Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Safety of the Fairer Sex: Ignorance and Inaction is not Bliss

Written by Raakhee Suryaprakash with inputs from Venkatesh Ramanujam

“In Kolkata, hundreds of mall goers stood and just watched as a man dragged, punched, molested and beat up a girl right outside the Salt Lake City Center. ... It doesn't matter if you like, share and comment on women empowerment videos & social experiments, it doesn't matter how gracefully you respect Goddesses, it doesn't matter if your own family is safe. If you can't intervene a molestation that's happening right in front of your eyes, if you can't dial 100 and be a responsible citizen, if your conscience doesn't scream to your soul, then how are you better than the accused?”                                                                                                                       
- A Storypick Facebook post

Image from Storypick

A popular quote in line with the Law of Attraction philosophy says “you find what you look for” but when one is bombarded with news of sexual crimes and heinous crimes against women and children, it says more about the psyche of the patriarchal, misogynistic society and times one lives in than what one looks for! With the horror of the rape of a six-year-old in a Bangalore school fitted with CC TVs; not to mention the horrific, bloody, gang-rape of a young woman in the premises of a rural government school; reports of a 3-year-old’s gang-rape by 14–15-year-olds; and the video clip of the beating of visually challenged young boys in a residential school that is supposed to equip them to survive in society; you’d think I’m referring to the situation in “unsafe” India. But the sad truth is that it’s not much of a hyperbole to say that developed or developing, rural or urban, rich or poor, inside and outside the home, the fairer sex is not “safe” or “secure” anywhere in the world.

Social media abounds with social experiments conducted to assess the safety of women and most of the viewing is disheartening with very faint glimmers of hope. I can still see the actor outside Delhi University campus soliciting help many times to no avail. I know in that instance it was a case of crying wolf but many times that wouldn’t have been the case. Perhaps even I have been guilty of turning a blind eye or a deaf ear in the quest to keep myself safe, especially on the roads of Delhi and my favourite mode of transport – the buses of Chennai! Of course I am heartened by the actions of one lady in Connaught Place (a central shopping complex in New Delhi) she beat down the actor posing as the harasser. Days after watching that clip I’m still cheering her and mentally sending her blessings, thanks, and best wishes.

Even as I draft this piece a seven-year-old was found hung from a tree in West Bengal. This time the crowd lynched the suspect. As I edited it another news report of a P.E. teacher being sent on “long leave for inappropriate conduct” surfaced in a school in Bangalore/Bengaluru. The more we try to cherish and protect our young the more they seem to come into the ambit of depraved minds! I had a very sheltered (almost smothered!) upbringing but it’s nothing compared to what children now live with yet the predators are worse than ever and seem to outwit all safety mechanisms!

Schools have become the new loci for rape and crime and violence: be it the case in Bangalore, Tamil Nadu, or Uttar Pradesh.  Perhaps it’s a outcome of the missing girls in our population – the victims of female infanticide and foeticide – that’s put the Indian sex ratio at 906–916 depending on your source of statistics; a consequence of the mindset that perpetrates such aforementioned misogynistic actions as well as others like hushing up victims, honour killings, dowry harassment, child marriage, as well as those (including by women) who bad-mouth and harass victims of crimes against women. 

The reporting and judicial process seems to take endless time, patience, and effort. More thought is given to the rights of the criminals than the security and dignity of the victims and their kin (please do read the letter in The Better India link in the resources section. A BBC documentary by a Briton of Indian origin also deals with her experiences filing a case against a sales assistant in an Old Delhi clothes shop who molested her, see the BBC blog link in the resources section).

There is some debate on about the Indian Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Welfare, Menaka Gandhi’s decision to review the “punishment age for the crime being reduced.” I’ll go one further on her son Varun Gandhi quote, even though I’m no fan of his: If you are old enough to rape you are old enough to be hung for it.

Keeping in mind the following facts:
1.      According to recent national statistics over 90 percent of crimes against women are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.
2.      Asia is the hub of new AIDS infections.
3.      Escalation and repeat/serial offence is the norm rather than the exception.
4.      In most cases there are multiple victims to each molester. A swift and inevitable end to them can be the only way forward.
5.      Drugs, alcohol, and the perverted mind combine to unleash the demons within to create hell on earth.
6.      There’s access to porn but not responsible and sensible sex education.
Each and every one of us has to learn to defend ourselves because statistically most of us are at risk and it’s equally evident in most cases no one’s going to help.  As the saying goes, God helps those who help themselves.

Some Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself and Others:
1.      Call the police: In India dial 100; each state police have numbers for emergency response for street harassment numbers note them down and save it on your phone and learn it by heart as well.
2.      File that FIR, remember to take a gang with you and keep track of organisations that help in such cases (see The Better India link in the resources below).
3.      Smart Phone safety apps: Download them, use them!
4.      Learn self-defence techniques – either through online videos or classes, practise and equip and empower yourself.
5.      Keys/Fingers/sprays into the eyes of attackers are powerful pre-emptive strikes.
6.      If you see a child in trouble call the Childline – 1098 – it’s a helpline operating 24X7
7.      Use and help promote products that are committed to gender sensitivity and advertise responsibly.
8.      Take a stand.
9.      If nothing else at least shout when you witness or face harassment. If luck is with you other responsible citizens may be passing and could help!
10.  If you can't scream loud enough at least have such a ring tone screaming for help and play it with loud volume, what we want is attention and help from others.
Low-Tech/ Domestic “Weapons”:
1.      Something as simple as a mouth freshener spray attached to a key chain.
2.      Mini sprays (perfume, mouth freshener, nasal spray, if not pepper spray) of any kind easily accessible – maybe as a hand bag or belt charm or pendant.
3.      chilli powder (beware this could end up in your own eye but it’s a good option if nothing else is accessible).

Most evidence points to us living in the age of the twisted psyche. We seem to be falling short in being humane so at least let’s raise better future generations: children need to be taught to respect women, and taught by example and action rather than words. Fathers especially need to “get with the programme!”
Actions to Change the Mindset:
1.      Use social media to communicate the message of gender sensitivity.
2.      College and school cultural events and competition must keep the message of gender sensitivity front and centre: articles, adzap, T-shirt/Logo design, plays, stories, sharing of experiences, short film or photography contests, and self-defence workshops.
3.      Building emotional strength, self-esteem, and self-confidence for both boys and girls to help either to handle rejection without resorting to harassment, murder, or suicide: meditation/counselling.
4.      Proper sex education.
5.      Education revamp: a system that enhances potential and produces innovators instead of a system of rote learning that produces frustrated job-seekers. Emphasis on “knowledge of the fingertips” and learning by doing instead of learning by heart. Education that builds self-esteem by helping students learn by doing and creating! Instead of harping on language of instruction and other petty things the system needs to empower the future generations.
6.      A young population driven by peer pressure, boredom, and hopelessness into drug and alcohol addiction: A lot of our future generations’ potential is lost to drug and alcohol addiction, so just like how smoking is being made a taboo in the Indian media efforts must be made to making drinking and drug use “uncool” by making awareness of the sheer monetary waste and physical and psychological harm they cause.
7.      Make self-discipline “cool.”
8.      Most often women facing harassment don’t know organizations/resources available to help them. Such organizations need to be promoted, information about them should be made available in advertisements and hoardings in buses and publics spaces and notices on fast moving consumer goods (fmcg), e.g., soap, shampoo, sanitary pads packets, milk packets, match box. Community radio, social media, and television programmes must get in the act. It’s a good avenue to tap into the creativity of the younger generation and new media professionals to communicate the message that help is available. So that the message of hope will reach poor women . . . So it will reach many women... and children!
9.      Gender sensitization should be done on a mass scale as the subjugation of the female is insidious. It has to be countered on a war footing. The message must go viral.
10.  Promotion of stories of empowered and powerful women, heroines: E.g., Atlanta, Jhansi Rani.
11.  The need is there for strong female role models and feminist mothers bringing up gender-sensitive children.
12.  Sensitise public and police on registering cases of harassment, acid attack, molestation, rape, dowry, etc. responsibly. No mercy, no feeling sorry for the perpetrators! If a perpetrator gets away with something small once it’s the nature of the beast to push the limits of acceptable.
13.  Repeat the message – make sure the message is ubiquitous.
14.  Media and Movies – They may hold mirrors and magnifying glasses to society but we can do our bit to make successes of ads/products and movies that responsibly portray women.
15.  Knowledge/experience sharing.
16.  A sensitised judicial system and police force.
There is a pandemic of violence against women and girls. The only way to defeat it is to inoculate yourself by securing yourself and being responsible for the safety of all women and children and to wipe out the vector – those who perpetrate these heinous crimes – so that they don’t get a chance to hurt others.
We have the power to communicate, in this age of ace one-to-many communication (read: social media) lets communicate to ensure a safer world. We may not be able to stop wars of nations lets at least stop the war being waged everywhere and everyday against the female of our species.  Beti Bachao, Beti Padoa [Save you daughter, educate your daughter] campaign of the Ministry for Women and Child Development is a step in the right direction. It just needs to cover wider areas.
Here’s hoping for a safer and saner world!

Resources (Please do go through these links):
Video on Child Sexual Abuse: http://www.storypick.com/finally-video-child-abuse-every-kid-can-watch-learn-show-kids-tonight/
Raising Responsible Boys: http://www.mycity4kids.com/parenting/two-boys-and-a-mad-mum/article/raising-responsible-boys
Do the Responsible Thing, the Brave Thing: File that Complaint... you may be stopping the offender from doing the same or worse to someone else or even you: http://www.thebetterindia.com/9066/gutsy-woman-took-indian-criminal-justice-system-got-sexual-offender-arrested/
India’s apathy: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Hundreds-of-mall-goers-watch-as-salesgirl-molested-beaten/articleshow/38705495.cms?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral