This appeared in the Indian Express
While women’s lack of safety is a societal problem, the state makes it worse
The fact that there exists a gender bias in a patriarchal society is beyond contest. Also the fact that it leads to unequal opportunity in all spheres is a foregone conclusion. The debate starts at the point where a perpetual cycle of subjugation begins. The stage is set. From yearning for a male child (which includes, but is not limited to, getting rid of the potential female ones), to giving him more of everything, we raise men to believe they are superior to women.
The economic might of the male is used as the most powerful weapon against women. It’s an unequal playing field from the word go. Denied equal access to opportunity, women in this society are unable to match men economically, further perpetuating their inferiority complex. Women are okay with being treated as second-class citizens, and put up with everything from domestic abuse to everyday “eve” teasing to being denied equal pay for equal work. Till she is married, a woman bows to her father, thereafter to her husband her son. She goes on to raise daughters, passing on the same inferiority complex to them. At school, the cycle of unequal opportunity continues at the behest of teachers, themselves products of patriarchy.
One half of our human resource is relegated to the back benches. Certain men (I am trying to avoid generalisation) assume it is their right to tease, grope, abuse and inflict sexual violence on the opposite sex. As they would, and do, to stray animals. The fact that they do this with impunity is where the issue moves into the realm of governance. From being a societal issue of gender bias it becomes a systemic problem of governance and law-and-order. It’s at this point that a patriarchal society turns into a patriarchal state.
All the mechanisms of the state reflect society’s apathy. The recent Delhi gangrape and its aftermath is a case in point.
One cannot reason with the mentality of someone bent on committing a crime (pardon the focus on crimes against women, in the present context), but one can and should instil the fear of retribution and punitive action. This is exactly where the state fails. The track record of the police, an instrument of the state’s prevention and enforcement mechanism, is abysmal on both counts. The citizen-police ratio is not ideal, making the prevention mechanism ineffective. Their enforcement of the law (archaic at times) is also questionable and inadequate. An average woman approaches a policeman with trepidation and as a last resort. The policeman, a product of patriarchy, has neither the training nor the will to be gender sensitive.
While the bulk of the problem is societal, what is worrying is that it is furthered by the state through its indifference and abdication of responsibility when it comes to women. The lack of safety of women itself is a mere symptom of the underlying attitudes towards women in general. Shouldn’t the plight of one half of the population be a priority for policymakers? The state, it appears, couldn’t be bothered and puts the onus of our safety on us. The custodians of the state’s power tell us to take reasonable precaution — not to go out after dark or consume alcohol, they also tell us to dress in a manner that is not provocative. I am happy to comply with all that. Can the state then guarantee I will come to no harm?
Should the state not be taking any positive action? It is after all the state’s responsibility to regulate the functioning of society. What the state can do for starters is implement the recommendations of the Police Commission and related directions of the Supreme Court judgment of 2006 (Prakash Singh and others vs Union of India) immediately.
The induction of armed forces, soldiers and officers, into the police can bring about an immediate tactical change in the culture and functioning of the highly politicised police force. Fast-track courts should be set up with time-bound disposal of cases. Last, a special session of Parliament can be called to pass all pending gender-related bills. The state can convey the message that it means business and that it won’t continue to be a mute spectator to havoc in society. All it needs is political will.
But the ball will ultimately be back in the individual’s court because fundamental societal change cannot be imposed from above. We can’t sit back and pass the entire blame on to those in power when we ourselves are guilty of double standards.
Source: Indian Express