Change is possible when it comes to gender sensitivity in the country but only through the initiatives of the younger generation, says Rakesh Kumar Singh, a gender activist who has been riding a bicycle through several states of India for the last two years. The aim of the ride is to spread gender awareness in the country, especially against practices like acid attacks, sexual harassment, and dowry deaths.
Singh who has earlier worked with the organisation Stop Acid Attacks (SAA) said that he decided to undertake the ride as he wanted to understand the root causes behind violence against women. “The focus at SAA was more at rehabilitating the victims,” said Singh, who has traversed more than 13,000 km on his bicycle, starting from Tamil Nadu and covered states like Bihar and Union Territories like Pondicherry. According to Singh, he had the opportunity to interact with a wide cross-section of people on his travels.
Asked if he saw any change in attitudes towards women in the last two years – especially as the new law against sexual harassment was passed in 2012 after the Nirbhaya case – Singh said that he did not observe any particular progress as far as gender sensitivity was concerned. “In fact, I came to know that incidence of women being murdered after being raped had gone up,” he claimed. The new law provides for death penalty for repeat offenders in the case of rape and in the instances where the victim is left in a “vegetative state”.
Singh added that disrespect towards women was ingrained since childhood in Indian males as they saw their mothers being ill-treated.
Usha Titikshu, a photo-journalist from Nepal who has been accompanying Singh on his travels, said that reporting on rapes had increased in Nepal off late although there was no data to prove that actual instances had gone up. According to Titikshu, Nepal was equally conservative while growing up as body structure and menstruation were taboos that could not be discussed freely.
Titikshu added that gender sensitivity could be linked to governmental policies such as standing for elections and getting government contracts for public works.
She also linked the health of women to issues concerning gender. “Mother’s health is a political agenda,” said Titikshu. According to her, during her rides, she interacted with many women and found out that many were suffering from complications in the uterus, in particular, due to excessive work. “This also leads to marital discord as sexual intercourse is not possible. The spinal cord is also affected for similar reasons,” she added.
Both Titikshu and Singh would be carrying on with the ride into the rest of India. They plan to visit the north-east states too, they said.