar that followed, a systematic pattern of abuse of students by this teacher emerged. Parents had not complained because of the shame that such a disclosure would bring upon their families. What happened to the teacher? He was transferred to another school in the region. The punishment: it was a remote school.
The 2011 census records that up to age 6, there are 866 girls per 1,000 boys in Delhi and 830 in neighbouring Haryana. Where are these boys going to find partners and brides? Do we expect violence against girls and women to decrease given such an adverse sex ratio?
Sex-selective abortions, trafficking, child abuse, domestic violence, dowry deaths, honour killings, discrimination in access to basic services, sexual harassment. Rape is just one of a long list of crimes perpetuated against girls and women in this country. We need to end violence against women, not just rape. If being born a girl in this country is not enough of a tragedy, matters only get worse if you are poor, or a dalit, or a tribal or if you hail from a minority community.
Before new laws, we need to implement existing ones. We want cases to be registered. We want action taken in case this does not happen. For this we need fast-track courts to deal with all cases of violence against women and girls.
Despite the platitudes of our elected representatives, I see no evidence of the moral courage required to ensure that those who violate the law are punished. If the police and the judiciary are not sensitive to gender-based violence and if our institutions cannot function independently without political interference, even the best of laws are doomed. More importantly, men need to stand up and be counted. We need to fight alongside women to guarantee their rights. Or else, for those who can afford it; their daughters will find a new country.
V.K. Madhavan has worked in the not-for-profit sector for two decades and spent 15 years living and working in deserts and hills. He’s still on the fringe asking questions and looking for answers. He writes fortnight.