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TIME TO START AT THE VERY BEGINNING

It is sad that it took the brutalization of a 23-year-old girl for this country to suddenly wake up to the need to reform its primitive patriarchal mindset along with stringent law enforcement to ensure the safety of women. However, amidst this inspiring battle for change, there is an inherent fear that the present outcry of this young brigade of candle-bearers will fail to stop the unabated humiliation of women. Honestly, every sensible citizen realizes that it would take years of sustained efforts and iconoclastic measures to outdo our sexist politicians, who continue to see ‘mini-skirts’ as the root cause of this malaise, or gender-sensitize the inept policemen who do not hesitate to brazenly beat up young women crying out for their right to safety.

As the country waits for a solution from our social and political leaders, there seems to be a callous failure to identify and amend the socio-cultural blunders that have today culminated in a shameful human crisis that continues to grab headlines. The most important amongst this is perhaps the astronomical size of India’s population, and its poor moral standards that have resulted from years of misdirected education, poor gender-sensitization and a wobbly and corruption-ridden law enforcement system.

However embarrassing it may be, one needs to ask why most civilized nations in the world have won accolades for the human qualities they have embraced while Indians have consistently failed to do so even after sixty-five years of India’s much-boasted Independence. Why does the average American or European policeman refuse to accept a bribe (even though he or she may have a compelling need to earn the extra buck) whereas our cops almost instinctively dive at coins thrown their way by law-flouting truck-drivers? Why does one greet a virtuous act with surprise and scepticism in this country while it is taken for granted in the rest of the civilized world?

The answer perhaps lies in the difference in formative education and the consequent building of strong values through a planned humanization process that necessarily starts from childhood. Notably, children in countries such as the United States of America develop strong moral values as they are made to realize and appreciate, from the very beginning, the benefits of voluntary admission of fault, honesty and respect for human rights and life, thus minimizing the need for punitive control. Contrast this with the largely intimidating moral training that we generally subject our kids to. In fact, when I had once offered to burn a DVD movie to one of my friend’s daughters studying in Grade IV in a US school, I had literally been reprimanded by her for even contemplating such an unlawful act — so strong is the moral grooming of children there.

The question is why do advanced countries continue to choose to emphasize on such character-building primary education in this era of stiff global competition instead of forcing their children to digest multiplication tables, as we do? The answer is simple — the global bank of information is growing so rapidly that in the days ahead no human brain or syllabus would perhaps be able to hold all the necessary knowledge required to attain expertise or excellence in a particular field. Moreover, with the advent and ease of electronic access to knowledge, there would be little choice but to ‘Google’ information needs rather than try to cram them into your head. Productive humans would be those who would know from where to procure necessary information and how to use it. Perhaps realizing this, many advanced countries have already started the process of ‘open book’ examinations. But what is the use of education unless a person learns to be sensitive to human needs and emotions and to be helpful to society at large?

In other words, it is as important for a citizen to be a good ‘human being’ as to be productive. An ethically untrained human is essentially an uncivilized beast who can inflict damage on society at any time. If we at all aspire for a society where both the sexes would be sensitive to each other’s needs, we need to sensitize our children from the very beginning — something our education system has been callously neglecting. Thus it is through an effective character-building that we can hope to make our countrymen be respectful, gender-sensitive as well as law abiding. However challenging it may sound, we necessarily need to provide this ethical training at the primary level just like a polio vaccination programme. This process will certainly take time but will surely deliver a civilized, less corrupt and safer India to the future generation.

The other point to concentrate on is the generally provocative projection of women in films and advertisements. It is undeniable that television and films today have a profound influence on opinion and character-building. This explains why the Indian cinematic projection of the ‘item girl’ and the titillating presentation of woman as an ‘object’ who can be stalked on the streets have got entrenched as virtually acceptable practices in the mind of the Indian man. However, restricting such distorted projections of women in a country with unrestrained access to the global electronic media would be technically challenging as long as women themselves continue to facilitate such practices and consumerism continues to target human urges. It is perhaps again the better moral training and gender perception-building that answers why women in the West do not feel threatened while wearing mini-skirts or low-necklines in public while our women do. That certainly does not imply that these countries are free of sexual crime but these are much less in number than ours and seldom as capricious as the ones witnessed in our country.

Fear of stringent punishment and a more sensitive justice delivery system are factors that have successfully deterred sexual crimes in most civilized and several ‘not-so-civilized’ countries. Unfortunately, here too India has an abysmally poor record. The failure of its justice delivery system to curb the rise of crimes against women, along with the ineffectiveness and insensitivity of the police force, continues to act as a pathetic deterrent. The recent revelation of the alleged connivance of the police with a sexual offender in Calcutta and the attempt to protect the offender through intimidation of the victim is just a small example of a larger crisis. This puts a question mark on the sincerity of the law-enforcers in curbing crimes against women, especially when it involves ‘men who matter’. Thus, notwithstanding the number or the severity of the laws enacted to prevent such crimes, they hardly evoke any sense of security in the minds of our citizens. Again, an ethical police system and impartial justice delivery system seem the only way to accomplish the impossible.

Another serious problem arising out of the lenient punishment given for serious crimes such as rape is the impunity with which criminals repeat the crimes when out of jail. Apart from causing a colossal waste of the tax-payers’ money, soft punishments encourage criminality. Take the case of Pappu Salve. This serial rape convict, who was initially given a death sentence in 2003 for raping and murdering a minor girl, was given a remission of his jail term and thereafter released. He subsequently raped and murdered a nine-year-old girl in Shirdi, Maharashtra on December 28, 2012, when the country was still erupting in protest against the gruesome violence in the capital. This perhaps explains why capital punishment for rapists, especially in the ‘rarest of the rare’ category, has found large-scale support all over the nation. As commonly misconstrued, the idea of capital punishment is not connected with its acting as a deterrent, but with its ability to rid the society of dangerous criminals who can always strike back if let loose.

Apart from death penalty, there are several other suggestions for the punishment of sexual offenders that are doing the rounds. They include chemical and physical castration. However, castration induced chemically is a reversible process of sexual immobilization and the criminal can revert back to similar crimes when the effects of the chemicals wane. As for physical castration, one needs to realize that the root cause of any crime lies in the mind of the criminal. Castration is not a viable way to ensure prevention of recurrent criminal behaviour just as chopping off the fingers of a criminal is no guarantee against his criminality.

In a case of sexual offence, humiliation of the complainant or justice-seeker by the police or law enforcement personnel has time and again discouraged faith in the justice delivery system in our country. As the police often fail to earn the confidence of a victim of sexual crime, it may be sensible to reduce the human interface so as to encourage unhesitant and voluntary reporting of such crimes. To accomplish this goal, a special online complaint-receiving cell for crimes against women may be considered. These should be manned by honest and time-tested lady officers who would accept such complaints online (rural areas can have such facilities run by dependable non-governmental organizations dealing with women welfare). This would save the complainant from the embarrassment or humiliation involved in physically lodging the complaint at the local police station, particularly one manned by male policemen. This would also ensure electronic acknowledgement of the complaints or first information reports and would remove concerns of refusals. Once such e-complaints are received, the onus should be on the law-enforcement agencies to conduct an unbiased and confidential investigation into the crime, protecting the social interests and privacy of the victim. Such crimes should be tried through fast-track courts providing speedy justice in order to save the victim from the agony of a protracted trial. The identity of the plaintiff should be kept confidential from the public and media at all times and, if required, the judge may meet the victim in private to listen to her account instead of subjecting her to the often embarrassing public interrogation in an open court. Such measures would certainly witness better compliance in reporting of sex crimes and justice delivery.

Amidst this unprecedented national crisis, it is also important to remember that pointing fingers at every man on the street would do little to alter the disturbing fact that in a majority of bride-burning cases and female foeticides, women share the blame as much as men. The nation needs to recognize that there are a large number of gender-sensitive men in India who support the present battle for women’s security and are as eager as the women to win it. The need of the hour is the restoration of faith across all genders and to fight this menace together to save this country from an irreversible social ignominy.