Today I am seething with anger. Pained, hurt, helpless! It’s not a happy feeling. Writing for most of us here in the cyber-world is a way of expressing ourselves. Today I wish to share with you, something that’s wrong in my world. This was the front page headline in my city today.
A woman, working with Indian Railways in Ajmer, complained of sexual harassment by her colleagues on 14th March. Being unhappy with the lack of action on her complaint, on 31st march she threatened to commit suicide if no action was taken in two days. On second April she poured kerosene on herself, walked the steps up to the DRM (The divisional head of the railways posted at Ajmer) office, while everyone watched and asked to speak with the DRM. On being unable to meet the DRM, she set herself to fire.
After her immolation too, she did not receive recourse. She had to wait for half an hour wrapped in a blanket before the ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital. This when the hospital is a five-minute drive from the office.
The woman says, her colleagues tried to molest her, tore her clothes and misbehaved with her. She says that if she didn’t have a 7-year-old daughter she would have killed herself the same day the incident happened. The persons that the woman has named are “important ” members of the employee organizations. She says she was being threatened.
The officials claim, she was not co-operating ” in the investigation and that she has made similar complaints in the past in another posting, thus her complaint was unreliable. She has also made complaints against the same accused of corruption.One of the accused has polio.
Without getting into the debate of whether the woman was indeed molested or not (Though, I have my bias there), There are so many other aspects of the case that are disturbing.
- The time taken in responding to a serious allegation. While the lady complained on 14th March, a committee was constituted only on 30th March. One can only guess what was done or not done by the committee that made the lady write the letter to the authorities threatening to set herself to fire. Even after the letter by the lady, two more days lapsed. My guess is, if the matter was not propelled into the headlines by her action, it would have lied neglected for months maybe years.
- A threat to self immolate is a desperate call for help and attention. Even if the formal machinery does take its time to come to any conclusions. What kept the administration from sending some informal recourse? A person of authority to speak to the lady, a lady officer perhaps, or a counselor. Anybody to make the woman feel that she was being “heard”. Why this tendency to be neglectful of people’s feelings and emotions.? Is it because human life is cheap and specially if that human is a woman?
- Why is it that basic equipment like fire engines, ambulances etc. are not in functioning order? Can a country that is a nuclear power not ensure its citizens have access to basic equipment like a fire engine and ambulance when the need arises. If this is the situation in a fairly large city, one can only imagine the scenario in a smaller town, god forbid a village!
- And then my last point. Why is it that in our country a complaint of rape/ molestation/ sexual harassment is always met with the same response. Whether it’s a young girl or a lady, poor or rich, educated or un-educated. There is always an attempt to “discredit” the girl. To declare her “unreliable” to prove her a “liar”. To point out the “inconsistency” in her story. As if the whole machinery is focused on proving that she is lying or that somehow she deserved what she got! Read this first person account by Divya as she describes what happened to her after she became a “rape victim”.
In her story Divya, a liberated, educated, modern girl, 23 years old, living in Delhi says “‘The only thing I’m certain of now is that if I find that I am about to have a daughter, I will abort the foetus” . Can any of us, after reading her account, blame her? A couple of days back I was at a lawyer’s office. He was giving advice to an old man . This is what he said “You know, the charges against your son are very serious. Your best bet is to hire the most indecent, rude lawyer you can find and get him to ask the girl such explicit questions, that she is unable to answer in the court-room. That’s the best way, to discredit her story”. The old man went with a list of “indecent” lawyers to contact. No doubt to pour over the victims story and to punch holes in it! to get the precious son out, to victimize more women!
For a rape victim in India, It is not enough that she has been raped. She also has to be humiliated. Her self-image already broken has to be further shattered to bits, in order to protect the offender.It seems the whole machinery, the lawyers, the police, the judicial system have found a foolproof mechanism of saving the scoundrels Discredit the victim! And the irony of it. The sense of decency and shame that we as a culture place such great value to, in a woman, becomes the weapon that is used to silence her in implicating her rapist/ molester.
Everything in this scenario needs to change. Women should not be molested. If they are, they should be heard with empathy. They should be protected and receive adequate medical and psychological assistance. The molesters should be punished, as severely as possible to deter them and others from committing the same crime. Everyone who comes in contact with a rape/ molestation victim should remember that this could happen to them – to their daughters/ sisters/ aunts/ mothers/ friends. Only if this change takes place can we hope to have a society where women can be safe! It is not enough for the government to say “ladka ladki ek samaan” . All such slogans will remain mere rhetoric, till the ground realities of the Indian society do not change. And since the government is too busy ensuring its survival to care about people’s problems, Are you listening Mrs president?
Entry for the “Time to Change ” contest. see here