Is India as safe as it should be for women in 2018? While some choose to answer this question with silence, others will make a list of laws that have been passed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of women in this blatantly patriarchal country. Anuja Kapur, advocate and criminal psychologist, who has filed a plea for Kathua rape case, hits the nail on the head when she says, “The Constitution of India portrays that women need to be protected. Laws are made for various stages in a woman’s life, but the implementation is questionable. There are provisions on paper, but how much is it put to use in real life?” she questions.
Amendments were recently made to the rape laws under the criminal law including the IPC, Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc), Evidence Act and POCSO, after the gruesome Kathua gangrape case, which now states different punishments for rapists based on the age of rape victims. But Kapur feels the amendments were not helpful because a victim is a victim, irrespective of her age. She also believes in restorative justice where situational crimes should be handled accordingly. “Even when it comes to marital rape, it is being talked about as if the right of the husband is being taken away. A marriage needs to be consummated, but it is not just an act of sex, it is about making love which involves consent. Laws are being made half-heartedly, and in a way that it is difficult to be implemented because the issue of women security is nothing more than a manifesto to be talked about in the next election,” says she.
Kapur believes that these laws that are made without understanding women make the gender seem weak. Gender equality cannot be achieved by ‘narebaazi’, or making these laws. Women need to take charge to bring the change. And the way to do it is to empower men.
Before you think that’s a strange turn to take, pay heed to her perspective. “Equal rights comes with equal responsibility. Right from when they are born, boys and girls are treated differently. A lot of focus is put on teaching the girl responsibilities, and boys are given the freedom to do what they want. This disparity in upbringing is the root cause of inequality. We should stop blaming the other gender and empower men,” she says, adding, “We are not goddesses, we are human. As human as a man.”
Besides safety, another women’s issue which is being talked about recently is the menstruation hygiene and awareness. Pravin Nikam, gender rights activist, is also founder of Roshni Foundation, an NGO that works towards spreading awareness on menstrual hygiene. Having represented India at sessions by the Commonwealth Youth Council and interacted with representatives from other countries, Nikam feels that cultural taboos regarding menstruation need to be addressed for India to perform better as a nation concerned with women’s health. “Due to these taboos many girls from low income families drop out of school when they begin menstruating. A major problem in India’s menstrual hygiene scenario is the lack of access to cost effective and adequate menstrual protection alternatives, clean, safe and private sanitation facilities,” he says.
Minor marriage combined with lack of sexual reproductive health knowledge and information, contribute to early and unprotected sex for youth. We must make such customs obsolete to improve women’s confidence and decision-making capacity regarding their own health. “Community-based sexual health education programmes should be organised by the government and civil society organisations to achieve measurable impact. Sensitisation of educators, ASHA — Accredited Social Health Activists and Anganwadi workers regarding sexual health must also be done so that they can further disseminate this knowledge in the community and mobilise social support,” he says.
But there is good news. “India is definitely improving on these fronts with a renewed focus on providing more access to toilets, basic sanitation facilities, and maternity benefits for women. India’s Toilet Story definitely is redefining social discourse,” he says.