Indian political system's transient flirtation with matters of political importance is infamous. The hue and cry raised by the media and social organizations may prompt legislative enactments or reforms that succeeds in allaying criticisms momentarily, but does little to address the real problem.
The Indian government's amendment of section 375 of the Indian penal code, scaling up the punitive response to sexual offences, has done little to reduce the crime rates. In 2012 the number of reported cases was 24,923 and the number rose by about 125 percent as on October, 2013. It is these alarming numbers that should prompt the legislators to reassess their approach to crime management.
Increased sentence for convicts and stringent punishments for stalking, and physical attack have done little to drive out the crime. Where have we gone wrong? The fault is definitely not in our stars, but in our inefficiency to trace and target the roots of the crime and thus liberate ourselves from the disgraceful sobriquet – ‘the rape capital’.
Stringent laws alone would not work to alleviate the crime. It is a plague that rears up its head increasingly often, and a multipronged and permanent mechanism should put in place to wipe it out completely.
The comprehensive approach should not only involve better surveillance, redressal and punitive framework, but also awareness programmes to drive home the point that women, children and all citizens should be treated with equal respect due to all human beings.
1) Awareness is the most effective weapon. Children of both sexes should be educated about moral code of conduct, respectful behaviour and the legal framework in place. They should be warned of crimes and alerted and reassured about the redressive legal mechanisms in place in their sexual education classes.
2) Special day and night cells and flying squads should be deployed in major city centres, employment and entertainment hubs. There should be emergency contact facility that helps a potential victim to seek police attention immediately.
3) If the above proposal is going to remain in papers alone, Womens’ and youth associations should make moves to establish vigilante groups for their respective residential localities, colleges, schools and work stations.
4) Police patrolling should be adequately deployed at all locations and not alone in city centres.
5) Laws on petty crimes such as eve-teasing should be beefed up to discourage potential criminals and send a strong warning note across all age groups.
6) The legal red-tapism involved in hearing cases and pronouncing convictions should end with immediate effect and if feasible dedicated fast-track courts should be set up to consider cases in a timely manner.
7) Government and corporates should encourage advertisement campaigns alerting citizens about the crime and the punitive response it would evoke. Gillette served as an iconic example by launching the ‘Soldier for Women’ campaign, but none of the other popular brands followed suit. Campaigns of similar sort can be given a shot in the arm by including it as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative.
Approaches like banning lingerie mannequins or asking women to cover up or advocating brutal practices such as breast ironing are but parochial ways of addressing the problem, which in a way also amounts to admitting that there crime cannot be wiped out, but only prevented.
What is pitiable is that this attitude alone amounts to justifying the criminals to a great extent and serves to encourage future crimes. The country badly requires aligning its orthodox outlook towards gender parity and cultural development with its ambitious goals of development and progress.
Politicians, diplomats and the ambitious industrial and business sector has flawless perceptions of the ideal future India, but has failed to define the ideal Indian woman and man who steer it, and here lies the root of the problem.