India’s Anti-Rape Bill is Not Enough

21.03.2013

The lower house of Indian Parliament has just passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013, against the backdrop of protests over the infamous Delhi gang rape on March 20. The Anti-Rape Bill, as it is called by the local media, was hotly debated inside and outside the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Parliament of India). The move once again brings into focus the sharp gender divide in India.

One of the issues that raised the hackles of many male members of Parliament (MPs), especially among some more conservative groups, was the strict law on stalking and molesting. During the parliamentary debate, some of them tried to make it sound as if the practice of ‘Eve teasing’ and sexual assault were part of culture in rural India. These MPs obviously know little about Indian cultural and religious mores.

Hindu scriptures are replete with stories of harsh punishment for those who disrespec women. In Mahabharata, the second eldest Pandava Bhima killed Dushasana for trying to disrobe Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. In Ramayana, Lord Rama blinded Jayant in one eye because the son of rain God Indra had molested Sita by pecking her feet in form of crow. Also, when monkey king Bali on his deathbed asked Rama why he chose to side with the younger brother Sugriva and kill Bali, Rama said that a ruler misusing his authority and abusing women in custodial protection deserved death. In this case, Bali had banished Sugriva and forcefully taken away the younger brother’s wife.

In the Hindu religion, the repositories of wealth, knowledge and power are women, goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga respectively. In the Vedic era, women enjoyed the same freedom as men. The loss in freedom and equal rights was a result of the assimilation of the beliefs of less-enlightened groups into society. Invasions by foreigners strengthened the male chauvinists’ stranglehold and increased a woman’s dependence for primarily physical, and later economic, security on men.

The media may rejoice at this facile victory, but the fact remains that gender violence is not going to end anytime soon

The problem today, as manifested in the parliamentary debate, is that structural power imbalances remain, and laws can never scare, forget stamp out, those who abuse them. From simple traffic fines to death sentence for dowry killings and terrorism, there are plenty of  examples of the impotence of laws. The media may rejoice at this facile victory, but the fact remains that gender violence is not going to end anytime soon. Even in the US, women are still discriminated against despite the country having a comparatively more open society and stricter law enforcement. President Obama recently signed the re-authorisation of the Violence Against Women Act. At the signing ceremony, US vice president Joe Biden accepted that still too many women in the US live in fear of violence.

The need of the hour is to change the mindset of men in India. For this they need to revisit their roots. Equality and respect for women is part and parcel of ancient religions. In Hindu religion, in fact, you can repay the debt of your father but not your mother. You remain in her debt for this life, and forever. World over, men must realise that economic progress is being accompanied by social regression which acts to keep women as lower class citizens.

by Ashutosh Misra

Ashutosh is a senior business journalist who mastered the skills of the trade at the top India business daily, The Economic Times. He played a key role in the launch of Deccan Chronicle group’s business newspaper, ‘Financial Chronicle’.

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