WOMEN’S SAFETY is a big question in India. This is the country which its citizens refer to as the ‘Motherland’, it is the country where the biggest religion (Hinduism) has got dozens of Goddesses, it is also the country where cows are worshipped as ‘gau mata’ (Mother Cow). In such a country, the number of sexual crimes against women is increasing day-by-day. 2013 so far has seen the highest number of rape and molestation cases in the past decade. While most of these cases either go unreported or ignored by the media and the public, one recent case got everyone’s attention.

It was the brutal gang-rape of a young 23-year-old physiotherapy student in the capital New Delhi in December 2012 by 5 young men. The whole world was shocked to hear this news. But unfortunately even after such a sad incident, there were many who blamed the girl instead. They attacked her for watching an evening show movie. They also criticised her for walking with a male friend alone at night. In fact, one spiritual leader, who is followed by millions, went to the extent of saying that she should have requested her attacker to let her go, by addressing him as ‘bhaiyya’ (brother in Hindi).

As the rapists were arrested and produced in court, the whole country prayed for her recovery as she lay in hospital fighting for her life. Many showed their anger over Facebook and Twitter. Many others had candle light vigils and also fought pitched battles with the police over women’s safety. Some others suggested that she should get the country’s most prestigious bravery awards, while there were others who were of the opinion that strict laws ranging from long periods of imprisonment to death should be introduced.

But were these of any use? After a painful struggle for many days, the girl died of her attackers. The court case dragged on, though the government and judiciary promised a quick verdict. What made me angrier was that one of the accused got a lawyer to defend their case and he went on record to say that the deed was not a big crime. Secondly another one of the accused, a 17-year-old was considered a minor by law and was therefore eligible for a shorter sentence. It did not matter that he was the most aggressive one. I ask – is the law so blind that it goes only by a criminal’s age and not by the nature of his crime? Who says that juveniles cannot commit serious crimes and if they do so, will their punishments be very small?

Third point that got me upset was many political groups offered money to the girl’s family. I fail to understand the point of doing that. Rather than just donating money, it would have been much better if they had put pressure on the Government to bring in strict laws so that in the future, no man will have the guts to commit such a dastardly crime. To make matters worse, after a few months almost everyone, including the media, forgot about the incident. I ask why? Is our contribution just to make some noise on social media and then forget about it?

Several months later, the accused were given the death penalty. However, that did not deter other Indian men from committing similar crimes. This means that men are not afraid of committing such crimes. One reason is that the law is not strict enough to stop such men. But a bigger cause is the way in which women are increasingly looked at, in India. In India a family’s honour depends on its women. Even a small mistake committed by the family is considered a big crime. In such cases the women of the family bear the brunt of the punishment, most of the times through rape. Rape has become a way of punishing girls and their family. For the short period of time after the Delhi gang-rape, things seemed to have changed for the better but now everything has gone back to square one.

The situation has become so bad in some towns and cities that any woman who walks alone is said to be in danger. Parents and well-wishers of a woman insist that she should always have a male companion whenever she steps out. When I discussed this with my parents they simply said “Forget about all these things, you don’t step out alone”.

I ask you – Is it really a woman’s fault if she gets sexually attacked? Being a woman myself, I can say for sure that no woman wants such horrible things to happen to her. Rather than teaching a girl how to cook or stitch or to take care of the family, why can’t parents teach their daughters how to take care of themselves? Rather than asking us to depend on a male from our childhood till our deathbed, why can’t they encourage us to learn self-defence skills? Why can’t parents teach their boys how to respect women? Most problems of such nature can be resolved if men are taught to respect women.

In summary, I would ask parents of women in India and the world over to give them more freedom to be world-savvy rather than locking them inside the house. But at the same time do educate their sons to respect women and not treat them as objects of pleasure or revenge.

WRITER’S PROFILE: Gayatri, an Indian national has been living in Malaysia for the past 4 years. Qualified in special needs education, she has been working with children who are affected by Autism, ADD, ADHD or Down’s Syndrome. Other than her work which is her passion, she likes travelling with her husband and enjoying the local cuisine of the places that she goes to. She loves travelling since she gets to learn new cultures, enjoy different experiences and also adapt herself to these experiences. A proud Indian, she is constantly on the look-out to learn from other cultures and nations and share these thoughts with others.

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