Archive | September, 2002

MTV Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega

13 Sep

MTV Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega

(MTV, Sundays, 19.00)

Love, it is said, makes the world go round. Undoubtedly a universal sentiment, it has had generations of poets/singers serenading it, right from Keats to Shakira. And countless others, led by Devdas and Romeo, who will do anything for it – including even giving up their lives. If it can evoke the same passion in you, die-hard romantics, then tune in to MTV’s new show. Presented by Cadbury Dairy Milk, the show checks out how far people will go to prove their undying love.

Hosted by Aditya and Sophiya the episodes feature people who will go any extent to express their love. Join the duo as they help couples celebrate the power of love.

Hindu On Net

Where Women Bear The Brunt…

8 Sep

Where women bear the brunt…

In the case of superstitious practices in India, a reassertion of orthodoxy appears to be, first, exclusively focussed on women, and women of the most vulnerable castes and classes, writes Supriya RoyChowdhury.

Burying reason.

IT IS not at all clear how one should categorise belief systems, and structures of action based on those beliefs. Travelling across the Atlantic this year around the 4th of July was a unique experience. As the anniversary of American independence drew closer, there was heightened expectation of terrorist attacks, and security at international airports in the United States and in Europe was tightened even more than what has been in place after 9/11.

As I went through several airports around this date, it became quite clear that persons of colour were being singled out, for questioning and physical checks. The physical checking took the form of asking us to stand in particular postures, arms spread out, take our shoes off, have the soles of our shoes and our ankles examined closely, take off all jewellery, and finally, in my case, I was asked to take off my dupatta. All this was happening as fellow white passengers were smoothly walking in after casual security checks. The acts of singling out bodies and partial disrobing had all the flavour of an oppressive ritual.

The rationality of tightening security in airports can hardly be contested. When the structure of that arrangement becomes based on an irrational belief system, tied to a racial stereotype, the structure of a highly modernised international transportation system begins to look as ludicrous as an ancient ritual of marking criminals’ bodies, or even witch hunting. The instant sense of fear, typically expressed by a white woman if she finds herself alone in an elevator with a black man, the reported experience of a large number of black men, is also a superstition.

Insofar, therefore, as superstitions are necessary to create, justify and sustain unequal social structures, in any context, such belief systems are not the trademarks only of so-called traditional societies. Nevertheless, the tension between modernity and tradition is the most defining element in the discourse on superstitions, whether it emerges from academia or social activists.

The perspective of 19th century social reformers, armed with Western Enlightenment rationality, going about eradicating social superstitions with the objective of bringing about a rationalised social system, is now all but gone. The more nuanced perspective now is that superstitions are embedded deeply in a community’s history and psyche, and must be understood in terms of that totality, rather than be made a target of immediate attack and elimination. Implicit in this view, of course, is the critique of modernisation as a universalistic prescription which assumes to ride roughshod over local cultures where these are discordant with modernisation’s rationalist premises.

Where does that leave us when looking at such practices as the Devdasi system, or nude worship, or the resurgence of sati? These practices, arguably, are not only rooted in structures of caste and gender inequality, but represent the tightening hold of a world view that defines communities in terms of exclusivist religious identities. Would it then be justifiable to bring the state as well as a modernist intelligentsia, however insensitive to local culture, to bear on the forceful elimination of these practices? The ways in which state agencies, social activists, intellectuals, as well as protagonists of these practices themselves, have interfaced, and in the process, have transformed the domain in which these practices now take place, provide an arena where some of the central tensions of our social system are being played out.

The element of economic need which sustains some of these practices, and which is built into the social structure in which many communities live out their lives, is typically conceived as part of the larger framework of public policy issues, involving questions of education, employment and gender. But the connection between the ritualistic marking of women’s bodies and their commodification in the market in a context of economic hardship, can hardly be wished away.

Many social activists feel that as long as the larger issues of poverty remain unaddressed, and in fact are intensified in a period of rapid marketisation, efforts to eradicate superstitious practices such as sati or the Devadasi system are unreal. In Chandragutti, a village in Shimoga district, every year in March men and women offer nude worship to a goddess in fulfilment of a vow. This practice has been banned by a State Government order, but like many similar laws, remains incomplete in implementation. A central objection to this practice, of course, is that the presentation of nude women invariably is a prelude to their enticement into prostitution. NGOs working in the field have, however, questioned the efficacy of law in preventing prostitution in a context where the flesh trade is driven by the economic needs of uneducated, low caste women. A particular NGO, involved for the last 23 years in women’s issues in these areas, was of the opinion that both the state and social activists have selectively criminalised specific acts of traditional worship such as nude worship.

While part of the objective of law, and of social activism, is to prevent the initiation of vulnerable young women into prostitution, nothing is being done to criminalise the role of pimps, and other agents, who continue to be able to induct poor rural women into the urban flesh market, regardless of whether nude worship is carried on or not.

A somewhat different perspective on this question emerges from the resurgence of sati, and of the growing popularity of sati shrines and temples in northern India. The recent incident of a poor village woman of Madhya Pradesh burning to death on her husband’s funeral pyre has caught much media attention. Interestingly, there are many more cases of widows who would want to commit sati and are prevented from doing so; they then become local deities, living goddesses, with temples or shrines growing around them. While a Supreme Court order has stopped the holding of fairs and festivals in Sati temples, worship at these shrines continues in many parts of Rajasthan. In July of this year, a young woman in Indore was forced by her husband and his family to undergo the ritual of “agni pariksha”, whereby she had to walk several paces, holding red hot irons in her fist, to prove her purity and chastity. The sati, as well as the Devdasi, are endowed with a certain mystical power, as also with ritual status, insofar as they transcend the powerlessness of widowhood. This aura of sanctified woman power is being used in the sustained practice of these rituals. The resurgence of these practices may, hypothetically, represent many factors.

One could relate these to the general tendency towards a fundamentalist world view, propelled by a religious/communal definition of majoritarian politics. In such a perspective, traditional representations of religious sanctity can arguably help create and sustain symbols of orthodoxy, which would strongly anchor the actions of communal political groups. At another level, one could see this resurgence of superstitious practices as part, perhaps, of a broader anti-western, anti-modernist movement, of which Islamic fundamentalism could provide a parallel. Islamic fundamentalism, with its highly restrictive overtones for women, is also, pronouncedly a pan-cultural movement involving the rejection, for example, of western patterns of consumerism, of dress, and other modes of behaviour, and has the flavour of a civilisational conflict.

However, in the case of superstitious practices in India, a reassertion of orthodoxy appears to be, first, exclusively focussed on women, and women of the most vulnerable castes and classes, and second, is not obviously connected to any anti-western, anti-modern paradigm or theory. In fact, the attack on women’s bodies in these practices is paralleled by a growing incidence of dowry deaths in India’s cities, which represent similar attacks in urbanised spaces.

The burning of women for inadequate dowry is generated by a very contemporary, modern and market-driven approach to consumerism, courtesy globalisation. Dowry deaths, of course, do not have the sanctity of scriptures or tradition. But their fast increasing incidence in all parts of the country would seem to indicate that such acts, also, are supported by some kind of a shared belief system in a woman’s role and function, and grounded in the reality of women’s vulnerability in multiple arenas, economic, legal, political.

The interface of these two domains, the traditional and the modern, in their dual, if not orchestrated, attack on women’s bodies, would raise many questions over the appropriate context in which a substantive challenge can be mounted against superstitious practices.

(With inputs from Ravi Reddy in Nizamabad and D. Srinivasulu in Kurnool.)

Hindu On Net

Crime Against Women: Violence Within And Without

1 Sep

Crime against women: Violence within and without

Even as crimes against women are on the rise, the number of policewomen available to tackle these cases is woefully inadequate. A comment by TEJDEEP KAUR MENON.

At the receiving end.

TALK about the “fair sex” not getting a fair deal is now common. Be it enactment of new social laws, creation of institutions for target groups and even lip service about providing reservation for them in all elected bodies. Yet, there is no better evidence of the state of women’s empowerment than the revealing statistics of Crimes Against Women (CAW), their handling, the profile of the victims, the accused and the disposal of the cases.

Crime against women traditionally includes rape, kidnapping and abduction, dowry death, torture, molestation, sexual harassment, importation of girls, cases under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, Sati Prevention Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act. In 1999, a total of 1,35,771 such cases were reported.

Like most offences, CAW is steadily on the rise in India. Of the total crimes reported in the country seven per cent constitute CAW. The all-India rate, number of crimes per 100, 000 population reported to the police, was 13.8 during 1999. This may not be alarming at first sight but the point is many crimes are not reported.

Consider the larger picture. Of the 23 big cities, Chennai accounted for 21.2 per cent followed by Delhi at 12 per cent. Among the six metros, Calcutta is the safest for women. As much as 31.2 per cent of dowry deaths were from Uttar Pradesh alone, followed by Bihar with 15.2 per cent. But incidence of torture (under section 498 A IPC) accounted for 12.3 per cent in UP and only 3.2 per cent of cases reported in Bihar. Harassment for dowry is noticed only when the authorities are confronted with bodies of the helpless women.

In cases of rape, victims knew the offenders in 84 of every 100 cases. Neighbours were accused of rape in three of every 10 cases.

The aspirations of a woman trapped in a murderous marriage and seeking relief from its bondage do not find reflection in any of our laws. Irretrievable breakdown of marriage is not a ground for divorce in India.

Courts also use archaic methods to settle disputes over custody of children, marital property, return of streedhan, maintenance which often weigh heavily against the interests of the woman.

The absence of adequate civil courts lead many women to seek police help and exploit Section 498 A IPC to secure divorce or settlement.

A conviction of an errant husband under Section 498 A IPC does not give the woman divorce. She has to approach a civil court and also pursue the criminal case filed in a police station. If she is economically dependent on the husband and if he is imprisoned, the question of maintenance may not arise. So, women use Section 498 A IPC to redress all marital grievances for a quicker and advantageous settlement.

Acquittal/discharge in cases of cruelty by husbands and relatives is high at 81 per cent of cases. The crime rate of cases of cruelty by husband or relatives is as high as 4.4 while the crime rate for dowry death is 0.7 and sexual harassment is 0.9 in every 100, 000 population. Similarly, the arrest rate for cases of cruelty by husband or relatives is 10.3. Thus there is no single window where a woman can obtain relief on an emergency basis beginning from basic protection from violence; being turned out from the husband’s home; restraining the husband from disposing of property, emptying bank lockers and accounts and depriving her of custody of her children and the right to be with them. Consequently, the harried woman is forced to agree to what is far less than her due. Most harassed women can file a criminal case under Section 498 A IPC on the charge of mental and physical cruelty and a divorce on the same grounds. But, deterred by the long time that it takes to secure the court order, she is forced to seek closure under Section 498 A IPC and settle for divorce on grounds of mutual consent. The Domestic Violence (Prevention) Bill is a significant step forward in recognising the problems of women, children and other family members living in an atmosphere of violence. When it is finally enacted, it will provide protection against domestic violence by obtaining protection, residence and monetary relief orders. However, it does not cater to the longstanding demand of women for appropriate linkages between civil and criminal law to make Section 498 A effective. At most, the portent of the proposed legislation is like providing first aid to a critical patient.

However, this temporary relief should be followed up by setting up more family courts to deal with divorce, maintenance, child custody and division of property and reverting to the spirit that led to the formation of the family courts providing early, easy solutions to domestic problems.

Now, consider this. One in every five murders in 1999 was of women. This added up to 7,812 murders that year. Personal enmity, property disputes, love intrigues, dowry and gain are the major reasons for murdering women.

Kidnapping and abduction of women account for 67 per cent of the 23,864 cases reported. A significant feature is 54 per cent of the victims were less than 18 years old.

The failure of the investigating agency can be seen from the fact that 36 per cent of the cases remained under investigation, without finalisation, till the end of the year. These are cases in which victims remained untraced or the investigation was under way to establish the charge. The police closed as many as 4,229 cases of kidnapping and abduction as false, mistake of fact or law. This signifies the shifting stand taken by the victim or her family towards the crime and the criminal in view of the existing social environment.

The number of sexual harassment cases, referred to as eveteasing in the past, rose by 10 per cent in 1999. More than 25 per cent of these cases were reported from Uttar Pradesh, followed by Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh contributing 20 per cent each. It is natural to expect a significant co-relation in the pattern of rape, molestation and sexual harassment cases reported from a State. But, this pattern is not reflected in the statistics. Madhya Pradesh recorded the largest number of rape and molestation cases but ranks much lower in the reporting of sexual harassment cases. The reason for Uttar Pradesh recording far lesser number of rapes and molestation cases than other States but recording the highest number of sexual harassment cases is an issue for serious study. This is suggestive of the failure of the criminal justice system to inspire confidence in the victims and their inability to speak out. It also raises serious doubts about the correct recording of cases as they occur and the shocking apathy to gender issues.

The significantly large number of sexual harassment cases reported from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are perhaps a pointer to the drive taken up by these States against gender crimes.

A study of the figures of cases reported under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act implies that prostitution thrives in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as 90 per cent of the cases have been reported from here.

Both, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act and the Indecent Representation of Women Act, are comprehensive laws. But, these were made without repealing provisions in existing laws in the State and that of the Indian Penal Code. Consequently, investigating officers take advantage of the more lenient provisions of old laws to book cases. It is possible to herd a dozen women accused of prostitution and get them fined Rs. 25 each under an existing law. This is a cakewalk in comparison to the elaborate investigation required under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act to book financiers, brokers, building owners and the clients of prostitutes.

Though the sex ratio in the country was 946 females for 1,000 males in 1951 it has worsened to 930 females for 1,000 males in 1999. What, then, has happened to our pre-natal, post-natal, nutritional support, health care and education programmes for the girl child? The deep-seated bias in India against the girl child with the availability of the most modern scientific technique to determine the sex of the foetus has resulted in large-scale female foeticide.

This is not reflected in the crime records of the country. Only 87 cases of infanticide and 61 cases of foeticide were reported in 1999. Infanticide and foeticide are a way of life in both urban and rural India and, therefore, the provisions of a progressive law like the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Registration and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 remains a worthless scrap of paper.

Who is a girl child? If one goes by the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 a girl child is one below 18 years of age. The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1928 also specifies 18 years as the cut-off age for preventing child marriage. However, for the purpose of defining rape, under Section 375 IPC, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16. It is time to rid ourselves of such blatant anachronism, define a girl child and shelve antiquated social laws.

Crime against women is usuallyclassified as marital and sexual crime. However, one that victimises women is robbery and dacoity. Women are prime targets because of the jewellery they keep at home.

Another area of focus is suicides. Housewives accounted for 52 per cent of the total female suicide cases. Married women account for 66.6 per cent. The complex way in which bad marriages drive women to suicide is still to be fully understood. Further, 46.8 per cent of the victims had less than middle school education. Women preferred to drown, hang or immolate themselves.

Significantly, majority of the women are between 15 and 29 years of age while male victims are between 30 and 44. Social and economic causes led most men to commit suicide while emotional and personal factors were the prime reasons with women.

All this casts heavy responsibility on women police already saddled with important tasks and issues relating to search, arrest, custody of women witnesses, arrestees and juvenile delinquents. But there is just one policewoman for every 45 policemen, a woefully inadequate 2.09 per cent of the entire police force.

As many as 18 States have a strength of less than 1,000 each. Maharashtra is in the lead with 4,345 policewomen. The share of women in armed police is 0.39 per cent. They exist only in a few states — Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Goa and Delhi. There are not enough policewomen for investigation.

In such a situation, there is no question of policewomen being available to tackle cases where the woman is the victim rather than the offender. It is time to put on the thinking caps.

The writer is Inspector General of Police (Special Protection Force), Andhra Pradesh.

Hindu On Net