National Shame, National Failure

National Shame, National Failure

Posted June 3, 2014 by Julie Thekkudan

Yet another gruesome rape and murder which has caught the attention of the world! The foremost reaction that comes to my mind is that it took another incident of this magnitude for those in positions of power to sit up and take notice. Statistics are being quoted by all and sundry. A rape in India occurs every 22 minutes. 1 in 6 women are likely to be raped and killed in India, much higher than deaths due to cancer. Uttar Pradesh saw 4 cases of rape and burning of women in the past one week. The rate of crimes against women in India is increasing, yet the conviction rates are dropping. But women no longer want to be a statistic. If we have to be a statistic, we would rather be the 49% of the population demanding that we be treated as a citizen of this country with rights. Yes, it is every woman’s right to want and to live a violence-free life.

That is the starting point. And this is true for every woman, even those belonging to the Dalit community who become the target for every perceived caste violation by the dominant sections of society. Not many would be aware of the fact that there were 19 reported cases of rape in Haryana (yet another statistic!), many against Dalit women and girls in one month in 2012. Since then many more such cases of violence against Dalit women have come to light, credit to be given to the media who have increased their reporting on such incidents. Yet, in terms of actually dealing with violence against women as a nation, we really have not moved very far from 16 December 2012. Women still do not have access to mechanisms that are or have been put in place to deal with this kind of violence. Police apathy and culpability continue to deny those whom they are meant to protect.

What then will make the difference on the ground for women of this country? Let’s begin with a serious intent by the new government to live up to its promise made on the election campaign trail – that of protection of women (personally, I would have preferred the protection of the rights of women!). The intent could become visible by increasing the budget allocations for the implementation of pro-women laws and attaching appropriate budgets to the laws recently passed, an ask that Oxfam India under its campaign CLOSETHEGAP has been repeatedly stating since Nirbhaya. The second concrete way ahead would be to bring about true convergence between different departments and ministries at the State and Centre through single window crisis centres, something which the UPA-II government had started to think about and is now being taken up by the NDA government. The third is to have standard operating procedures (SOPs) with time bound processes for these departments and ministries to respond to women facing violence. The last and most important, would be to empower women to demand and access these grievance redressal mechanisms on their own right which is the ultimate endeavour of Oxfam’s work on ending violence against women. Then let’s start talking about statistics in the positive.

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