Unnao and Kathua are in our thoughts, prayers and conversations today, just like Nirbhaya was 6 years ago. In 6 years nothing has changed. In 21 years since the Vishakha case laid down guidelines on sexual harassment, nothing has changed. In 55 years since Aruna Shanbaug slipped into a coma after she was brutally assaulted and choked nothing has changed. Not for the women who become national daughters and not for the millions suffering silently.
That’s the first problem. Women’s safety is on our minds only on specific occasions. Some tragedies are more devastating but crimes against women are commonplace. Everyday crimes have ceased to shock us. We are immune to rapes that happen daily. Inside homes and outside. Yes, children too. We forgot about Nirbhaya till 2-3 weeks back when the other cases came to light. Didn’t any rapes occur in India between then and now? What about every woman stalked, harassed or touched without her consent. We are so chill that an 8-year-old has to be raped for a week for us to talk about it at a national level.
Secondly, our outrage is for retribution only. Our rage is quietened with capital punishment. So much so that individual states are rushing to make child rape a capital punishment. In doing so we forget that severity of the punishment has less deterrence than surety of punishment. At the same time surety of punishment doesn’t mean we convict the first person media points to.
Even if we reflect on preventive aspects, it’s mostly along the lines of policing, more CCTV cameras, community watch, pepper sprays, location detecting apps and self-defence training for women and children. The last one is my favourite because if only all those little kids knew karate, they would have black belted themselves from getting molested and raped. Of course, self-defence classes are a good initiative, for people of all ages. But lack of self-defence is not why we have a rape problem or rape culture.
These solutions are teaching women how not to be raped. We are given unsolicited advice on responsibility and safety, to maintain constant vigilance. Where is the guarantee that we will be safe after that? I was once followed by a car at night. I managed to get home safely. I told this to one of my friends, aspiring to be a police officer none the less. His reaction was, “what were you doing out at that time?”. Needless to say not a friend anymore and he won’t be a police officer. He isn’t the only one. Most people would first find loopholes in the victim’s behaviour. Had I been at home and someone tried to break in, he would have reacted with “why weren’t you sleeping in the street?!” To be fair I have also been guilty of this. It took a conscious effort to unlearn. Its because there is no gender sensitization at any level. In homes, schools or workplaces.
The third error is looking at these crimes in isolation. They don’t happen in a vacuum. We as a society have allowed them to happen. We need to stop trivialising crimes against women. Even in cases where there is no physical injury, it’s a crime against society. I never filed an FIR. After my friend’s reaction, I didn’t want to deal with similar questioning in a police station. More so I was fine. I was wrong. I should have filed an FIR.
Rape doesn’t happen isolation in most cases. Men don’t get up in the morning and decide to rape. It often begins with these “trivial” crimes. Most acid attacks victims were relentlessly stalked and harassed by their attackers before the crimes. They weren’t taken seriously enough. This gives men the confidence to commit these crimes in broad daylight. Not long ago a man stabbed a women 20 times at a metro station in front of a crowd after she rejected him. The metro is arguably one of the safest mode of transport in Delhi because there is a police presence and CCTV cameras all around. That didn’t stop this crime. Maybe if we start thinking rationally and face the reality that it’s not just up to the women. If it was, there wouldn’t be a Kathua or Unnao.
Maybe we need to stop being so forgetful in the light of that flickering candle that burns that then dies out quickly.
Preview Photo: merisaheli.com