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25 December, 2012

Turning outrage into action

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India has been in a state of rage for more than a week over the gangrape of a young woman in a New Delhi bus she had boarded with a male friend. In the national capital, young people have been staging demonstrations daily and the government is clearly worried.

Gruesome acts of sex crime often provoke angry responses and political parties use the opportunity to their advantage. However, the sense of outrage soon dies down and all is forgotten — until another case brings the issue to the fore again.

The wave of protests in the nerve centre of the central government, which has produced echoes across the country, marks a determined effort by youths to turn the outrage into action. Their demand is that the government must ensure that women are safe in the capital and elsewhere in the country. Repeated use of batons, water cannons and teargas has not deterred them.

The gangrape victim, a 23-year old paramedical student, who was brutalised and thrown out of the bus with her friend. is now in hospital, fighting for survival. Her six tormentors are in custody.

Sex crimes are universal but their incidence varies from country to country. A recent multi-country World Health Organisation study said 15% to 71% women aged 15 to 49 years had reported physical or sexual violence by someone close to them at some point in their lives. Such violence not only violates human rights but also poses major health problems, it added.

India’s record in this area is dismal. A global survey by the Thomson Reuters Trust found it the fourth most dangerous place for women, after Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan.

Crimes against women are on the rise in the country. Last year 228,650 cases were reported, as against 215,585 in 2010. The offences included murder, dowry deaths, rape and molestation. In 22,549 out of the 24,206 rape cases, the offenders were persons known to the victims such as relatives, including parents and grandparents, neighbours, friends or colleagues. Of the victims, 10.6% were aged below 14 years, 19.0% between 14 and 18 years, 54.7% between 18 and 30 years, 15.0% between 30 and 50 years and 0.6% above 50 years.

Many of the crimes against women are attributable to feudal influence. Rape of Dalit and Adivasi women and so-called “honour killing” of girls who marry outside the caste fall in this category.

The urban sex crime rate is above the national average, which suggests women are more unsafe in the modern cities than in backward villages. Delhi accounted for 13.3% of sex crimes reported from 53 cities, and was way above Bangalore which was in second place with 5.6%. A close look at the statistics reveals that cities where hoodlums enjoying political patronage abound are the most violence-prone.

The society, which is highly paternalistic, nurtures a traditional bias in favour of the male child, which manifests itself in the high incidence of female foeticide. Police officials often refuse to entertain complaints of sex abuse. When a complaint is registered, investigation may be shoddy. Even judges of the highest court sometimes betray lack of sensitivity in handling such cases.

Instead of improving, things are getting worse. Conviction rate in sex crimes has dropped from 43% to just above 20% in the last 40 years. The youth fury in Delhi is a sign of exasperation with the failure of the legal and political systems.

Some political leaders have sought to placate the public with calls for the death penalty and castration of sex offenders. Their words lack sincerity. Their own parties have MPs and MLAs involved in cases of sexual offence. As many as 34 candidates who contested the last parliamentary elections were facing charges of crime against women. They included nominees of West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress and Tamil Nadu’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, both which are headed by feisty women.

The Kerala government last week set up a panel headed by a senior woman police officer to supervise investigation of crimes against women. Commendable as the step is, it is worthwhile to remember that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Senior leaders of both ruling and opposition parties in the state who figured in cases of sex offences in the past have got away without even facing trial.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 25, 2012.

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