By Deepika Barua*
“Any society that fails to harness the energy and creativity of its women is at a huge disadvantage” [Quote by Tian Wei]
Since childhood, parents impose a lot of restrictions on a girl compared to a boy. The upbringing of girls in India is done in a very protective environment because everyone knows that the girl child is not safe anywhere. As per the Statista report, the registered rape cases in India have tremendously increased from 18,359 in 2005 to 32,559 in 2019. There can be two interpretations of the mentioned data: either men are becoming fearless in attempting such brutality, or women are stepping forward to take action against such incidents and file a case. Women have all the right to live fearlessly in society and voice their opinion without being judged or criticized. This power of raising a voice against unlawful acts gets a kickstart from the family environment itself. The parents are responsible for educating a child about these mishappenings and train them on coping with an unprecedented situation. Along with parents, the Indian government should mold the education system to spread awareness on the rights of a citizen and to respect the boundaries of someone’s privacy.
In 1992, a rape case took place in a small village called Bhateri, Rajasthan. It’s been 29 years now, and the victim Bhanwari Devi didn’t get justice in a court of law. The judgment ended up with the statement that “Bhanwari Devi’s husband could not have passively watched his wife being brutally raped.” Now the question here arises: Why do women always have to prove about the mishappening/rape? Why can’t a follow-up action is taken timely against a man who has the muscle power but was involved in such mishappenings?
Bhanwari Devi, being a responsible citizen of India, informed police about the child marriage taking place in a nearby village. Everyone knows that child marriage is illegal in India; still, it is practiced in rural areas. She tried to save the lives of those two little kids, who were forcefully made to enter into a relationship. What was the end result? Child marriage did take place, and the relatives of those kids brutally gang-raped Bhanwari. Their self-respect got hampered because Bhanwari complained about the marriage. Ego destroys a person’s mental state, but in this case, they raped a woman to take an act of revenge.
There is a dire need for a paradigm shift in the thought process. People are still following those traditional beliefs and judge the action based on their collective knowledge till-date. Rural people need to have a broader segment of knowledge such that they are capable of making decisions considering all the scenarios. In the Bhanwari Devi case, all villagers were against Bhanwari and boycotted her instead of acting as a support system. This is the reason why girls hesitate to come forward and speak out against societal norms. Either she is forced to take back the filed rape case or discouraged even to report the matter. As per the Statista report, Rajasthan (5997) had the highest rape case across India in 2019.
Kavita Srivastava, a human rights worker, shared the nuances of Bhanwari Devi’s case and recalled how the court of law could not help her get justice, but under the court of the lord, 4/5 men were punished. Those four people died, and the fifth one is still alive. But the catch over here is that the fifth person serves the village as up-Sarpanch (Deputy Sarpanch). The man who should be behind bars is now taking charge of decisions for the entire village. Is this the indication that power dominates the truth? Certainly yes.
In the whole conversation with Kavita Srivastava, I was amazed by her work in providing justice to such people. Along with other activists at Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), she made an effort to raise Bhanwari’s concern. They created a slogan to emphasize the injustice being done to her- “Court kachehri jhooti hai, Bhanwari Devi sacchi hai,” meaning the court’s decision is not correct, but the Bhanwari Devi’s claim of gang-rape is valid. She brought the village women together to articulate their rights in front of the Rajasthan court. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court of India pertaining to the punishment for rapists. Collective women’s power led to the introduction of Vishakha guidelines with the definition of sexual harassment at the workplace. The objective of the guidelines was to give justifiable punishments for indulging in sexual harassment. Vishakha guidelines were further superseded by “The Sexual Harassment Act” in 2013. Every girl and woman should be aware of these legal laws and their background, which would help them fight against such cruel acts.
In my opinion, it’s high time to tweak our education system. Vishaka guidelines came in 1997, but I barely remember its inclusion in our syllabus since childhood. Government should ensure that children know about the laws which were passed for the protection of citizens in India. Half-baked knowledge always harms the person in the end. The female workforce participation is increasing steeply. In 2019, 76 mn female labor force were in the age group of 25-54 and 11.44 million in 15-24 age group. The formation of sexual harassment committee in the workplace is a priority, but imparting knowledge about the same is crucial.
Girls should no longer be treated as a burden. Instead, listen to her, educate her to differentiate between right and wrong, teach her to take an appropriate stand, fight for her fundamental rights, and most importantly do not live in a façade of societal norms. This world should be made safer for females. Rather than imposing restrictions on a girl child, teach a boy to respect a woman and her rights. Empower girls, as they are capable of shaping the world and coming generations magnificently.
*Post Graduate Student at IIM Ahmedabad and an ardent believer of “equality”