WomenCover.png

Women’s Place in Contemporary India

HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED FOR WOMEN’S SAFETY IN INDIA?

6th March, 2021

Written by Amatullah Batterywala

Artwork by Suryansh Srivastava

The minimum punishment for raping a woman in India is 10 years but if a man is found guilty of raping his wife while they are separated it’s 3 years. Yet another manifestation of the patriarchal notion of a woman belonging to a man after marriage.

One would think that after 73 years of Independence, a country that placed its women at the same level as its men in the constitution would have achieved some semblance of security for them. Turns out that is not the case. I am not solely inspired to write this because of International Women’s Day right around the corner; that’s just happenstance. I was inspired to write this after I came across two very disturbing news from one of the most populated states in India -- Uttar Pradesh.

 

The first incident was of a father who was shot dead in broad daylight in front of his daughter by goons. His crime? He refused to take back the complaint filed against the shooter for molesting his daughter. The second was more frightening -- a man walked with the severed head of his 17-year-old daughter to the police station, again in broad daylight. Her crime? She was found with another youth in an ‘objectionable’ position. The former case had taken place in Hathras, a city infamous for the rape and murder of yet another young Dalit girl last year. 

 

It can get tiresome to reiterate that these are just two of the innumerable cases across the country. These stories manage to make the headlines because of the severity of their nature. One can only imagine the deluge of atrocities that don’t make it to the newsroom of our vociferous TV news anchors. Or, perhaps they reach the room but are not considered worthy of the public’s attention. 

 

To add to these deplorable real-life situations is the media’s depiction of women. In spite of numerous discussions, even today I come across movies and songs which have rape-like connotations. 

Policies to ‘protect’ women

 

Somehow, whenever the topic of the safety of women is brought up, the administration (irrespective of their political ideology) turns to making and implementing new laws and policies with flashy names. These policies on the surface may seem good, but at the end of the day, they are just paternalistic policies drawn up with a patriarchal mindset. 

 

For example, a recent report by a task force which was constituted by the Prime Minister has given the recommendation of increasing the age of marriage for girls to 21. Sounds good, right? But, NGOs and activists who work for women’s and children’s rights claim that the problem lies elsewhere. Often children, especially girls, are married before the legal age due to community pressures or poor economic conditions. Even if young girls choose to complete their education or work, they do not have access to those opportunities. Therefore, this amendment might not have any effect at all.

 

Another proposition, which borders on hilarious, was made by the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He proposed to put a system in place which would allow ‘working women’ to register themselves at their nearest police station. Why? Well, for her safety, of course! Because if the police can track her every movement, she will be safe, right? 

 

And then there is Uttar Pradesh, home to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who launched the Shakti mission last year. Under this mission, separate complaint rooms were to be made in 1500+ police stations for women complainants. Important to note, that police stations are in any circumstance supposed to have a female police officer to tend to women complainants, especially in the case of rape and crimes of similar nature. 

 

Our policymakers fail to understand the root cause of the problem; they are satisfied dealing with symptoms as and when they arise. Policymakers are failing to see the systemic patriarchy which is the root cause of the issues women face. Policies have been more or less unable to move past this level of superficiality. 

With this misguided activism, the answer to every problem then seems to be increasing the severity of punishment. “Increase the bail amount”, “increase the jail time”, “give the death penalty” -- these are the solutions of the blind. They will not and have not been successful in decreasing crimes against women. There has been a lack of public service campaigning to help break these rooted notions of patriarchy in the public.

The despairing  judiciary

 

This brings me to the second institution that I feel has let women down- the judiciary. “Politicians will do politics” but the judiciary is supposed to be where the buck stops. When citizens are let down by the legislative arm of the democracy, they turn to the judiciary for justice. 

 

Therefore, when the CJI of the apex court, in a public hearing, says, “Will you marry her?” to a person accused of committing rape of a girl when she was a minor, it raises questions over the ‘justice’ aspect of the judiciary. Surprisingly, this is not an uncommon practice in rape cases, especially when the woman has been impregnated.

 

Nevertheless, it raises serious questions about the integrity of the judiciary, more so when the Chief Justice of India makes such comments in the Supreme Court. It raises questions about the future of legislation against marital rape which is still technically legal in India, except in cases of separation, divorce proceedings, or restraining order.

The minimum punishment for raping a woman in India is 10 years but if a man is found guilty of raping his wife while they are separated it’s 3 years. Yet another manifestation of the patriarchal notion of a woman belonging to a man after marriage.

 

This brings me to the point of societal pressures of toxic masculinity. Through inherent biases, systematic structures, and institutional pressures, men are made to believe they have a right over the women around them. Laws and procedures have always existed. What needs to be done is to take a look at the kind of ideology, we as a society, exhibit. When you ask your son to choose a particular stream and your daughter to choose another, you are propagating this inequality. When you put different restrictions on your son and daughter, you are propagating this inequality.

 

On this International Women’s Day, I urge everyone to take a look at what you are taking in when it comes to gender-based discussion. It is important to understand and identify these implicit biases if we are to fight and uproot them. I believe Mr. Ravish Kumar captured the essence of toxic masculinity perfectly when he discussed how societal pressures cause a 

‘Ladka’ to become a ‘mard’ who will never do a thing at home but under the guise of masculinity is perfectly content with harassing women and shooting their relatives when their demands are not met.