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LEGAL MORALISM IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD
March 8, 2020

SOCIO- LEGAL ACTION AGENDA AGAINST GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE IN INDIA

What is required is not a new bill. What is required is political will, administrative skill, change of mindset and then go for the kill of the social evil. ~ M Venkaiah Naidu
Unfortunately, in an era where we are discussing the plausibility, necessity and methodology of banning pollutants like plastic, containing carbon emissions, mobilising public against open defecation, water conservation et al, the age-old social pollutant, gender discrimination is still persistent and pervasive. Gender discrimination in its myriad forms is ailing the Indian society since the early Vedic period.
Paradoxically, the cases of reported crime against women exhibited a whopping 83% increase over the period of ten years (2008-2017), while 2016 witnessed the lowest conviction rate (18.9%) for crimes against women in the past decade. India’s female Labour Force Participation Rate has fallen to a historic low of 23.3% in 2017-18, meaning that over three out of four women over the age of 15 in India are neither working nor seeking work. India ranked 108th out of 149 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index, 2018. Clearly, by adversely affecting the growth enablers, gender gap and inequality is hindering economic development.
The fear of social exclusion and banishment, and the ineffective response to violence subjects Indian women to continuing violence and intimidation. This calls for a concrete socio-legal action agenda that deals with curbing gender-crimes at all levels.
Legal Reforms
Despite comprehensive laws and stricter punishments, the rising rate of sexual offences seems unabated. The primary cause is the alleged apathy of our criminal justice system. This can be reformed through the following actions.
  1. Sensitising the first responders:
The first responder to such offences is the police. A plethora of reports highlight the apathetic behaviour of the police. From non-registration of FIR, harassment and victim-blaming to raping the survivor/informant, deters reporting of the crime and loss of faith in the guardian.
This warrants sensitisation programme and regular training workshops for the police personnel. Additionally, digital initiatives like Spandana (of Andhra Pradesh Government), making police stations more approachable for the public, especially women, need to be replicated in other states.
  1. Speedy Justice:
Undue delays, often occasioned by judicial vacancies and improper case management, are burdening the system and frustrating the hopes for effective redressal. This also often results in withdrawal of the case by the prosecutrix/her family. Thus, a timeline needs to be fixed and adhered to, along with setting up fast-track courts for timely justice. Moreover, capacity building and filling up of vacancies is also warranted.
Andhra Pradesh Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2019 (DISHA Act) is a commendable step in this regard.
  1. Protection of the identity and privacy of the victim:
Law under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code and under Section 23 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) mandates protection of the identity and privacy of the sexual-offence survivor/ victim without the consent of the survivor or her family. However, there has been flagrant violation of the same by media agencies as witnessed in the Kathua Gangrape and Murder Case and the recent, Hyderabad Gangrape and Murder Case. Taking suo moto cognizance of the same in Kathua case, Delhi High Court issued notice to various media houses and news agencies and observed that the nature and manner of reporting of the alleged offence is being effected in absolute violation of specific prohibition of law disrespecting the privacy of victim which is required to be maintained in respect of the identify of a victim.
Thus, the law needs to be strictly complied with by the agencies as a part of media ethics.
  1. Mandatory Reporting:
In order to reduce bystander’s apathy and ensure stricter reporting, failure to report the case of sexual offences can be made a punishable offence as done under Section 20, 21 of the POCSO Act.
  1. Vicarious liability of the parents/guardian of juvenile offender:
Holding parents/guardians of a juvenile sexual offender vicariously liable can increase vigilance on their part. This will also encourage early identification of delinquency, which can be addressed effectively though counselling and other mechanisms, thus, preventing crimes.
  1. Banning the Misogynist Content:
A rather revolutionary step could be banning publication and distribution of content viz. movies, TV/Web series/content, songs, etc. that glorify or normalise misogyny or male chauvinism. Legally, this can be done through a law under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. If not permanent, then a temporary ban can be imposed and the statistics of gender crimes can be monitored to analyse its impact.
Further, a crackdown on proxies that provide access to banned illicit content like pornography is warranted. This calls for an increased and stricter online vigilance and reporting mechanism.
Such content promotes and might induce a sense of dominance and male chauvinism in the minds of the male gender, who can’t take “no” for an answer. If we can ban pollutants to check environmental degradation, we can also ban such content to check social degradation.
Social Reforms
In order to ensure effective implementation of law, active participation of the society is indispensable.
  1. Revamping socialisation through school education:
    • Value-based education in the curriculum, teaching respect for the opposite genders and open-mindedness, from primary to secondary level followed by marks-based examination
    • Teaching self-defence techniques to students as a part of physical training. For instance, Sukanya Project of Kolkata Police provides self-defence training to girl students of city-based schools, colleges and universities
    • Mandatory sex-education
    • Engaging students in social awareness campaigns
This will train the youth of tomorrow and also inspire reverse-socialisation in the elders of today through the children.
  1. Mass mobilization:
Unfortunately, in this case, charity cannot begin at home. According to the Economic Survey (2017-2018), most of the Indian households are infested with son-meta preference which has proven to be a cause of violence and negative stereotype against women. Thus, the mindset of the elders has to be changed. Behavioural change calls for jan aandolan on the lines of Swachh Bharat Mission and now Jal Shakti Abhiyan. However, the framework for the same needs to be carefully crafted so that the mass mobilisation does not take the shape of mob-violence.
This should be coupled with capacity building, sensitisation and awareness of the community in the light of the law, rights and duties. Safe home, safe workplace, safe transport should be prioritised.
  1. Available and accessible Support Services:
24×7 helpline, manned by a trained cadre, for reporting and legal assistance must be developed with the active involvement of civil society organisations.
Conclusion
Political will, of course, is needed to defeat the pandemic combination of negative stereotype against women in the society, lack of gender sensitisation in police training and delayed justice. System and society has to respond collectively.
It has become imperative to find inclusive and sustainable methods to give the Indian women the right to walk, work and develop without fear.
 Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

 

 

 

Purvi Nanda has completed B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) (Criminal Law) from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rudransh Nanda is a first-year law student at Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.

 

 

 

In Content Picture Credit: World Economic Forum

1 Comment

  1. Nandini Panchal says:

    Very informative!

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