Sexual assault and rapes have become everyday news in India. Not only has it become such common news but each case is more violent and horrifying than the previous one. Why is this? Is it because the country is becoming more and more dangerous and unsafe for women or is it because we are just taking notice of such issues? Isn’t there anything that we could do to make India safe?
The first solution that pops in everyone’s head: STRICTER LAWS
Yes, definitely true. But what is the use of stricter laws if they are not enforced efficiently. There is something else other than law that we are ignoring. I wish to connect the dots here.
As a woman brought up in India, I know how scared parents are when their daughters want to roam around at night. I have a sad news for every such parent. Restraining your daughters from going out at night might not actually safeguard them. Are you wondering why?
In 95% of the situations, the rapist is someone known to the victim.
In most cases, it is not some drunk stranger roaming in the streets late at night who rapes a woman. I know it is hard to accept that your own people might harm you. But let’s face it. It is the truth. At this moment, I kindly request every single parent reading this article to pause, reflect and accept this sad fact.
Now, let me give you the happy news. There is a solution to this problem. I attend sexual assault training programs in some NGOs. One of them is API Chaya. While discussing this issue, the trainer gave a simple but highly sound idea. The solution to this problem does not involve daughters. Instead, it includes parents. Yes, parents can help alleviate this problem to a great extent. The trainer suggested parents teach about such issues to kids. I agree that you can’t just tell that “Sexual assault is a problem” to a kid. But what you can do is teach your son/daughter “good touch and bad touch”. Make sure that your kid knows that you believe them and that you will be there for them. Make sure they feel comfortable sharing anything. For kids to feel comfortable talking about anything related to sex, you need to initiate talking about such topics to your kids in a healthy way.
- Don’t make the word “sex” sound like a taboo. This is one of the biggest problems in India
- Make it easy for kids to develop trust and be comfortable with you.
I know of parents who come to API Chaya to get trainings on how to bring up a kid, make sure they feel comfortable telling you if they are assaulted by someone. I highly recommend parents to attend such trainings. Please do not ignore such things because you never know what your kids are going through, be it a boy or a girl.
Another thing people forget often is that:
CHANGES DO NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT
Changes to society takes time. It requires immense patience. Changes require more than being emotional about the trending hot topic which later on becomes old sad news. Asifa and Nirbhaya are two of the brutal rapes that India remembers now. But there are so many other horrifying cases, that haven’t come to light. We see what the media wants us to see. Instead of focusing only on the hot topic at the moment, we need to focus on the long-term change so that there are no more of such incidents ever.
A classic example with respect to this is the case of Bhanwari Devi. The case of Bhanwari Devi as portrayed in the book 10 Judgements That Changed India (with minor edits) is as follows:
“Bhanwari Devi was a grass-roots worker and activist, employed in the Women’s Development Project (WDP) of the Government of Rajasthan. In 1992, the Rajasthan Government launched a campaign against child marriage, in connection with WDP employees persuading them to abandon the practice. Bhanwari Devi made a spirited effort to prevent the marriage of a one-year old girl, but in vain. What ensued was a complete breakdown of the institutional machinery in Rajasthan. The villagers harassed, threatened and socially boycotted her. In September 1992, 5 villagers raped her in the presence of her husband. She sought justice. But you know what happened? She faced innumerable hurdles from POLICE. She still managed to go to trial court. Guess what happened? The trial court ACQUITTED the five accused. She still didn’t give up. 5 NGOs together filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation), in the name: ‘VISHAKA‘, in the Supreme Court seeking detailed directions on how sexual harassment of women at the workplace could be prevented through a judicial process. “
The result of this long struggle is the law that we have today. I am quoting what the sexual assault law is. I cannot stress how important it is for every individual to be aware of this law.
“The Court has issued following guidelines to prevent sexual assault of women at the workplace:
- All employers or persons in charge of work place in the public and private sector, should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment without prejudice to the generality of his obligation.
- Express prohibition of sexual harassment, which include physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favors, sexually colored remarks, showing pornographic or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature should be noticed, published and circulated in appropriate ways.
- The rules and regulation of government and public-sector bodies relating to conduct and discipline should include rules prohibiting sexual harassment and provide for appropriate penalties against the offender.
- As regard to private employees, the above prohibitions should be included in the Standing Order under the Indian Employment Act, 1946.
- Appropriate work conditions should be provided in respect of work, leisure, health and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at work place and no employee women should have reasonable ground to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.
- Where such conduct amounts to specific offences, under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law, the employer shall initiate appropriate action in accordance with law making a complaint with appropriate authority.
- The victims of sexual harassment should have option to seek transfer of the perpetrator or their own transfer”
(The above description of sexual assault law is from the book: Constitutional Law of India)
Bhanwari Devi made it possible for every single woman to seek justice forever. Had Bhanwari Devi thought of giving up in the initial stages, the freedom now enjoyed by every single woman would not have been possible. Changes take time, many many years. Changes happen because of persuasion. Nirbhaya and Asifa are “news” now but they were “emotion” when it happened. This emotion, when channeled properly will help prevent another case of “Nirbhaya/Asifa”. Every small step you take to make India safer will benefit every single person of the upcoming generations.