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NEW DELHI/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, Oct 19 2012 (IPS) - As gender-based violence across India becomes more frequent, and more savage, increasing numbers of women are speaking out against the cruelty.
On Oct. 6, a 14-year-old girl from the Sacha Khera village in the Jind district of northern India’s Haryana state set herself on fire after a brutal gang rape.
In her statement to the police, the girl claimed that two male youngsters dragged her into a house, while the sister-in-law of one of the culprits stood guard on the terrace.
The teenaged girl doused herself in kerosene oil shortly after the attack. She was rushed to the hospital but eventually succumbed to her injuries.
In September, according to ‘oneindianews’, 17 rapes were reported in Haryana, a state infamous for so-called ‘honour killings’ of young women and girls who are thought to have brought dishonour upon their family or community.
Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, who met the girl’s family, told reporters in Jind on Oct. 9 that those guilty of such heinous crimes must be severely punished.
Nationwide trends suggest that the incident in Haryana, reports of which shocked the country for days, is far from an isolated case.
The annual report by the New Delhi-based National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) found that a “total of 228,650 incidents of crime against women were reported in the country during the year 2011 as compared to 213,585 incidents in the year 2010, recording an increase of 7.1 percent.”
The issue has also attracted the attention of government officials. Indian Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told a conference of police director generals and inspectors in New Delhi on Sep. 6 that crimes against women were indeed on the rise and stressed the need to adopt adequate methods of dealing with the perpetrators.
Analysts point out that the violence ripping through India often takes the form of rape, kidnapping, dowry-related cruelty, molestation and harassment.
Meanwhile, 42,968 molestation cases were reported to the police that same year, making it the second most prevalent crime. Police stations also registered 35,565 complaints of kidnapping or abduction.
Turning the tide
Female politicians, activists and other leading members of civil society assert that a decline in the quality of governance, lack of public awareness and lethargy on the part of internal security officials have made matters worse for women.
Member of Parliament and head of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), T. N. Seema, told IPS that both administrative and judicial institutions would have to adopt more gender sensitive policies in order to contain the wave of violence.
“The number of violent crimes is increasing every year while the number of (those convicted) for (such crimes) is decreasing. When analysing records, we can see that only one-fourth of the total accused” received any kind of punishment.
According to Seema, “The mindset of society must be changed to accommodate the heightened role of women in public life.”
The fact that a male-dominated power structure still has a strong hold over most of Indian has led to a culture of victim blaming.
Urban centres bear the brunt of this rising tide of gender-based violence, with the government recording “a total of 33,789 (reported) cases of crimes against women (in) 53 cities during the year 2011 as compared to 24,335 cases in the year 2010.”
Archana Rajeev, a senior journalist in Thiruvananthapuram, believes this could be attributed to the presence of large floating populations, comprised primarily of male migrant workers, in metropolises such as New Delhi.
However, crimes against women should not be viewed exclusively as a “law and order” problem, experts say.
The main cause is an entrenched feudal, patriarchal mindset that refuses to regard women as independent, autonomous and equal human beings.
The beefing up of policing and judicial policies has to be accompanied by a socio-cultural campaign to ensure the rights of women.
More women holding positions of power within local administrations has led to widespread awareness about crimes and abuse. Simultaneously, an increase in the number of registered complaints in police stations suggests victims themselves are becoming more vocal about the issue.
A recent joint study conducted by experts at the Harvard business school, the University of Warrick and the International Monetary Fund traced the link between the surge in the number of reported cases of gender-based violence and the impact of the 1993 self-government reforms, which introduced a quota system to boost female political representation in local bodies throughout the country.
According to the researchers, “There are two reasons behind the surge in reported crimes against women. First, greater numbers of female politicians make the police more responsive to crimes against women.
“Second, women victims who encounter more sympathetic women leaders may feel more encouraged to report crimes.”
Sociologists believe that property, education and employment are key assets for women to be able to combat violence.
Durga Lakshmi, an independent researcher in Kollam, a coastal city in the southern state of Kerala, told IPS, “Education and employment have been upgrading the status of women, helping (them) to find a solution in complex situations.”
A study on containing violence against women in rural Haryana conducted by Prem Chowdhary, former professorial fellow of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi, stated, “Once a woman’s role in the household changes from recipient to provider, her (role) as a decision maker also stands to be recognised and consolidated, erasing the social sanction for violence.”
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