July 04, 2012

Violence Against Women: Issue of women safety needs to be seen from social perspective

Since the murder of a woman journalist Chhabirani in the year 1980 till date, thousands of women in Odisha have fallen victim to the heinous instincts of men. As per claims made by the President of Odisha Congress’ women wing on the basis of a white paper tabled in State Assembly, about 4,100 cases under section 376 (rape) were registered in different police stations of Odisha during last three years. The statistics is not only shocking but is also loud to explain how women have become vulnerable to the unmanly instincts of men in the society.
Even though women are considered to be the descent half of the society, they live a life of vulnerability and fall victim to atrocities and the criminal instincts of people of their own community with whom they grow from a baby girl to a woman.
The recent cases of abuse and atrocities on women in the state of Odisha have made social thinkers and even the common man to look for the reasons behind increasing vulnerability of women in the society.
While the much hyped case of alleged assault and attempt to kill the 19 year old girl from a dalit family of Arjungoda village under Pipili Police Station in Odisha’s Puri district hit the headlines of almost all media and impacted the state politics in the state where a Minister had to quit the cabinet to save the face of the government, a series of cases of attacks and atrocities on women have raised number of questions on the safety of women in her own community or society.
The victim of the Pipili incident is now struggling to come out of a coma stage she entered since the incident that took place between 7 AM and 8.30 AM, time of activities in rural Odisha, when the girl went to attend nature’s call.
The case of Pipili is not the lone case of assault on women in Odisha. Few months back, a girl student in Odisha’s Baliapal also fell victim to the demonic instincts of some men. Another girl who was travelling by a bus was not dropped at the destination and was allegedly raped by the bus driver and other staff. In the month of January 2012 alone, about 10 cases of rape, rape and murder, assault and attempt to murder have been registered of which one of the victim is an 8-year-old girl and another a deaf and dumb dalit girl. “The way such incidents where a part of the society suffers badly in the hands of the other half are increasing, many of us are forced to rethink if we are really living in a civic society”, says a Konark based social activist N A Shah Ansari who feels agitated while remembering the particular day of 2007 November when a young woman was dragged out of a passenger bus and was gang raped by four persons in a deserted spot beside the Konark-Puri marine drive road. “The incident shows how the society, once ruled by morals, is getting detached from the roots of it and how the individual morals are being degraded”, says Ansari.
When moral degradation is one of the primary reasons behind increase in the number of cases, the mechanism that should act strongly to locate the culprits in such cases and book them under law is also failing to deliver what is expected from it. For example, the police didn’t receive the FIR from the family of the victim girl from Pipili who battles for life in a state of coma. Nor did the medical officer attended to the girl who was in a serious condition. The medical officer could have treated the girl immediately and informed the police about the case. In stead, the doctor predicted a quick death of the girl and asked the family to take the unconscious victim back. Finding no other way, the family of the victim went to the State Women Commission and then to the State Human Rights Commission to seek justice and avail required treatment for the victim who struggled for life since more than a month. It was when the Human Right Commission realised the gravity of the case and ordered for immediate treatment in the hospital and immediate inquiry by the police that the victim was admitted to the hospital and police started investigation. However, things started after a month of the incident.
The victim girl was targeted because she was the only witness of a case of assault on her friend in the year 2008. While the girl who was raped in 2008 committed suicide a few days later, the surviving witness received repeated threats to withdraw the police case or face dire consequence, said the family members of the victim. Finally the girl had to pay the price for her courage. In stead of respecting her courage and acting promptly, the unwillingness of police to receive the FIR in the Pipili case indicates how callous the police is about the issue of safety of women. It’s only after strong directives issued by the Human Rights Commission that the Puri district police had to start an inquiry and the state government also ordered a probe by Crime Branch (CID) Police. ”Why after directives? What stopped the police from acting promptly against the alleged culprits? Can we expect more women to come forward against such injustice if the police continue to behave in a manner as it did with the Pipili victim? When safety of women is a concern for all and women are more often falling victim to very few of men with inhuman instincts, the police and other law enforcing agencies have to change their attitude and make the face more humane than the current one”, says a veteran journalist Prashanta Patnaik who also happens to be the Convener of civil society body Odisha Gana Samaja.
When the case came to light, political parties, social activists and civil society bodies came on roads to place the ruling party at fault and to build pressure on the government to nab the culprits and take action on all involved in it. This is definitely a good step by the opposition political parties to ensure justice to the specific victim. But, the larger issue of safety of women was again overshadowed.
During last 64 years, issue of women safety has been raised for political purposes and used as a weapon against the government and the ruling party. The game was always played with an agenda, mostly political, and the root issue of safety of women continued to remain a powerful evil in the society.
The first and foremost is that why and how a woman becomes vulnerable to the violent instincts of people with whom she grew from childhood? Why the society that often behaves to be protective fails to protect and uphold the rights of woman and secure her from any kind of vulnerability? ‘The primary reasons are lack of understanding of social relationship and almost no moral education’, says a veteran journalist and social thinker Vivekanand Dash adding that, ‘Such cases are increasing in our society because the current generation doesn’t take any interest in the moral roots and the parents also take least interest in moral teaching till something happens to them or their offspring’.
The police has to have a humane face and behave as responsive to any case of assault on woman. As seen in the case of Pipili and other places, instead of accepting the FIR and initiating quick action the local police officer took a condemnable role by denying to accept the complaint from the victim’s family. The rule of law has to be established. However, the dismissal of the concerned Police Inspector and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s strict instruction to all officers to receive the FIR and take immediate action in such cases bear some hope for sure in ensuring prompt aid to the victims.
What is most important in order to protect women from atrocities and provide justice to the victims of any kind of assault is that the rule of law has to be established with strong conviction. Any case of assault must be treated as violation of law of the land and the constitutional provisions that guarantee the individual rights of citizens and actions must be taken promptly as prescribed in the laws. Some even advocate for a strong law, like the one enforced to deal the acts of terrorism, and provisions of punishment in such cases. “The moral roots of Indian society must be restored to make women a respectable entity of the society and provisions of harsh punishments in such cases must be prescribed in the law to stop men from abusing women”, says Prashant Patnaik.
The recent observations of additional Sessions Judge of Delhi Kamini Lau in the case of rape of a six year old girl by her 30 year old uncle are surely some points to be given a serious thought by the leaders and legislators of India. While giving judgment on February 17, 2012 in the case, Kamini Lau observed, "Castration is the most befitting sentence which can be imposed on any paedophile or serial offender but the hands of this court are tied as the statute does not provide for it” while she urged that, “Indian legislators are yet to explore this as an alternative to conventional sentencing". The recent judgment reminds of legendary personality Biju Patnaik who, while was the Chief Minister of Odisha, openly urged that any person attempting to rape a woman should be castrated. Then Biju Patnaik’s wish was taken as a political fun which now seems more relevant to ensure safety to women from sexual abuse.
Not only the police and law enforcing agencies, but also the administration, judiciary and civil society bodies and the women rights bodies have a greater role in achieving social security and safety of women. The issue has to be seen from a social perspective than just a political agenda.
The article was first published on February 23, 2012, at HotnHitNews.

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