Each one of us is responsible and we have a role to play. Most of us have remained a silent spectator thinking it is someone else’s fight, in the process the country has come to such a sorry pass that our own mothers, daughters and sisters are scared of not just going outside the house but also within the confines of the home. So let us wake up in our own interest
After battling for almost two weeks the brave-heart Delhi student, victim of gang-rape, lost the battle for life. While she has passed away, the question raised by her suffering is staring at all of us in the face. The question that needs to be answered is where do we go from here? Will it be back to normal after some more platitudes and false promises by the politicians and some more candles at Jantar Mantar or will we see some concrete and substantial change? Left to itself the government may not really do much and may announce some half-baked measures, therefore it is necessary for the citizens to be alert and ensure that the government does what is required to be done.
However, at the same time it should not be forgotten that crimes against women is not merely a government issue, there is an equally big role to be played by the other sections of society. To really address the issue at hand there is a need for a multi-pronged, multi-locational and multi-sectional approach. In other words, there is neither room for patch-work nor any effort to merely trying to make police sensitive and speeding up the judicial system suffices. While all this is required, much more needs to be done to really to make some noticeable impact on the society.
The real problem
The question that needs to be raised is what is the problem before us? It is the mindset of the men in our country. Women of today want to be treated as equal in every manner but our male ego is not permitting her to get her due and how do we achieve this is the issue. The problem is not what women wear or do, but the patriarchal mind that won’t allow the women to become free.
In my view a comprehensive plan to address not just the issue of safety of women but the attitude towards women should envisage involving the following sections of the society:
All pending cases involving crimes against women throughout the country to be taken on priority basis and fast-track courts be established to hear the cases on a day-to-day basis. Special investigation teams be assigned to ensure that proper and timely investigation is done and the offenders are brought to book at the earliest.
We need to remember that speed and assured justice is the biggest deterrent where the potential offender knows that he will be certainly caught and be in jail for a long time. It is the certainty of punishment and not death sentence that can be a real deterrent.
Politicians be asked to keep their opinions to themselves and not vitiate the atmosphere with their bigoted views. Special counselling centres to help the brave-hearts to get back to normal life as soon as possible.
Long term measures
Family: The first lesson a child learns is at home where boys and girls are made conscious of their role. It is here that the first steps are taken that would eventually shape the personality of the boy who is virtually given total freedom, while the girl child is made aware at every stage that she is not as important as the male child. In many families there is a clear preponderance to pamper the boys and neglect the girl child. The attitude towards females is inculcated by these baby steps at home itself which later on manifest as a social problem appearing in different forms.
Hence, it is time for all of us to look within before we rush to curse the police and the government. While nobody denies the fact that these agencies have miserably failed in their duty towards the citizens, we also need to realise what kind of thinking we are imparting to our kids at home. Society cannot change by itself; it is the family that has to change; family members have to develop a healthy respect for the girl child so that the boys in the family also learn to respect their sisters. If elders in the family expect total sub-servience by the lady members of the family and give them scant respect, then it is foolish to expect the boys to respect women when they grow up. After all their personality is the manifestation of their development over the years. Therefore, family is the place where the respect for the women should start with husbands showing respect for their wives and fathers taking care of their daughters.
Society: We are all products of the environment in which we are born and grow up and as a result society plays a great role in shaping our attitude towards women. Here one cannot understate the role which schools and colleges can play in shaping the understanding of young boys and girls so as to develop healthy respect for each other. Unfortunately, more often than not even these institutions are not free from prejudices to which so many families are victims, that of tilting in favour of boys at the cost of girls. Gender differences are further reinforced by the teachers themselves who might have been brought with the thinking that boys are superior to girls.
Hence, educational institutions have a great role to play in shaping the correct attitude that the students need to develop which will enable them to play a positive role in society. Teachers need to take a lead in this regard and initiate necessary action to engage with the students and lead them in the right direction.
Role of films/showbiz: Any discussion about the role or influence of films on the society is immediately countered by the film fraternity that films merely reflect the reality as they just hold a mirror to the society. While this may be true at one level, it is simplistic to say films merely reflect reality. What happens is that with a view to making the films a marketable commodity several film makers keep on finding new ways and means of using women in their films that would titillate the audiences and rake in the moolah. Inclusion of item songs is just one manifestation of this attitude, while the other is the use of demeaning language in several films where women are shown in poor light.
It is nobody’s case that movies should be subject to greater censorship, but it is time that filmmakers are made to realise that film is a potent medium and it has great influence on the minds of people so they do have a responsibility towards the society. Portrayal of women in skimpy clothes is least of the problems; the real issue is about the regressive attitude of many film makers towards a woman that gets manifested on the screen.
Police: In every society people either have respect for the law or the fear of law or both, but in India there is neither fear nor respect for the law. Why is it that only honest people are afraid of the police while the criminals care two hoots for the police? Police in the country needs to ask itself why things have come to such a sorry pass. Widespread corruption and nexus with the criminals has considerably eroded the authority of the police and this coupled with political interference has virtually killed the professionalism in police as they are perceived to be busy doing the bidding of politicians and other powerful people.
Hence, if the government is really serious then it has to implement the police reforms that have been gathering dust for the last several years, but my hunch is that the government will do nothing of the sort. After all no government wants to lose control over the police as it can come handy in meeting certain political objectives of the ruling party of the day.
Moreover, political protection of criminals also extends to police protection; in such an environment it seems that all the tall talk by the ruling party is nothing but an attempt to assuage the immediate feelings and then quietly go back to the normal routine. Talking of sensitizing the police would hardly make a difference when the mindset of the police and their political masters continues to be grounded in the 19th century.
There can be no real change in law enforcement unless the police is given a totally free hand and made fully accountable for its actions; let the police be treated as professionals, otherwise the more things will change the more they will remain same and many more young girls will continue to suffer or even lose their lives at the hands of anti-social elements.
Politicians: Today the biggest hurdle to effecting change in India is the very class of people who have undertaken the responsibility to steer the nation, yes the political masters of the country. Their mindset has been routed in the past as has been made evident from time-to-time by the kind of observations made by them about women. If politicians had in their power, they would like to banish women to the household only and stop them from coming out and lo behold the problem of harassment of women in public places will be solved. This is the most difficult aspect of the problem; who will educate our politicians and make them aware of the realities? It is time they come down from their ivory towers and experience the reality on the ground. Shockingly even the young MPs are quietly sitting in their cocoons.
Judiciary: Last but not the least, role of the judiciary in meting out justice to victims of sexual crimes. Can the judges continue to live in their high-walled chambers, oblivious of the stark reality outside? Is not the duty of the magistrate or judge before whom the case involving a crime against a woman is placed to ensure that priority is given to such a case and it is disposed of at the earliest? Does the judiciary realise that the old adage, “Justice delayed is justice denied” still holds good. At the same time, the government needs to not only create new courts but also fill the vacancies and appoint the required judges from time to time so that justice can be dispensed in a reasonable time. It has been repeated ad nauseum that the procedures need to be simplified so that the matters can be expedited.
In conclusion, one can only hope that the death of this brave-heart will not go in vain and even though the task that lies ahead of us is of gigantic proportions, hopefully this time around the government and the authorities will sincerely work towards making the system work and instil the fear of law in all those men who think they can get away by playing with the modesty of women.
The question we need to answer is, will India wake up? Will we get up from our Kumbhakarna mould and face the challenge squarely?
Remember, each one of us is responsible and we have a role to play; most of us have remained a silent spectator all these years thinking it is someone else’s fight, in the process the country has come to such a sorry pass on the social front that our own mothers, daughters and sisters are scared of not just going outside the house but also within the confines of the home. So let us wake up in our own interest.
(Dr SD Israni, advocate & partner, SD Israni Law Chambers, is one of India’s leading authority on corporate, commercial and securities laws. He was a member of the Naresh Chandra Committee for simplification of Company Law relating to private and small companies. He has been on SEBI's committee on disclosures (called the Malegam Committee) and the one on buy-back of shares. Dr Israni has been a member of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Indian Merchants' Chamber and Indian Council of Arbitration. Dr Israni is an active member of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India and was on its Central Council for four terms and headed the Capital Markets Committee of the ICSI.)
IRDA chairman wants a position in the regulatory body for protecting consumer rights. It is a good step if they listen to consumers, which is lacking with IRDA at this time. Why did IRDA not have one till now? The need is felt only when IRDA chairman retires in a couple of months
Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) Chairman J Hari Narayan has been quoted as saying “Since prima facie the role of IRDA is consumer protection, we should have a member-consumer affairs to give a new perspective to consumer protection, it would be best if we had someone from outside the insurance industry.”
It is probably for first time that the IRDA chairman has articulated IRDA’s “prima facie” role. While it is a good step toward consumer protection, till now IRDA has not been very receptive to suggestions from consumer groups. Moreover, the timing of the comments is strange. The IRDA chairman retires in February 2013 after a five-year tenure. Here are some of IRDA’s actions which have not been on the interests of consumers:
In India no regulator cares much about what consumers are facing. Neither do they talk to distributors and agents who can brief the regulators about consumer issues. IRDA has only recently created a health insurance forum to enable interaction between the insurance industry and medical fraternity. But, there is only one consumer representative, who is appointed by IRDA, while there are six from insurance companies and 12 from hospitals!
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is more open than the IRDA and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). It has primary market advisory committee, secondary market advisory committee and mutual fund advisory committee with an investor representative, but these committees often do not meet nor are they heard. The RBI ought to be most open to consumers’ voice because of the explosion of consumer banking (credit, debit cards, ATMs and distribution of insurance and mutual fund products). But it has no meaningful way of listening to consumers.
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