Yesterday was the first anniversary of the horrific Delhi gang rape of the 23 year old physiotherapy student, now known as Nirbhaya, Damini and several other appellations. This incident was a watershed in so many ways; it has become a part of public consciousness and gave a much needed wakeup call to the collective national conscience. The incident brought about awareness, perhaps an attitudinal shift, even a change in the law – it took a crime as ghastly as this to get a nation talking about the safety of half its population.
There have undeniably been significant changes in the aftermath of 16/12 – many of these are heartening to note; however there have been other changes that are far less reassuring.
A Year after 16/12 – Change for the Better
The most significant result of the brutal assault of Nirbhaya is that we are finally talking about the attitude of men towards women in our country. We are taking a note of gender inequality, the deep-rooted patriarchal mindset of society, and the general disregard and disrespect that exists for the ‘second’ gender in our society. People are more aware and are more willing to speak about hitherto taboo subjects. It is a start – a significant and momentous first step towards changes in attitudes and mindsets.
The groundswell of protests that followed the incident was heartening, it was thought provoking and it actually helped shape a shift in societal attitudes. Women decided that it was time to stop apologising for themselves; decent men decided that it was time to collectively apologise for the existing chauvinism and inherent inequality of society.
We also found that public outcry can mobilise the judiciary and the legislature alike. We found that it was possible for our usually over burdened judiciary to mete out swift punishment to the perpetrators of a savage and inhuman crime – four men were found guilty of their crime and sentenced to death just 9 months after the incident.
We found that it is possible for protesters to make their voices heard by the powers that be – powers that are usually impervious to public grievance. As a direct result of spontaneous protests in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi, Trivandrum, Visakhapatnam and elsewhere, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance,2013 widened the definition of rape, and set out stricter punishment for the guilty.
Also significant is change to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence act which mandates that “character of the victim” is rendered irrelevant – this in effect means that victims will be spared a second ordeal during trial. Exercises in police sentitisation and training means that women are less reluctant to go and report crimes perpetrated against them; a significant departure from the norm.
Since victims of sexual violence are more likely to receive support and sympathy now and less likely to have censure heaped on them, women are more likely to come forward with their story. This is turn is more empowering for other women to speak out and demand justice.
Violence against women is widely reported and discussed in the media today. I like to think that this is not because more crimes are being committed; simply that more are being reported. We are less queasy about discussing the subject and more willing to acknowledge that things need to change drastically.
What has also changed for the better is that more women are learning self defence and are taking change of personal safety. Help lines have been set up by the authorities and mobile apps designed to help women in danger have been developed.
A Year after 16/12 – Change for the Worse
Some things have changed for the worse however: Patriarchal self interest still proscribes gender roles; that women behave a certain way and dress a certain way – sometimes under the pretext of upholding tradition and sometimes by citing women’s own safety as the supposed reason. So women must not travel alone, must not be out late at night, and must not wear certain clothes – because of course this in their own interests. Women’s mobility and choice has become further restricted now.
Even more curbs are now being placed on women’s freedoms and personal choices than before: it is women who are charged with not endangering their own selves. Women will not travel late at night. Women will not be in certain jobs. Women will learn self defence and carry pepper spray. By contrast no male freedoms have been impinged upon; so the onus is squarely on the female – as always. So really this interest in women’s safety has become an excuse for a New Sexism as the Indian Express put it.
A Year after 16/12 – Status Quo
But have the streets become safer for women? Do women now enjoy greater freedom and protection? Do men now respect women more? Do we now value the female of our species more? Alas the answer to all of those questions remains a resounding “No!”.
What has not changed is that Indians still prefer the boy child over the girl, women are still second class citizens in their own country, men still feel it’s OK to pass lewd comments and to disrespect women… Depressingly, very much remains the same a year after 16/12.
But we can I think draw some hope from the fact that some things have changed irrevocably in our national psyche – they have changed for the better.
By – Reena Daruwalla
Image Source– Wikipedia