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05 March, 2013

Doublethink on women's security

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

In the two-and-a-half months since the Delhi gangrape of December 16, which shocked the nation, 65 rape cases have been reported from the national capital — an average of 26 in a month. This points to a fall in the incidence of rape as 568 cases — a monthly average of more than 47 — were reported in 2011, the last full year for which figures are available.

However, there is no room for complacency. Memories of the brutal gangrape are still fresh in people’s minds. A firm conclusion about its impact can only be drawn after watching the trend over a long period.

Meanwhile there are some disturbing signs. Many of the victims are minor girls. Last week a seven-year-old was assaulted in her school in New Delhi. Also, the government appears to have lost the sense of urgency which it displayed when people incensed by the gangrape were protesting in the streets. Its approach is marked by doublethink.

The situation calls for steps to alter the mindset which treats women as lesser citizens, but the government focuses on populist measures hoping for electoral dividends. In the wake of the gangrape, some sections had demanded that sex offenders be given capital punishment. The commission headed by former Chief Justice JS Verma, which was asked to recommend measures to ensure women’s security, did not favour it. However, the government provided for the extreme penalty through an ordinance, believing the demand has popular support.

In the budget presented to Parliament last week, Finance Minister P Chidambaram proposed the creation of a fund for women’s security and the setting up of an all-women public sector bank. He set apart Rs10 billion for each. Details are lacking because the proposals were put in at the last moment.

Some commercial banks have experimented with all-women branches but an entire bank exclusively for women is a novel idea. Criticising the proposal, Surjit Bhalla, an economist, said, “It’s the worst idea I have seen anywhere, and in any budget.” Chanda Kochhar, CEO of ICICI Bank, the country’s largest private sector bank, differed. “The proposed bank is for women,” she said. “The focus seems to be to fund women entrepreneurs and give them encouragement. And if it is an all-women bank, it’s going to be very efficient.”

Justice Verma saw the bank proposal as one of tokenism. “Such tokenism will not deliver if it is not backed by a complete change in mindset, both in government and in civil society as a whole,” he said.

The political leadership’s preoccupation with populist ideas to the exclusion of core aspects of women’s security stems from its ambivalent attitude. While committed to equality of sexes, it is weighed down by paternalistic traditions and is unable to ensure gender justice.

While making a statement in Parliament last week on the rape and murder of three minor girls in Maharashtra, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde mentioned their names in utter disregard of the law which prohibits identification of sex crime victims. When opposition members drew attention to the impropriety, he withdrew the statement and the chairman ordered that the names be expunged from the records.

Ministers make statements in parliament on the basis of drafts prepared by senior officials. The inclusion of impermissible information in Shinde’s statement indicates lack of sensitivity and respect for legal provisions in the Home Minister’s office.

As many as 162 of the 552 members of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, had declared in affidavits filed at the time of the elections that they were facing various criminal charges. The charges against some of them included rape, molestation and other crimes against women.

Among the politicians hauled up in connection with crimes against women across the country is a former Haryana minister, Gopal Goyal Kanda, who has been charged with abetting the suicide of an airhostess.

Often powerful politicians escape prosecution. The names of two Kerala leaders, PJ Kurien, currently deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, and PK Kunhalikutty, a senior minister of the state government, have come up repeatedly during the past one-and-a-half decades in cases of rape of minor girls. The investigators kept them out of the lists of accused claiming lack of evidence. However, material casting doubts on their version continue to surface from time to time. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 5, 2013.

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