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Crimes against women: Debunking perception


Social attitudes about women must change; but this change has to come through behavioural approach. While laws against crimes against women need to be implemented without prejudice, there are no short-cuts

Very often, analysts tend to attribute rising incidents of attack on women to widespread poverty in the country or to illiteracy or to traditional Indian values which discriminate against women. If that were the case, the typical BIMARU State should rank at the top of the crime data against women, among all the States and the country. The reality is quite the other way.

In the national headlines of shame these days is the shocking incident in Kerala, where a rising actor, on her way home from shooting, was abducted and subjected to assault and videoed at night and barely escaped a ‘quotation gang;. The gang is one of several in that State which renders its ‘services’ rather openly to the highest bidder for hard cash. Anyone can hire their services freely!

The National Crime Records Bureau says that ‘poor’ Bihar is at the top among the States that have the least such incidents against women. In the Statewise list of States ranked by their crime against women (assault intent to outrage the victim’s modesty) in terms of incidents among 100,000 population ranked in ascending order of this number,  Bihar has an honourable record of just 0.25 incidents among every group of one lakh population. It stands at the very top of the index. So too is the totally tribal State of Nagaland, with a record of just 1.47 in every group of one lakh population.

Kerala, on the other hand, has the distinction of 100 per cent literacy, the lowest proportion of the poor — just below 10 per cent against the national level of just short of 30 per cent. It has the highest density among the States regarding personal vehicles. Its per capita income at $2100 is higher than even that of Maharashtra, the most industrialised part of the country. Kerala’s per capita income stands head and shoulders above the national average of $1,400.

Bihar again is at the bottom at $600, not even half the national average. Also, Bihar is at the bottom of the ranking with just 63.82 per cent literacy (2011 Census) against Kerala’s 93.91 per cent. So, by every measure Kerala is at the top while Bihar is at the bottom of ranking countrywide, in income riches, literacy — the two States are at two ends of the data card for the country as a whole. Additionally, Kerala has the most robust figure in sex ratio with women at 1,028 exceeding men while Bihar wallows in the curse of gender ratio being inimical to women.

How do we then explain the fact that Bihar has the lowest incidence of crime against women while Kerala, the model welfare State as a global example (as per Nobel laureate Amartya Sen), has the highest? The February 18 incident involving a film star being abducted is not the only notorious one. Last year, just before the State election, a most horrible and heinous incident involving a college-going girl shook the conscience of the State and was a major cause for the humiliating defeat of the then ruling Congress-led Government.

By now it is more than evident that the level of disrespect to women has nothing to do with factors of poverty, riches, literacy, urbanisation etc, and is endemic to the process of development. It is so widespread across the country that blaming the party in power is useless.

Even State Governments led by women Chief Ministers have been unable to reduce the frequency of such incidents, much less prevent them, in their respective States. Recent incidents against women even in Kolkata provide the evidence.

Indian society is undergoing a transformation. Rapid life-style  changes, growing economic opportunities quickly outpaced by aspirations, and an explosion in communication technology, giving exposure to raw minds and immature minds through mobiles and television to a make-believe world, mostly completely divorced from reality, are playing havoc with society. Old social structures (family, biradari, community etc) are crumbling down, giving rise to a rootless class without any values whatsoever.

Concepts such as paap (sin) and the resulting divine retribution are getting outdated. And there is no respect for the law and no fear of the law-enforcing agencies. Most of the sinners (law-breakers) are smug, confident of twisting or buying the system in their favour and escaping punishment for their black deeds. And thanks to corruption and inefficiency of the system, most of the times the culprits manage to go scot-free.

This is a familiar pattern for societies that break the traditional mould, turn materialistic and abandon family values. The traditional value system of ‘sin’ gets replaced by terms such as ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’. In the West, social structures by and large are over. There is direct relationship between a citizen and the state.

In most of the Western societies, institutions such as family and community have hardly any relevance now. Even the church, which was central to all aspects of life till about few decades ago, hardly has any influence with individuals in most of Europe and America. There are only two tiers — individual and the state. The old and sick are now the responsibility of the state.

However, the law-enforcement system in these countries is honest and far more quick and efficient as compared to ours. Irrespective of the social, political or economic status of an accused, justice and resulting punishment are swift and hard. That obviously acts as a deterrent to some extent. But in the absence of any spiritual underpinning, crimes, including against women, still do happen.

The media is the one that shouts the loudest against the national shame that emanates from this apparently national crime game. Yet we have a famous television channel owner couple, right now undergoing trial in the country’s commercial capital of such terrible charge as that of murdering their own daughter. Earlier, there was a famous media editor being tried for misbehaving with a woman applicant for a job in his organisation.

We have no alternative but to build a national consensus on how to deal with social menace such as molestation, rape and other crimes against women who comprise half the country’s population. Psychological education about gender, sex, man-woman relationship needs to be instituted from the school-level itself. Institutions such as family and community need to be reinforced. Spiritual underpinning to individual’s life has to re-introduced in our lives.

Social attitudes about women must change; but this change has to be inculcated through behavioural approach. While laws against molestation of women need to be implemented with no prejudice and police must act expeditiously, there are no short-cuts.

By Balbir Punj

(The writer is a former Rajya Sabha MP from BJP and a Delhi-based political and social analyst)

Courtesy: The Pioneer