Since New Year's Eve, most of India's social media feeds have — rightfully — been ripe with news about the Bengaluru molestation incident, where women were assaulted at the city's busy MG Road-Brigade Road intersection.
It's vitally important for urban India to be constantly reminded that while everything may seem normal on the surface, there are deep fault lines within our society when it concerns the rights of women. Women across the country are not treated as autonomous human beings and are deprived of agency. As a result of which, as was the case in Bangalore, they are often blamed for attacks on them.
In this particular case, the state home minister drew specific reference to their style of dress and wrote it off as a law-and-order problem.
But India is vast, and the problems women face in India are far more complex. One of these problems is that India also sees cases where the State itself becomes one of the actors who furthers violence against women. On Sunday, the National Human Rights Commission found 16 women were prima facie victims of rape, sexual and physical assault by police personnel in Chattisgarh, and recommended that they be provided with interim compensation of Rs 37 lakhs.
To quote from the commission's press release:
The commission has also noted the following:
a) The NHRC team could record the statements of only 14 victims out of the 34 victims mentioned in the FIRs. Thus, statements of 20 victims are yet to be recorded by the NHRC team
b) the statements u/s 164 Cr.PC have been recorded by the magistrate only in respect of 15 victims. Thus, statements of 19 more victims are yet to be recorded u/s 164 Cr.PC
c) Almost all the victims in these incidents covered under the three FIRs are tribals. However, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has not been invoked in any of the cases. As a result of this, the due monetary relief under the SC/ST (PoA) Act has not been paid to the victims.
At this point, it becomes important to explain what is a statement under Section 164 of the CrPC. A statement recorded before a magistrate u/s 164 of the CrPC is a statement made under oath. These victims were deposed on oath by the NHRC before a magistrate and their statements were recorded. Another important thing we need to be reminded about is that the NHRC started an investigation into the incident on the basis of an Indian Express report dated 2 November, 2015, titled Bijapur: Policemen raped women, indulged in loot.
The question that remains though is this: Why is it that an incident in Bangalore was able to move the national consciousness but one that — according to the NHRC — was happening to women in various districts in Chhattisgarh over a period of a few months, took a national human rights body to publish a report before we even managed to learn about? Even now, there are hardly any nationwide vigils that are out in support of these women. There have been no statements by the minister for women and child development in Delhi, even though there are government personnel who are involved in this. Neither has there been a comment from the National Commission for Women or the State Commission for Women.
It should never even come to the point where you need the NHRC to intervene before things start moving on the ground. For two reasons:
India's message on women's safety needs to be consistent: The message India sends with regards to its commitment towards improving the rights of women needs to be consistent, one that is applied across the board and not just one that is for urban areas and another for rural areas. And especially not one unique standard for security forces. The armed forces must represent the highest standards of ethical and moral behaviour, especially in a country like ours, where they are held at such high esteem. Breach of ethical conduct by the security forces must be dealt with swiftly and quickly rather than being brushed under the carpet.
The state government should have started the process of trial already by now, instead of passing the buck on to the NHRC. It is the state government that is ultimately responsible for the conduct of its security forces, and it must rein in their behaviour.
How will the world take Indian leaders seriously when they — across party lines — talk about improving the security situation for women, when none of them come out and condemn the violation of rights of women by India's security forces? The line and message needs to be consistent, right from the PMO's desk to the district magistrates. There has to be a zero tolerance policy for crimes against women.
In conflict zones, crimes like this need to be taken seriously to improve confidence: It is not just a war regarding arms that India's fighting internally. It is also a war on the message that is being fought. Incidents like this give fodder to the enemy to increase propaganda. However, a quick, effective response by the state government that reflects its commitment to the rule of law allows India to counter the enemy propaganda in order to help win the internal war it is fighting against the separatists.
It is how India was able to tackle the Communist insurgency that it faced just after independence and managed to get them to contest elections, resulting in a global first where we had Communists taking power in Kerala via the ballot box in a bloodless manner.
Indian democracy only works if it is complemented by the rule of law. If the government gives up that commitment, as the state government in Chattisgarh seems to have done in this case, it is impossible to convince locals to commit to that democracy.
The struggle to ensure a safe country for women is going to be a long one. But already, in the new year, we have been presented with a stark contrast in how the government responds depending on where an attack happens. It is important to bring an element of consistency, so when we as a nation say zero tolerance for crimes against women, we actually mean zero tolerance.
Updated Date: Jan 10, 2017 22:35 PM