Tuesday, March 17, 2015

India’s Daughter Was Without Fear, So What is Everyone Else Scared of?

Mindsets which ban girls from wearing jeans feed ideologies which have led to ban on India’s Daughter

Sunday is International Women’s Day, and even if in the past the token observation of this Day attracted more derision than support, our country has dragged itself to such a nadir when it comes to women’s rights that one prays that, if nothing else, at least the tokenism continues. Let the charade pretending to be concerned about women’s rights continue till some real breakthroughs are achieved. Till then, at least once a year, let the customary hats be doffed for women’s empowerment even if laced with a misogyny which has become normal in this country of ours which still believes that banning things is an effective protection for its “innocent” masses.
You know something is wrong with our understanding of free expression and public debate when the demand for a ban on a documentary film is argued on the grounds that it provides a platform for a convicted rapist and the defense for the documentary is made on grounds that it does not.
The argument over what position the BBC documentary, “India’s Daughter”, takes should be resolved by viewers, and not by people with established credentials as narrow-minded and/ or shallow agent provocateurs. And still, that is what the nation received - an agenda set by television anchors and debates tempered by political positions and not informed reasoning. The viciousness with which a section of the commentators and a wide cross-section of the policy-makers have torn into the documentary film, and the diligence with which they continue to keep it out of the public domain, suggests that their hostility has clearly got nothing to do with their belief that the film has insulted Nirbhaya. Their hostility is perhaps born from the very valid fear that the more people that see the documentary, the more people will realize that when it comes to “mentalities”, there is very little differentiating the perpetrators of the most horrific rapes in recent times from those claiming to be working for the people. Worryingly, the explanations offered by rapists and the observations made defence lawyers in the said documentary hardly differ – driving home the point that much is wrong in how our country views gender rights and how it continues to place the onus of safety on the victims. Among the most effective comments included in the Prime Minister’s I-Day address to the nation was a call to parents to groom their sons better and nurture them into adults with more genuine respect for gender equality. Such nuances appear to be limited to public speeches, because when it comes to public action, dress codes and “sober” conduct lessons continue to be dished out to the wrong gender. Make no mistake, the documentary makes for disturbing viewing, but what makes the situation really disturbing is that no one wants to look in the mirror. As commentators elsewhere have reasoned, at a time when India needs an insight into the mind of a rapist in order to recalibrate its own institutional responses, the country is instead choosing an ostrich-like response — burying its head in sand by banning “India’s Daughter”.
Sexual violence is a worrying reality in our country, as also elsewhere but those are battles for citizens there to fight, and in the wake of the 16 December 2011 rape in Delhi, the nation had united in its revulsion of such continued violence targeting its women and forced policy-makers to begin addressing the issue in earnest. The case was fast-tracked, funds set aside and new initiatives explored. But these were perhaps only superficial gestures because closure has still not arrived for Nirbhaya’s family with the case now stuck in appeals, and elsewhere, funds earmarked for one-stop-crisis-centres for rape survivors slashed and the number of such centres reduced from one in every district of one in each state capital. Laws, hangings or lynchings will not make women safe in our country because the roots of sexual violence go much deeper than what can be addressed by laws or self defence. India’s Daughter explored some of these issues, but we are perhaps too misogynistic to allow it.
And the arrival of bad news continues. On the eve of Women’s Day, when one would have hoped for some progressive decisions and laws, has arrived yet another reinforcement of the government’s disrespect for the fundamental right of women and girls to equality. In an amendment [made in year 2013] to rape laws which reeks of an official endorsement of women and girls as people of lesser worth, the section dealing with rape makes a specific exemption which keeps marital rape out of the definition of criminal offences. Ironically, in 2005, India passed The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act which provides for women to access various civil remedies for domestic violence including sexual abuse. However, there are no criminal penalties for marital rape [when a wife is over 15 years old], this, despite the fact that sexual violence forms a part of all intimidation in our country, including domestic violence.

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