TW: Mentions Of Rape, Sexual Assault, Harassment
Women empowerment and women security are two boats that India struggles to balance on a rugged sea of a patriarchal society. Sexual assaults against women are a day-to-day reality that, as of now, occupy no greater space in the mind of a reader than allocated in a newspaper. Protests against assaults escalate every once in a while (mostly before imminent elections) and die down with strong condemnation of such assaults by all political leaders, academicians, journalists, film stars and all other individuals who have a word to say.
Safety laws aimed at providing security to women are brought-in by various governing bodies but no law seems capable enough to put a cork onto these assaults. One main reason behind this inability can be attributed to unquestioned moral policing that aims at suppressing women in the name of safety.
K Chandrashekhar Rao (pictured above) decision to not let TSRTC women employees do night shifts really just justifies unwritten societal rule that women shouldn’t be out at night.
On January 5, 2020, an ‘Anganwadi’ worker was reported to have been gang-raped and tortured to death by a temple priest and his cohorts in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh. The usual uproar grew across the country against the brutal assault. National Commission for Women immediately sent a delegation of two members to get first-hand information about the crime from the victim’s family. It was later reported that one member of the delegation apparently made a comment that the victim should not have gone alone to the temple and that had she at least taken a child with her, this situation would have been avoided.
Statements like these are not uncommon in India. On December 3, 2019, Chief Minister of Telangana, K Chandrasekhar Rao, in the wake of a sexual assault against a veterinary doctor, was reported to have immediately announced that TSRTC women employees shall not be asked to do night shifts anymore. In the year 2017, Karnataka government was put under huge public criticism for bringing out a law that says women need not work in night shifts citing reasons of home and child care as a priority for women.
Such laws, though they seem to have been proposed keeping in view the safety and security of women, are in reality a way of suppressing the freedom of women. by passing legislation that denies women from working at nights, governing bodies are justifying the unwritten societal rule that women should not walk onto the roads after nightfall.
It should be noted that a thin line demarcates safety from suppression. In the year 2016, Bombay High Court gave a landmark judgement by prohibiting a ban on entry of women into Haji Ali Dargah’s sanctum sanctorum. One of the reasons stated by the promoters of this ban was the protection of women from harassment at places of worship. To defend the entry ban of women to public places citing possible harassment among crowds clearly explains the thin line that separates safety from suppression.
Soon after Yogi Adityanath took over as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, special vigilant teams named anti-Romeo squads were deployed to tackle sexual harassment and eve-teasing in public places. These anti-Romeo squads were comprised of police personnel as well as vigilant civilians who apparently made sure that no couples were found hanging out in public places. Their moral policing, in place of tackling eve-teasing and harassment, reportedly, dealt with freedom of women in meeting their partners in public. Patriarchy’s key motto of protecting women from committing ‘immoral’ acts is visible in such incidents. Suppression, in such scenarios, takes place in the guise of safety and security norms.
Similar to anti-Romeo squads of Uttar Pradesh, SHE teams of Telangana are also deployed with an aim to prevent harassment of women and eve-teasing in public places. While anti-Romeo squads received backlash from many women groups, SHE teams received great accolades for their work. The difference between the working styles of both these deployments explains the difference between safety norms and suppressive norms.
SHE team carries a hidden camera to record crimes at the scene of action. Culprits are held for charges like stalking, passing lewd comments, touching inappropriately, social media harassment, taking photos without the knowledge of victims and creating nuisance at girls’ colleges and hostels. SHE teams are involved in creating awareness on self-defence techniques for women as well as in counselling offenders if they are found to be minors. SHE teams’ systematic approach to serious issues like eve-teasing and stalking reportedly helped curb such minor crimes at a significant level.
The term anti-Romeo itself indirectly hints at the attitude of the lawmakers towards the concept called “love”. Anti-Romeo squads, unlike SHE teams, are launched to protect the honour of women. Innocent girls are allegedly protected from falling into “immoral” activities like hanging out with their male friends. Protection of honour, a word notorious for its justification of the killing of girls in a bid to protect it, is the core intention of the anti-Romeo squads. It is reported that anti-Romeo squads are turning out to be greater harassers for women with their moral policing and male chauvinism.
Anti-Romeo squads are based around male chauvinistic ideals of female ‘honour’ and suppress women.
What differentiates SHE teams from anti-Romeo squads is the element that they intend to protect. While the former intend to protect the freedom of women, the latter intend to protect their honour. While protection of freedom ensures the safety of women, protection of honour ensures their further suppression in society.
Sexual assaults across the nation call for better laws and amendments in the existing laws in order to prevent further crimes. Acts like Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act, 1986, National Commission for Women Act, 1990, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 stand as defenders to the protection of women rights.
More such acts intended to protect women from sexual harassment are needed on par with vigilant police mechanism to ensure the safety of women in the society. Women empowerment is only possible when women are allowed to move freely and safely without fear of harassment or assaults. Easy get-away laws like preventing women from working during night-shifts and banning their entry into public places to protect them from harassment do not do the intended task at hand. Better laws are definitely the need of the hour to ensure the betterment of the status of women in society.