Women betrayed, let down by the Indian system

Women betrayed, let down by the Indian system

Harini Calamur | 03 Oct 2017 10:26 PM

Image: Representational/PTI

These days, as a woman, I feel betrayed and let down by the Indian ‘system’. I have been telling women I am not good enough to be considered equal. That, we don’t deserve equality, or the right to be heard. That we are making much ado about nothing.Three different instances that all say the same thing – equality is a sham.

Just under four years ago, I, like most other women were celebrating the recommendations of the Justice VermaCommittee recommendations. The cornerstone of which was the bill of rights for women (Appendix 3). I will quote from part one of the Bill of Rights, because it makes most sense in the context of why I feel betrayed by the Indian ‘system’.

Right to Life, Security, and Bodily Integrity 

  1. Every woman shall be entitled to respect for her life and the integrity and security of her person. All forms of violence, exploitation, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment targeting women are prohibited.

  2. Every woman as the right to dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition and protection of her human and legal rights

  3. Every woman has the right to be respected as an independent person and to the free development of her personality.

  4. Every woman has the right to express and experience complete sexual autonomy including with respect to her relationships and choice of partners.

  5. Every woman has the right not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without her informed consent; with an exception in the case of an emergency;

  6. The State shall ensure to every woman protection from all forms of violence whether the violence takes place in private or public, including unwanted or forced sexual intercourse or activity

  7. The State shall protect, rescue and rehabilitate every woman who is at the risk of or has been a victim of trafficking and all other forms of such treatment.

  8. The State shall promptly provide effective mechanisms and accessible services for information, redressal, rehabilitation and reparation of every woman being a victim of violence.

(read the remaining bill of rights here – appendix 3, page 429)

Yes, a set of basics that tell women, they are equal. Have the right to be around without facing violence, on the basis ofwho you are – a woman. Have the right not to be raped or molested. Have the right to lead her life as she deems fit, with dignity . And that the state shall protect these rights. The state  - not just the Government, not  just the legislature, not just the judiciary, or the various organs of law and order. But, the entire state.

The Indian ‘system’ guarantees equality and rights for women on paper. These days, that hope of being considered equal has suffered a body blow. Hopefully not a fatal blow, but a severe blow nonetheless.

Three cases. Two of rape. One of molestation. The right of women to be safe, and be guaranteed redressal in case those rights are violated, have been smashed to bits.

Two cases of rape – where honourable judges reinterpreted the concept of consent.

First off the block was the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Two men convicted of gangraping, and blackmailing a classmate, were granted bail, after the judges decided to let “these young minds” out so that the system does “not  deprive them of their education, opportunity to redeem themselves and be a part of the society as normal beings. “These ‘young minds’ belong to Harddik Sikri and Karan Chhabra.

According to court documents, the young woman had a consensual relationship with Sikri in November 2013 which lasted a month, after which she broke up with him.

But for the next 18 months, he used her nude photographs to blackmail her and rape her. Not just that, he also forced her to have sex with his two friends and on one occasion, Sikri and Chhabra gangraped her.

The third friend, Vikas Garg, was given a seven-year sentence. The two-member bench decided to give these young men bail, because jail “would deprive them of their education, opportunity to redeem themselves and be a part of the society as normal beings”.

Also, the clincher for the judges was: “The testimony of the victim does offer an alternate story of casual relationship with her friends, acquaintances, adventurism and experimentation in sexual encounters and these factors would therefore, offer a compelling reasons to consider the prayer for suspension of sentence favourably particularly when the accused themselves are young and the narrative does not throw up gut-wrenching violence, that normally precede or accompany such incidents.”

Essentially, this suggests not understanding the fundamental basics of the concept of consent.

The second was the acquittal of Mahmood Farooqui, on appeal. The rape charge against him was set aside and he walked free. Why? Again, it was the interpretation of consent. This quote is from the judgement:

“Instances of woman behaviour are not unknown that a feeble  ‘no’ may mean a ‘yes’. If the parties are strangers, the same theory may not be applied. If the parties are in some kind of prohibited relationship, then also it would be difficult to lay down a general principle that an emphatic ‘no’ would only communicate the intention of the other party. If one of the parties to the act is a conservative person and is not exposed to the various ways and systems of the world, mere reluctance would also amount to negation of any consent. But same would not be the situation when parties are known to each other, are persons of letters and are intellectually/academically proficient, and if, in the past, there have been physical contacts. In such cases, it would be really difficult to decipher whether little or no resistance and a feeble ‘no’, was actually a denial of consent.

A ‘no’ can mean ‘yes’. And, if the man is confused because he is drunk or bi-polar (another excuse given for his behaviour) then it is not rape. That is what is being said. A woman’s ‘no’ has no value. None.

And, the final one from Benaras Hindu University (BHU) where a female student complained about being molested:

"I was passing by Bharat Kala Bhawan at 6.20 pm. I was wearing salwar suit. Suddenly, two motorcycle-borne youth came and inserted their hands inside my suit. They then sped away. Due to fading light, I could not recognise the registration numbers,"

After being told by the guards it was her fault for being out late (6.20 pm inside a supposedly secure campus), female students decided to protest. Before you know it, there was a full-fledged protest, police presence, violence, lathicharge. All of which could have been avoided if the administration did its job of keeping the campus secure.

But ask the Vice-Chancellor, or the administration and they would tell you that protests were not about safety or security, but about spoiling the PM’s visit to his constituency. And, to add insult to injury, the VC says“First of all, it is not an incident of molestation, it is one of eve-teasing.”

If one could pulverise and erase from the English language one phrase, it is the innocuous sounding eve-teasing. How can anyone be offended by someone who teases? Definitely milder than bullying, teasing is usually considered to be in good humour. But men who put their hands inside your clothes, without your consent, do not fall under that category. The esteemed and learned Vice-Chancellor does not think so.

What comes across very clearly, in the three judgements is this: If women don’t want to be raped or molested, they need to stay away from men. I am actually not quite sure who should feel more insulted by this attitude – men or women?

(Harini Calamur is a writer, teacher and film-maker. She tweets at @calamur)

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