Recently, numerous incidents of abduction and violence against women and girls have taken place in Delhi and the surrounding region, including Gurgaon. Women and girls have been waylaid on their way back home from their workplaces and schools, raped, tortured and killed. In this most “modern” showpiece of India, glittering with high-rise buildings and commercial complexes, the most medieval forms of brutality against women continue to be practised. The labour of women is essential to keep the factories, offices, shops and services in the city running, but in return, they do not have the guarantee of even basic security once they step out of their homes.
Who is responsible for these crimes against women? According to the police commissioner of Gurgaon, it is the women themselves! In a public statement he said that women who are out after 8 p.m. are asking for trouble. This is to blame the victims while letting the perpetrators of crimes off the hook. It reflects the most backward thinking that women have no right to come out of the confines of their homes – and if they do come out, they alone are responsible for the consequences. The same police official said that employers of women who work after 8 p.m. will be held responsible for their safety until they return home. In other words, it is not the job of the police and authorities to ensure that the streets are free of criminals and that women can move freely on the roads.
This attitude – which blames the victim rather than the criminal, and which absolves the state authorities from responsibility for the security of women – is the reason why crimes against women are increasing all the time. The police commissioner of Gurgaon is not the only one guilty of this. The Chief Minister of Delhi, herself a woman, had expressed a similar view a couple of years back in connection with the brutal murder of a young woman journalist while she was driving back home. Victims of sexual assault and other such crimes are routinely harassed, starting from the police thana all the way to the courtroom. Open or subtle aspersions are cast about their morality, their behaviour or manner of dressing – all to convey the impression that they are in some way to blame for their own situation. This is to divert attention away from the real culprits – the criminals and the authorities, who are often in league with each other.
It is well known that if the persons involved in crimes against women are in positions of power, or are connected to those in positions of power, then the chances of such women getting justice are extremely slim. The biggest officials, ministers, legislators and their kith and kin are the ones who routinely get away with the worst crimes against women. Even in the rarest of rare cases where they are brought to book and convicted, every rule in the book is bent to see that they are treated leniently. Even from within jail, they ensure that the lives of their victims and their families are under constant threat and harassment.
It must be recognised that many of the worst cases of rape or crimes against women are political in nature. Custodial rape or mass rape of women are committed in areas where the police and armed forces are given a free hand to commit atrocities against women, as a weapon to terrorise the population as a whole. Such crimes are rife in Kashmir and many parts of the north east, in tribal and other areas which are labelled as “Naxalite-infested”, and where there has been mass resistance to the state. In such cases, the laws openly shield the culprits. The victims do not have even the slightest hope of protection or justice.
The freedom to live in complete safety, security and dignity is the birthright of every woman and girl! It is the hallmark of any civilised society. No country can be called modern or democratic if women and girls do not have the right to go about their daily lives and carry out all their activities, to move about freely in public, without fear or harassment or assault. This is a right that can and must be guaranteed by the state. A system that cannot guarantee this has no right to exist.
We must remember that the women of our country have time and again asserted their right to security and a life of dignity. At the height of the struggle in the ‘80s and the ‘90s against violence against women, the State was forced to introduce some measures to address the issue, like immunity for women from being called to the police station after dusk, etc. These were far from what was necessary and presently even these measures are violated with impunity.
The situation today points to the necessity for women to get organised to assert their rights, to fight without any let up for the guarantee of their most basic rights. Women must fight for a society that is committed to guaranteeing their rights and to ensuring their dignity.