By Shambhavi Ravishankar
New Delhi [India], Jan. 5 (ANI
): On the December 31, 2016, yet another example of societal disregard for women and the laws protecting them was seen in an assault on women in Bengaluru.
It is an incident, like all others that preceded it in various parts of the country, that is difficult to discuss without getting emotional. There are numerous protections available for women in a variety of laws such as the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Indian Evidence Act to name a few.
However, if we step back and look at the episodes that have occurred against women, even the ones that never end up gaining media attention, several issues come to light. Firstly, there are issues of legal awareness. And secondly, fear or respect for the law is minimal.
The two issues are interlinked. Without awareness of the rights, the duties and the punishments that the laws of India have, how can one fear let alone respect the laws? Though ignorance of law is not an excuse accepted in a court of law, it is a legitimate concern outside of the court.
The first issue of legal awareness of women's protections must begin at the school level. In classroom sessions of Moral Science and of Civics, children must be taught that there are punishments for committing offences against women.
This is moral and legal issue, and that fact should be inculcated, both in schools and at home. If the Government is truly intent on rooting out assault of any kind on women, it must engage in a systemic outreach program that targets even rural areas, to increase legal awareness. It can make use of several institutions for this purpose.
The Bar Council of India in its Rules for Legal Education 2008, makes it compulsory for every Institution imparting law to have a Legal Aid Centre that undertakes such activity.
(Schedule III Para 11 under "Physical Infrastructure"). Similarly, the National Commission for Women funds NGOs to run a legal awareness camp for girls and women. Looking at its syllabus and rules, two facts come to light. One, the target audience is largely female. It has not been made compulsory to have men also involved. Two, the modules being taught have no focus on the role/duties of men.
Educating women on their rights and protections is only one side of the solution. The other is getting men involved, and reminding them of their part. Legal awareness must target men as well, if it is to work. For example, the Thames Valley Police ran a consent campaign by creating a humorous video likening sexual consent to offering people tea.
Justin Fletcher, the Director Chief Inspector was quoted saying: "The law is very clear. Sex without consent is rape. Awareness of what sexual consent means and how to get it is vital. The campaign is just one of the ways in which Thames Valley police has been working with our partners within Thames Valley Sexual Violence Prevention Group to support people affected by sexual assault and rape."
Another aspect that affects legal awareness, is migration. Everybody wants the big city life and all the economic prosperity that comes with it. A city like Bengaluru, which ironically was always known for its night life, has a floating population of people who come and go daily just for work, as well as a constant flow of people moving there for jobs. They come from different parts of the country, big and small, and therefore their social education varies immensely.
The second issue, is that of respect for the law, its enforcement agencies and the judicial system. Louis D. Brandeis, a former Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court Justice characterised this situation very aptly when he said "our government teaches the whole people by example. If the Government becomes the law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy." People are not afraid of getting caught, or of getting prosecuted because of our overburdened infrastructure.
They have seen numerous public figures go free for crimes they clearly committed. This has created apathy and disbelief in the rule of law. It is heartening to see the positive responses of citizens after every incident. As a reaction to the happenings in Bengaluru, various events have sprung up. An anonymous group of students under the name "Night in My Shining Armour" have organised a "Night out in Town" at 8pm on January 7, 2016. It will be a walk done in solidarity along Brigade Road.
"#IWillGoOut" is trending all over Bengaluru. Another group calling themselves "Winged Warriors" have an event called "You Asked for It" on January 8, 2016 at Cubbon Park. Such initiatives should act as a catalyst for more socio-legal outreach from more institutions than the ones discussed here.
But what of the cases that do not gain such attention? What will act as a motivator for law enforcement and judicial bodies to do their part? Not only does India have laws of its own on the subject, it also has international commitments vis-a- vis human rights instruments that it has signed. This fact needs to permeate Indian traditions, culture and thought. For such a social revolution, awareness and respect are the need of the hour, if we are truly to protect an Indian woman's right to life and dignity. (ANI