Every day seems to bring a new criminal assault on women. A senior citizen was raped on Sunday in Mumbai and in a bizarre dress code diktat a college in Haryana has ordered women not to wear jeans saying it is against Indian culture. The question is whether we are in denial about the rapidly rising crimes and prejudices against women today. CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose discussed the issue with a distinguished penal on her show Face The Nation.
Following is the transcript of the discussion on the issue:
Sagarika Ghose: Stop this shame, we're bringing you a CNN-IBN campaign tonight. Every day seems to bring a new criminal assault on women. A senior citizen was raped yesterday in Mumbai and in a bizarre dress code diktat a college in Haryana has ordered women not to wear jeans saying it is against Indian culture. It really seems as if it's open season on women, particularly modern women. Are we in denial about the rapidly rising crimes and prejudices against women today? Joining us tonight, Vrinda Grover, Human Rights Lawyer, Suneeta Dhar, Secretary and Director, Jagori, Mihira Sood, Lawyer and victim of a heckling incident in Bangalore last week.
Let's put it to you there in Bangalore, you were surrounded by 30-40 men making lewd gestures, trying to sexually molest you, did you get the feeling that while they were doing this they were conscious of the fact that were doing nothing wrong? They were simply having fun, they were not conscious that they were committing a crime?
Victim: Yes, I was quite conscious of the fact that I was not looked upon as actually a human being. You know I saw it in their eyes, I was like some insect or something, I became an object of ridicule, harassment. That is exactly what I felt at that moment.
Sagarika Ghose: And you felt they were doing it because they felt that they could get away with it, they had no fear of the law?
Victim: That was one major thing also, but another thing was police harassing me, intimidating me, and physically assaulting me. So, you know that gave them the trigger to further harass me and continue the intimidation.
Sagarika Ghose: The police harassed you, the police intimidated you, you are from the northeast, do you believe that the fact that you were from northeast, people associate certain stereotypes to northeast, people from northeast dress in a certain way, did that also feed into the harassment of you?
Victim: See Sagarika, yes we cannot ignore the fact that we coming from the northeast, me looking different has played its role in the harassment and the intimidation that I faced. But I have been talking to many friend since the incident and this is the problem that every women in Bangalore, every women in any place in India is facing right now. Women safety in public places, especially in Bangalore, is becoming a huge concern. And I think when our individual freedom is threatened, me being a northeast or another woman being non-Kannada is no longer a concern for them. So I think at the moment solidarity is our only hope, all of us to get together and address this larger issue.
Sagarika Ghose: It's not about women from the northeast it's about the women in general. Vrinda Grover we have spoken many times on this bizarre rise in crime against women. Everyday there is a new crime against women, new instance of sexual assault, new instance of molestation, are the molesters and rapist getting away simply because they have no fear of the law?
Vrinda Grover: You are absolutely right, there is absolute impunity of sexual assault of a woman. Yes, when it intersect with a certain ethnicity, with a caste, a religious minority it becomes more aggravated. However, what we see happening in the country today and I don't think it's bizarre, it is absolutely comprehensible. We have two phenomena which may appear contradictory but co-exist, which is a denial that there is violence against women and absolute condonation, sanction and acceptance of that violence. And this is deeply rooted in our culture which is highly discriminatory, it is unequal, it is very brutal and it is very violent. And the reason why we are seeing much more of this now is perhaps, and also the NCBR data shows a very sharp rise is violence against women, because there are much more women in public places now and women are asserting themselves, women are asserting their autonomy, women are asserting their independence but what is this state of fear that we are forced to live in. I want to know of any caste, creed, religion in this country, who will be able to decide I am going to go to this place, how will I go, when will I go, is it safe for me to go, the fear of sexual assault haunts every women in the country today. So that is the level of freedom that the women are existing today.
Sagarika Ghose: The level of sexual assault haunts every women, and as Vrinda was saying, the women in the public eye, the professional women, the assertive women, the women who is having an extra marital affair who is beheaded by her brother for dismerging family honour, the women who is driving a car is molested because she has committed the sin of driving a car, all these are an attempt to put the modern woman down, to attack the modern woman, do you see these as the primary reason for these violences? Woman in the public world, in the modern world is why she is primarily being attacked?
Suneeta Dhar: Absolutely, we continue to live in a patriarchy society, as Vrinda was saying to live in fear of violence, no matter where we are it is our right to city, right to a public place, right to be in a place where anybody attacking me whether verbally, emotional or physically is something we are unable to live without. And I think what's happening is that the women are there, they are asserting their autonomous, their voice, they are demanding rights for the representation in the political society and I think all of this is resulting in some kind of a backlash.
Sagarika Ghose: That's exactly what is our speak out is telling us, your projection of women General Secretary of AIDWA U Vasuki is telling, she said the projection of women in media, films is what exactly creating this kind of violence against women. As an explanation for this violence against the women is it the projection of the women, the image of the modern woman. The modern woman is a sex symbol, the modern woman is either subservient or a sex symbol. These are the two categories, virgin or whore, so within these two categories there is no middle ground there is no modern rational woman. Therefore the male is violent towards both.
Mihira Sood: I think we are missing the woods for the trees here, yes frankly, women's projection in the media is a cause for concern but I think the deeper root of the matter lies in how the boys are brought up, what values they are brought up with, the notion that they are brought with that they can get away with anything. How the women are projected in the media can be a symptom but it is a slippery slope, you don't want to get into how the artistic and cinematic projection go on.
Sagarika Ghose: It's basically the crisis of values, it's the crisis of morals, and it is a crisis of how the boys are brought up in a son worshipping culture. Lets turn that over to our guest from Bangalore who is joining us, again from Bangalore there, do you believe that the police was blaming you, the police punched you, the police pushed you around, in fact you were not seen as a victim, you were seen as the person to be blamed for the problem.
Victim: Yes, the blame game started from the police because right now they have completely ignore the main concern here which was sexual harassment and the intimidation by the police constable and the crowd of men buy they have gone on the line that I was the one who was holding up traffic, which is absolutely wrong, I followed what the traffic rule is, I moved my car from the traffic accident spot, I parked my car in the corner, it was the inaction of the policeman which created the traffic jam, so this is another classic case of blame the victim.
Sagarika Ghose: Blame the victim. Vrinda Grover, again we come down to it is the woman who is to blame. It is the dirty, tainted woman is to blame, boys, as Mihira was saying, boys will be boys, he is the stud, he is the macho man, is it the root of the crisis how the crime is perceived. Police think that way, law course think that way, civil society think that way, if that is the dominant perception then how on earth the woman is going to get justice?
Vrinda Grover: You are absolutely right on all that has been spoken, let me quickly add two dimensions and then respond to what you have asked, firstly this portrayal of woman and whether the sexuality of the woman is being portrayed, let us understand that women will assert their agency, their expression of sexuality and their sexual rights and their sexual freedom will be part of that freedom. So I am not sure what is this certain mode of media to show women in a certain way which is to desexualise is going to solve the problem. We need to be allowed to express ourselves as sexual beings. Secondly, when we talk about the patriarchal culture lets not forget that there is an economic system at work here. The same patriarchal culture and economy rest of the labour of women, rest on the reproductive power of the women. The labour of household work that the women do comes close to $11 trillion, the economy rest on this undervalued, unpaid labour and all systems control that labour through violence and through the fear of violence. Coming to the point of blaming the victim, of course in the patriarchal culture were women are seen as somebody who do no have control over their bodies, who do not have the right to bodily integrity. To whom we are seen as property who are then given in Kanyadaan and otherwise in our culture. Whether it s the case of Bangalore, or whether it is the horrific case of Guwahati, the verdict has come just a few days ago. Yes in the Guwahati case there has been conviction and what is the conviction for? Outraging the modesty. What is this notion of archaic modesty that persist in our law. There is today the criminal law bill pending before the Lok Sabha. Yes the amendment of the criminal law bill has expanded what is penetrated sexual assault, it is no longer peno-vaginal rape, however, at the same time they made the bill a gender neutral bill. Is there any case in this country that men and women are both facing sexual violence. Women's group has objected to it, the home ministry completely negated that and the bill is today before Parliament.
Sagarika Ghose: Lack of strong laws, the fact is that the law is simply not a deterrent, legal infrastructure that exist today is simply inadequate. There is simply no fear of the law because the laws are so weak.
Mihira Sood: I completely agree with you their and I would like to add that it is a societal-attitudinal problem but you need tougher laws, you need a deterrent because at the end of the day it is patriarchy and it is also the cultural lawlessness that we have in this country. Like for instance this lady who was heckled in Bangalore, it was a car accident.
Sagarika Ghose: A lady heckled in Bangalore, a policeman shot dead because a man was trying to molest his daughter in Punjab. There is not only no fear of the law there is flaunting of the law.