Monday, April 22, 2013

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind

I have recieved responses on my facebook and also on phone from people arguing passionaltely that the men raping women should be castrated, have their limbs amputated and tortured to put the fear of law in them. While I understand the anger and helplessness (these are precisely the thoughts that come to my mind when I read about these atrocities first thing in the morning) I feel we can not yield to mass histeria and turn into a barbaric country. The more severe the punishment, the more cautious are the courts in giving the punishment and such cases will always remain as rarest of rare cases with regular violence going on unabated. Do we wait for a molester to turn in to a rapist to act?

It is not the severity of the punishment but the immediacy, promptness and efficiency of meting out punishment that is important. Recently, I had two experiences of dealing with police. First was when I lost my wallet and wanted to lodge a complaint in the police station. I was asked the exact location where I lost the wallet as the complaint had to be lodged in the police station which has jurisdiction over that area.

The second is a sexual harrassment case in a college where a boy has been sending obscene messages to a girl. When the college complained to the police, the police put the fear of law in the mind of the ..... girl, presenting her a bleak picture of having to run around police stations and courts if she filed an FIR against her tormentor. Predicatably, the girl refused to file the complaint and the boy was let off by the college with a warning and an apology to the girl. And it was not his first offence. He was a repeat offender. Who is responsible if he indulges in a bigger crime?

If we want to stop violence against women we should have prompt action against violators and a social  dissaproval from the community. The man who raped the little girl, married the girl he raped under the orders from the Panchayat an he is also suspected in the rape and murder of his sister-in law. If only action was taken at the first instance, we would not have had to live with the image of the girl so brutalized by him.

But why do police not want to register cases? I think it has got to do a lot with performance appraisals which are based on absence of crimes in their area. Therefore. they would like to keep the figures low. I think it is time that police are evaluated on more qualitative indicators like the process of investigation, number of cases standing judicial scrutiny, number of cases where they worked with the community to address gender violence issues  etc. Incentivising these not just interms of money but also interms of awards and recognition may also help.

Once the community members are confident that the police will act and the offenders will be punished, there will be more people coming forward to file cases as well as support the police in investigations. Professionalizing the police force is the need of the hour along with addressing the larger social development issues that underpin the violence.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dehumanizing Society

One more bestial rape. This time that of a 5 year old girl. The scene is a repeat of December 16. Police wanting to hush up the case because they do not want to show the government and their department in a poor light, public outrage, sloganeering, expression of deep sense of despair by the Prime Minister, demands for resignation of ministers, police misbehavior with women protesters and media going over board covering it.  I fully support the efforts of activists to bring in more accountability on the part of politicians, demand more professional and efficient policing, and of course the long standing demand for more sensitive and stringent laws against violence against women. 

However,  in all this frenzy, are we not missing out an important aspect of our society? The dehumanization of our youth? I acknowledge that sexual crimes are committed by men across classes and rural urban contexts. But I am worried about a large segment of the population which is  growing at an alarming rate - the out of school, migrant or home less young people who are completely left out of the pale of development. Just think about this: a boy drops out of school, runs  away to a big city at the age of 11, lives on the street, works  in a tea stall facing violence on a day to day basis just to fill his stomach, exposed to drugs, liquor, commercial sex, underworld dealings, and may be brutalization in the hands of adults he deals with.  

He is so thoroughly dehumanized that brutal violence becomes second nature to him. Add to this, the sense of deprivation when he is constantly bombarded with images of luxury, plenty and celebration of unhindered consumption. He is constantly exposed to sleaze and meaningless violenceon TV, in  films and on mobile. Remember, all this while he has no opportunity to question or redefine his patriarchal values. No way to understand his own sexual needs and express them in a  healthy manner. If a sixteen year old boy could brutalize a woman so badly , if a 24 year old could inflict such brutal sexual violence on a five year old and if young men do not think twice before disfiguring women with acid we need to look at what kind of a society we are building.

Police reforms, laws etc are important in their own way but what is important is heavy investment in our youth - on their education, employment and rehabilitation. We need to make counseling centers available in each and ever locality where youth could come and get professional help as well as find a place to forge more healthy relationships. We have a dearth of trained counsellors who could provide free services to youth. We need to invest in building a cadre of trained counselors not just software engineers.  We need to invest in providing support to home less and people living on streets so that they live in a safe environment. We need to focus on sexual health programmes both for school and out of school youth. 

We can not ignore these issues anymore, not in a world where information,aspirations and dreams are being freely peddled through media and advertising. If we do not respond, it would lead to the frustration of rising aspirations. It should not surprise us if such incidents become more and more common in future. 

How about  each one of us, starting a dialogue and striking a conversation with the young men on gender and sexual health issues in our families, neighborhoods and work places?

It is time to stop the dehumanization of youth and build a world that is equal and safe for all.

(if I get comments on this blog saying that I am justifying and rationalizing rape, I see no hope for this country