|Shivraj Patil (top), Renuka Chowdhury
New Delhi, Aug. 11: This time it is the home ministry that wants to lay down a dress code for women.
Ministry officials — vested with the responsibility of ensuring safety of citizens — believe women themselves are contributing to the rising graph of crimes against them. They have to be careful about what they wear and what time of the night they go out is the message from the ministry.
A delegation headed by Renuka Chowdhury, in charge of the ministry of women and children, went to meet home minister Shivraj Patil recently to draw his attention to the rising violence against women.
Patil and home ministry officials were not only unmoved by Renuka’s plea, but also responded in a manner that outraged the minister and her colleagues.
Renuka suggested to the home minister that the police, particularly in remote areas, should be made sensitive to women in distress. She said women seeking to file FIRs are regularly rebuffed and sent away by the police. One of the suggestions was to install closed-circuit television cameras in police stations.
The delegation of women officials said that the ministry ought to take special measures in light of the increasing violence against women.
Patil and his officials were far from agitated. Instead of giving the delegation a sympathetic hearing, the officials fired questions as Patil kept quiet. Why do women go out at night' Especially, why do they go out unescorted' Even worse was to come.
The officials started picking on the way women dress. Why do they dress provocatively' Their clothes are such that they invite male predators.
This is exactly what Bal Thackeray’s paper Saamna had written earlier after a rape in Mumbai.
This is also what the police often say when confronted with their failure to protect women.
Last year, a Delhi University student was picked up and raped in a moving car. The argument that came from various quarters, including the police, was why she was out on the road late at night.
Renuka gave the officials a piece of her mind. She said how come men were allowed to move around with their shirt buttons open'
She pointed to the absurdity of the home ministry’s assertion that women should not go out unescorted at night. Is the ministry aware, Renuka asked, that more and more women work late at call centres and in foreign banks'
The ministry argued that the trend of rising crimes against women was not peculiar to India. It was happening all over the world, even in the US.
The delegation felt the ministry was indifferent to an issue they considered vitally important. By questioning the right of women to dress and go out at a time of their choice, it was virtually telling the team that the ministry had more important issues on hand.
The ministry’s own records, however, bear out the concern of the delegation. National Crime Records Bureau statistics on violence against women show a 9.8 per cent increase in such incidents between 2003 and 2004.
In 2004, a total of 1,54,333 incidents of crime against women were reported compared to 1,40,601 in the previous year.