‘Choose to Challenge’ has been chosen as the theme for International Women’s Day, 2021, with the idea that a challenged world is an alert world and individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. But how do women choose and challenge the patriarchal and misogynistic society when they have no or little autonomy over their bodies and life choices? Given the day-to-day hurdles and injustices faced by women, this Women’s Day theme seems ironic.
The Chief Justice of India, during a hearing in a rape case, asked the 23-year-old accused government servant whether he would marry the woman who has accused him of rape.
‘Will you marry her,” CJI SA Bobde reportedly asked the accused man. In response, the lawyer appearing for the accused said, “Initially, I wanted to marry her. But she refused. Now I cannot as I am already married.” To this, Bobde said, “If you want to marry, we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail. You seduced the girl, raped her.”
Such judicial statements or solutions give approval to violence faced by a survivor and deprive them of their rights.
Another case came to limelight when a video of a 20-year-old woman went viral where she was pleading for justice for her father’s murder. “Please, mujhe insaaf chaiye (Please, I want justice),” she said in the video. Her father was shot dead by a man against whom the deceased had lodged a police case for molesting his daughter in July 2018. The alleged killer was out on bail in the molestation case.
A 23-year-old woman who was allegedly harassed for dowry died after jumping into the Sabarmati river in Gujarat, after recording a video message for her estranged husband and father. In the video that surfaced on social media, the woman could be heard saying, “Arif (her husband) wants freedom. I’ll give him freedom.”
Even though dowry is illegal in the country, many married women have to deal with mental and physical torture by their in-laws.
These three cases made headlines and became an intense topic of discussion. It made us question whether women actually have autonomy and right to justice. Whenever women come forward to seek justice, either they are held back in order to preserve her family’s honour or even if they have family support, they are threatened.
There is a great need for gender sensitisation across every field, ranging from judiciary to academics, to prevent injustice, crime and discrimination against women. There is also a need for gender sensitisation in our policies, schemes and laws. A woman cannot ‘choose to challenge’ if she has no autonomy and no right over her body and choices.