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Even the 1000-page chargesheet filed by Indian authorities against men accused of gang raping a woman sounds inadequate in view of the magnitude of the crime that has drawn global headlines and triggered a heated debate on the rights of women in a country of about 1.3 billion. The five men have been charged with multiple counts of rape, murder and criminal conspiracy in a case that can shake-up a lumbering judicial system and help burnish the workings of a police force long given to a feudal mindset, and struggling to shed its heavy colonial baggage.
It is ironical that the physiotherapy student who came from a rural area of eastern Uttar Pradesh, largely known for its feudal culture, was raped and killed hundreds of kilometres away, in the Indian capital, which is the seat of power of the Goliathan federal government where scores of politicians avail of security details likely to rival the most formidable ones in the world.
Amid hackneyed phrases being paraded in the burgeoning Indian media about a woman being gang raped in a country which till some months ago had a woman president, where the most powerful politician in the country is a woman, and where the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament is again a woman, lurks a danger. The opprobrium surrounding the grotesque crime should not undermine the real issues of governance, subjects that are vital for the safety and empowerment of India’s womenfolk and the long-term safety and security of the person in the street.
Globalisation saw a largely agricultural society in one of the largest economies in the world pass through the pangs of modernisation. Considering the complex nature of the Indian social order, the transition was never complete even two decades after globalisation set foot on Indian soil and Western labels and mores started catching up. As the winds of modernisation blew, a rising middle class struggled to find its coordinates. Indian society underwent a massive churning of opposing forces. The feminist movement, born in the west, was finding its way into Indian society. A class of modern women emerged and spoke for the millions of underprivileged women who contribute considerable to the economy but hardly reap its benefits. However, the movement somewhere got lost and the Indian woman, as was said, became more prone to losing her identity before she found another.
Apart from talking of women’s emancipation and changing entrenched mindsets, which are long-term goals, a lot can be done in the short-run to make it more safer for women.
Major police reforms — suggested by the Police Commission formed in the 1970s and the recommendations of which never got implemented— need to be implemented. This will lead to a more humane police force that is more sensitive to the security needs of women.