Stop Rape : Speak Up Delhi


Newletter Sep - Dec 2003


The number of rape cases coming to the limelight in the city of Delhi has been steadily rising. The year 2003 saw the gang rape of a young woman in Buddha Jayanti Park by Presidential bodyguards, the rape of a nurse in a private hospital, rape of a minor girl by a doctor, and the rape of a foreign national in a parked car. The last one remained in the headlines for several days, print and visual media possibly thought it was worthwhile to keep the news going because of it being a 'high-profile’ case. In 2002, the sensational incident in Delhi University’s north campus of a student being dragged into a car and gang raped had marked the beginning of the session. A few months later, the rape of a student of Maulana Azad Medical College in broad daylight in the midst of a busy road in front of the college was followed by increased patrolling by the police.

Despite frequent reportage of rape cases in the media, they are likely to represent only the tip of an iceberg, with many more cases not even getting reported. Many victims of rape may not dare to, or be willing to register the case with the police for a variety of socio-economic reasons.*

However, when such incidents are brought to light, there is a sense of growing insecurity amongst people in general, and women in particular until the media attention is grabbed by something else and the issue begins to disappear from the public consciousness. Concerns reemerge when another shocking incident demands attention once more.

Nevertheless women’s daily lives are deeply affected even by the thought of violence. The family either restricts their mobility, or they begin to follow a self-imposed curfew. Women’s groups have expressed their anger and concern over violence against women by writing in the media, demonstrating and submitting memoranda to the authorities to demand action. However, various forms of protests are increasingly accompanied by a growing sense of unease as women’s groups are confronted with several dilemmas and questions on the issue of violence against women.

Violence against women has been a central concerns of the women’s movement for over two and a half decades. More than twenty-five years of struggle, campaigns and research has led to an understanding of the structural, ideological and material bases of violence, Not dwelling on these analyses, suffice it to say that violence against women not only has social sanction, but religion and law also play a part in reinforcing this societal sanction and lending it legitimacy. At various points in history, social reformers, religious reformers, political forces and women’s movements have challenged these social beliefs, religions and laws; and tried to bring the issues of women’s rights, equality and justice in the ambit of public debate. This had the effect not only of breaking the silence about various forms of violence on women, it also forced political parties to put these issues on their agenda.

During the late seventies and early eighties, women’s groups addressed most of their demands to the State, with the understanding that the State has a responsibility to ensure the security of its citizens, especially women. Enactment of new legislation more sensitive to women’s experiences and realities, and amendments in existing legislation discriminatory towards women, were also seen as the responsibility of the State. The State in fact responded by bringing in a number of changes in laws and making new laws to deal with violence against women. Simultaneously, special institutions geared to deal with problems of women in distress situations were also created by the State. These kept working alongside a large number of women’s groups. Unfortunately, that has not helped in bringing down violence on women. Have women’s groups failed in terms of strategies they have adopted?

While thinking about different strategies, two points need to be made on the issue of sexual violence against women. Firstly, the issue of sexual violence is intricately connected with the status of women in the society. The violence against women, of sexual nature or otherwise, is widely prevalent at the family, community, societal and state level — it may be "honour" killings, dowry murders, dowry harassment, {domestic violence or selective abortion of female foetuses. As long as general sanction against such violence continues, it will be very difficult to tackle the issue of sexual violence against women in isolation. Even in relatively 'peaceful’ times, women face violence. A bill on 'domestic violence’, currently under consideration, is yet another effort to give visibility and provide a form of legal redressal to women.

Sexual violence on women needs to be understood in the broader context of violence on women in addition, the correlation between violence on women within the family, home and community and violence on women on roads, at the workplace, and during caste! communal riots and war needs in-depth analysis. The lack of sensitivity to these forms of violence, and the social approval - including among women - of the culture of machismo, poses a challenge in tackling violence against women. Secondly, despite apparent visibility to the issue of violence, sexual violence on women is primarily equated to rape and other forms of sexual violence go unacknowledged. Rape within marriage is not even recognized in our society or by Indian law. Incidents of sexual abuse of women and children by male family members have undoubtedly come to light, but open and in-depth discussions on the issues are yet to take place. On the one hand, social pressure to save the "honour" of the family, or of the woman/child subjected to sexual abuse makes it difficult to bring any such cases in the open. On the other hand, sexual violence on women of the other religions, communities or castes during riots and wars in order to humiliate the "0ther" community/nation receives widespread social sanction. A range of sexual violence faced by many Muslim women in Gujarat during the recent communal carnage is just one such example.

As mentioned earlier, increasing violence against women and the lack of adequate response from society has posed several questions before the women’s movement: has our agitational politics weakened, or is its utility as a strategy over? Is asking for more legal reforms or revision of existing laws likely to yield any benefits? Should the State be held solely responsible to tackle violence on women? D0 we need to have more dialogue with and participation of civil society in the debates on the issue? Do we need to think of changing school curriculum to bring in changes in the attitudes of school-going children towards violence? How can we involve men in the strategies to curb violence against women so that their role becomes not of perpetrators of crime, but as instruments of dissuasion to others from committing the crime? A recent report on the death of a young man who was thrown out of a railway compartment for trying to dissuade co-passengers from harassing young women is an example which is likely to send shivers down the spine of men and women. Increased awareness about sexual harassment of women by the co-passengers might have averted the death and provided some moral support to the women victims of sexual harassment.

*Some Harsh Truths

Based on the facts in "Crime in India, 2001** (Volume 49, National Crime Records Bureau, released on 12 Sept; 2003), Delhi is the "crime capital" of India, accounting for more than double the number of reported crimes as compared to the national average among metropolitan cities.

According to an independent survey by Pramod Kumar, Chandigarh Institute for Development and Communication, on an average, for every reported case, 68 go unreported. In urban households, one in every 39 households acknowledged a rape victim (Outlook, 3.12.03).

Thus, the even if it is assumed that a visible increase in the number of crimes against women may be due to; better reporting, trauma of many more victims of sexual violence never sees the light of the day.