This time, International Women's Day comes in a context that makes one wonder whether it has become a national characteristic to not only victimise women, but even to be ruthless to the victim. The country is pondering with shock and sorrow about institutionalising the method of trampling on women, at the hands of actors right from mob with casteist frenzy up to the judiciary. Incidents that disarm the laws and awareness created following the 'Nirbhaya' case – brutal replay of the very Nirbhaya incident – are being reported in large numbers. While on the one hand laws are made more stringent, on the other the executive and judiciary take a stand of defanging them. The other day came news of a minister in Karnataka asking a young woman' honour as the price of a job.
The highest judge of the highest court Sharad Arvind Bobde is now facing fair criticisms. What he asked a government employee alleged to have repeatedly tortured a minor girl, was whether he was prepared to marry her. The issue is not about the court turning marriage intermediary, nor ignoring the girl's consent as a factor in the process, but of giving undue consideration to an accused who should be punished according to the law of the land and thereby making a woman's honour a commodity for a price in the public. The accused stalked the minor girl continuously, bound her and abused her many times over; and then he threatened her that if she disclosed the matter he would throw acid on her, burn her and kill her brother. The lower court granted him bail despite his multiple offences that did not deserve bail. However, the Bombay High Court cancelled the bail with strong strictures.
But the Supreme Court gave him bail and protection from arrest. When it heard the grievance of the accused that if arrested, he would lose his job, the court attached greater importance to his job than the victim's honour and agony. His life security seems to have appealed to the bench stronger than her basic rights. And in retrospect, the way the same court's chief justice had handled an allegation raised against him, had in the least raised the credibility of the judiciary. It was last year that a judge of Karnataka High Court Justice Krishna Dixit observed that the allegation of a woman who was abused in her office could not be believed. The reason he gave was that the act of the victim sleeping away following the torture did not befit an Indian female; this mention was however expunged subsequently from the judgement. And the Supreme Court's blaming a tortured woman in 2017, was also widely criticised.
Ever since the 1979 case of a Supreme Court bench acquitting two policemen who abused a minor adivasi girl at the police station, over the last four decades there have been a plethora of unfortunate events in which the judiciary ditched the victim and showed leniency towards the perpetrators. Last year, the country was shocked to hear the Madhya Pradesh High Court telling the accused in a sexual abuse case that if he went to the victim's house and gifted her with a 'rakhi' on her wrist, the court could grant him bail. For the simple reason that strict adherence to law would put the culprit in trouble, even the judicial system has often been found to explore out of court settlements. The tears or self-respect of girls subjected to rape and repeated gang rape and then having to marry the culprit as per the 'khap' panchayat decisions, or the pain of their families do not not seem to torment us.
Or of what use is having laws! A father of a girl complainant subjected to molestation is killed by the accused. It is in the same Hathras of Uttar Pradesh, where this happened, that a Dalit girl was gang raped and then torn into pieces with broken back bone and then the police burned her dead body, keeping her family entirely out of the picture. In Uttar Pradesh alone, incidents proliferate of women being stripped of her chastity and life, so much as to cease being even news. In Rajasthan and Haryana, the situation is far from any the more encouraging. In Kashmir, a seven year old girl was kidnapped from forest region, given narcotics, tortured and finally thrashed to death with rocks by merciless gangsters. Figures speak of one woman being subjected to abuse every minute in India. The issue is not the absence of laws, but of the law-keepers and judges not feeling the pain of victims. Law becomes ineffectual at the point where the court stops short of taking punitive action prescribed by law and giving consideration to the interest of the offender. The security provided by the society is stronger than laws. But for that to happen, the value awareness that guides the society should grow beyond manusmriti. It takes having larger hearts among those including judges. In a system where the constable who abuses a young woman approaching the police station as a complainant and judges who put a price tag on the self-respect of a victim, which laws can protect women! Only when we raise such unpleasant questions will Women's Day have any relevance.