Sunday, August 25, 2013

Murder or social evil?

The panel discussion at the launch of the Our Girls and Our Pride campaign had me thinking of clarifying a few points. We all know killing any one is a criminal act and should be treated as murder. Therefore, burning a daughter - in- law is a  murder. But is it the same as killing the son? How does the family, police and judiciary react to the two deaths? To begin with few deaths of daughters-in-law are reported as murders. They are reported as accidents or suicides. It is pre-meditated murder where often more than one family member is involved.  Why is it that the woman always dies in a fire accident in the kitchen or hangs herself? The death is planned to look like an accident or suicide. Why is she not shot or stabbed?

There is always an attempt to tamper evidence and influence the police to see that the case is not registered as murder. So who is going to treat it as murder? Similarly parents are also not willing to press for murder charges because of intimidation, fear that other daughters may not get married, economic constraints etc. The police also feel "hadsa hogaya hai" let's not make an issue of it to protect the honor of the family.  The criminal investigation is so poor that the case does not stand in the court.  The community remains a mute witness as it is seen as "ghar ka mamla" . I do not think the scene would be the same if a man kills his son whatever may be the provocation.

The question is why do we want to kill our daughter-in-law? We want to kill her because she has not brought in or bringing in more dowry which is seen as an entitlement of a man. Or because we got a better dowry deal from someone and want to bump off the girl to get a new bride.

A woman who seeks support from her family when  faced with violence and abuse from her husband and in-laws is often sent back by her parents saying her place is in her husband's house. Half- way homes, Legal aid  and other support mechanisms are almost non-existent. The laws which  are there to protect her, like all other laws  are ineffective, because of poor institutional mechanisms - budgets, human resources etc.

When we say dowry deaths are social evils we are addressing these issues which make us under play the gravity of the issue and the collusion of the social values, gender discrimination, institutionalized gender violence which make it so easy to kill our daughters-in-law.

By saying it is a social evil we are not undermining the criminality of the act. In fact we are saying that it is not being seen as a criminal act because of the social factors which need to be addressed. In spite of the Dowry act, DV act and 498 A , women continue to be killed with impunity and the system is not responding adequately because of the deep seated mindsets which trivialize the value of a woman's life.

Similarly, we all know that son preference has been an endemic problem in India. But with new technology, families have found a way to eliminate unwanted daughters. Sex-determination is a crime under the PCPNDT Act.  Yet so few convictions have taken place so far! Why? I agree that strict implementation of the law is the key. But who is going  to implement it? The doctors, the government, the judiciary? How sensitive are they to the issue?
What are the economic interests involved - of the family, the service providers, and the monitoring agencies? Can we address the problem of Pre-birth sex selection  without addressing the above issues.

I wonder why we think only of common citizens when we think of mind set change. Why do we think of advertisement campaigns, pamphlets and banners as the only means of mind set change? If we want to ensure that the 47000 ultra sound  clinics in the country are monitored strictly to stop pre-birth sex selection completely then we need to focus on those who are responsible for it. It has been proved that focused, intense interventions with specific stakeholders often results in desirable change. For instance in Maharashtra, the judicial colloquiums, sensitization programs for appropriate authorities and public prosecutors has ensured that close to 50 convictions have taken place under the PCPNDT act in the state.  This is just the tip of the  ice berg considering the scale of the issue. We have a long way to go as the latest census figures of Mumbai's sex ratio show. But I would say it is a good beginning.