So, it is the heinous Gargi college molestation episode on one side and the death of a teacher set on fire by her stalker in Wardha district of Maharashtra on the other. And in the middle is a man brutally attacking his wife in Madhya Pradesh, playing out on TV channels. The tragic saga of Indian womanhood continues, unabated. The only change is that while it was being pushed under the carpet earlier, its visibility has increased now, sadly without any decrease in the violence.
We, in our naivety, thought death sentence to the Nirbhaya accused will send a strong signal to violence against women. We have installed CCTV cameras, brightened streets and corners, appointed special courts, and handed investigations over to women police officers. Trials are faster, punishment more stringent, and in some cases, police officers in total disgust and with full public approval allegedly ‘encountered’ rapists too. And yet, despite naming, shaming, hanging, and ‘encountering’, the depraved men continue to rule the roost. It’s time that instead of depending on others, we the women, take self-defence seriously.
Imagine a scenario where CCTV footage captures students of Gargi college in New Delhi thrashing the men who molested them or masturbated in front of them. Imagine if TV channels show gropers being paraded in the college with their faces adequately ‘blackened’ so that they are recognizable and yet are ‘black’ as are their cores. Imagine a well-lit street where a group of girls returning from a late-night movie and teased by the riffraff beat them at their own game by showering a round of well heeled chappals.
So distressed am I with the replay of the same ‘women torture’ saga that I picked up the Indian Penal Code and wondered why we have not taught the legal provisions of self-defence from sections 96 to 106 to girls in schools. It would make them aware that the law is with them when it comes to a threat to their body. A threat is a threat, even if the perceived may not actually materialize, so strong is the law in this regard. Had the Gargi women thrashed the men – insiders or outsiders – they are safe under the law. I doubt if the girls were aware of this.
How wonderful it would have been if Delhi Police had been invited to watch on CCTV the thrashing of goons, and then to identify them instead of cameras having captured their violence with women being victims. If Delhi girls of a reputed college are subjected to molestation and groping during a college festival, what may be happening in other places. No wonder families are apprehensive of girls being out after sunset and restrict their work timings.
A 2019 Deloitte report titled eEmpowering Women and Girls in India for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ mentions that women participation in India has decreased to 26% in 2018 from 36.7% in 2005. While IMF Chief Christine Lagarde and Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg in a joint paper mentioned that if the women’s work force in India becomes equal to that of men, the national GDP will increase by a whopping 27%! Is it not enough to be a wake-up call for us?
But for that we need well aware, confident, and articulate women who can stand up for their rights and fight for their physical and emotional security. Women who are not afraid to go out even late at night for work or simple pleasures. Thus, training in physical fitness, quick response, and knowledge of the law of self defence must be inculcated in girls beginning from school. This along with what we have done about police investigation, special courts for offences against women, and speedy trials.
It takes long to change culture, but it is taking painfully long as far as girls and women in India are concerned. Maybe because we have depended too much on others and have been too patient for our own good. Let’s try some new and time-tested methods ourselves.
Physical fitness and self-defense through unarmed combat must be in t to girls from school. It may never be needed but gives confidence and, at times, helps in emergencies that have nothing to do with dealing with an aggressive male. Unarmed combat techniques can be taken up even in offices during breaks, just as many have introduced yoga or pilate breaks.
Knowledge about basic law, for example the provisions about right to self-defence, registration of a non-cognizable case (NC) and the First Information Report (FIR), simple court procedures, role of a prosecutor etc. needs to be taught in schools. I have seen highly qualified women breaking down when confronted with violence, as it is a shock to them and also because they find themselves unable to deal with it legally.
Adequate precaution must be taken while organizing public events. Local police stations should be kept informed, and checking of persons should be conducted through professional agencies meant for such events. Whatever you may say about a progressive India, some men have a very regressive bent of mind. Many of my colleagues in the police have mentioned that men have been watching too much pornography on the internet for their own good and are a threat to women safety. The phenomenon of free internet has taken them by storm and they are unable to handle it in a matured manner.
In this article, I have confined myself to only three main recommendations: physical fitness & confidence building, basic legal knowledge, and adequate screening for public events. I will take up more during my next article on the issue of women safety.
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