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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/23/18

What women need are social equality and economic justice and not just more laws

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Message Prakash Kona

We have another law to address the rape problem in India: an ordinance that among other things provides a "Minimum Punishment of 20 years rigorous imprisonment and maximum Death penalty/Life Imprisonment for committing rape on a girl aged below 12." What if the girl is 12 years and one day old! Should that count for the above-stated punishment or should it be included in the list of other punishments! Are rapists in India asking for the date of birth certificate from their victims before they embark on the assault or are they making prior inquiries before they decide who they should be raping and when! I mean, is timing such a serious issue for the rapist! What is sacrosanct about 12 that does apply to 13, 14 or 15? Are rapists going through the updated laws on violence against women before they decide what they should be doing! Or, now that we have an ordinance that is supposed to put fear, the rapist decides to wait until the victim turns 12 so that he doesn't have to worry about the death penalty!

I am just wondering if the people who make these laws are sincerely worried about the plight of the girl child in India or they are just doing something to satisfy their superficial attempts to show that they care. The gravity of the crime needs to be taken into consideration rather than having a law which goes by a number.

Gender issues are connected to social and economic justice and not merely about having more laws to punish violators. Legal empowerment is the tip of the iceberg and the easiest in my view because then nobody needs to do anything. Now that a new law has come into existence poor, vulnerable girl children are supposed to feel safe and secure. Seriously!

Despite pockets of wealth and prosperity, India is a backward, overpopulated country with the poor getting poorer by the day. It is their girl children who are most vulnerable to male predators and not as much the children of the rich or the middle classes. An eight-month old was raped and murdered in Indore. Her parents were balloon sellers which is the poorest of the poor class. They were sleeping on the street when the baby was abducted.

Why don't we ask a few simple questions if we really cared for girl children in this country: Why are the girl children in such a vulnerable position in the first place? Why is it that we have made it possible for men with dangerous intentions to have access to these children? How do we ensure that girl children are not exposed to such men and are under the protective eye of their parents and close friends? Why don't we empower the poor, miserable parents so that they are in a position to take care of their children and not leave them exposed simply because they have to make a living? Why is it that seventy years after India's independence we still have people sleeping on the streets?

We don't want to touch on these questions because it means having to talk about redistributive justice. It means we have to put our money where our mouth is and part with our wealth and comforts. Just make sure we have one more law and we are done. In 2013, owing to public protests, when the laws on sexual offenses against women were strengthened, I knew that it was not going to make a big difference at the ground level and the rapes and the violence against women would actually increase and not decrease.

The law can only put fear in a man who has something to lose. Obviously the law is a complete failure if a man is not attached to life. A man without the basic requirements of proper food, education, healthcare and human dignity is a time-bomb that is ready to do something dangerous for no good reason. We have to ensure that people are attached to life which will happen when they have a sense of belonging. Only then will the law start working. Bridging the gap between the rich and the poor is the ideal way to deal with the violence against women. Women cannot be equal under the law and less than equal in every other way. On the contrary, if women are socially and economically empowered we might not even have to depend on the law to make a difference. The empowerment will also give them the tools to take care of themselves.

The violence against women can be addressed not through laws but through education by which I mean people are actually made to feel human. The education must reconcile the demands of culture with the fact that the young need to be given the chance to know one another before they embark on lasting relationships. Extreme repression where gender lines are drawn in such a way that too much is invested on women to be protectors of family honor and too many notions of honor are attached to the emotional choices that women have to make are bound to cause a crisis. Repression in the name of culture (which translated means women have to live up to the expectations of male members of the group) -- something that all communities in India are guilty of, is the main reason behind gender oppression.

A healthy interaction between men and women at all levels and cutting across barriers will play an important part in reducing gender violence. This is possible only if we include the poorest of the poor as part of our social and political agenda. Economic equality and emotional contentment have to go together. It is impossible to disagree with Freud that, "men are not gentle, friendly creatures wishing for love, who simply defend themselves if they are attacked, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment." Emotional satisfaction as in finding love and friendship will play a positive role in preventing people from becoming violent towards their fellow-beings. This is true of most men and women in my view though it may not be the case with those to whom having power over someone is more important than feeling with the person.

(Article changed on April 23, 2018 at 15:23)

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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