Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Badges that say 'I Respect Women'

Pratyasha Nithin

(This article was published in UDAY INDIA weekly on December 1st, 2012 in both internet and print editions)

Recently, a news report was published in The Telegraph (July 18, 2013) about Tourism Ministry wanting to promote “I Respect Women” badges across the hospitality industry to assure the women tourists (especially the foreigners tourists) that it is safe to travel in India. The report said that the badges would be printed in 10 languages- Hindi, Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Russian, German and Japanese. The badges are planned to be distributed to the auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers, guides, coolies, travel agents and all personnel likely to interact with tourists. Further, the tourism minister K.Chiranjeevi was quoted as saying- “Anyone wearing this badge is standing up and declaring that he will always respect women. That he cannot be counted among the people who assault women". This may turn out to be a good start, but how are we going to make sure that the people who will wear these badges will actually mean those words?

It’s easy to wear a badge and it will surely help raise confidence in women to travel fearlessly. But what if a man wearing this badge actually does not implement the words printed on it and instead mistreats the woman who had believed in him? Will the woman be able to trust a man ever? I believe, this kind of incident will fill her heart with anger and hatred for the whole man-kind. Hence, as a first step these badges are a good idea but it should be followed with comprehensive measures to make sure that, the people who wear those badges also implement the words “I respect women”.  .

In India, there are a large number of men who do not consider women as an equally important part of the society. Some of them think that women are only to do the household works and to raise kids. Many others may allow their women to work and do what they wish for, but the very fact that women are being “allowed” to do something, work or otherwise shows that, there is no freedom and personal space for women in such households. A marriage is supposed to be one of commitment and not compromise, one of liberty, personal space and understanding and not of restrictions and compromises where the women are made to take permission before doing anything. The reason forwarded for such restrictions are that those men care for their women and want them to be secure. But the question is who is making the life of women insecure? Is it not men themselves?

The society is so corrupt that it is unable to see the hypocrisy hidden within it. The men may visit Vaishno Devi every year but in many of their houses the women are treated as nothing more than a servant. Some women raise their voices but most do not because of the typical mentality that it is the right of a man to have his way around woman. And it is this attitude which should change.

In another news report, a retired government employee was arrested for allegedly raping his five daughters for twenty years (Business Standard, July 17, 2013). This case came to light only when the accused man tried to misbehave with his three year old granddaughter due to which his daughter, the mother of the child, lodged the complaint against him. The five sisters remained silent all those years of sexual abuse. If the eldest sister had raised her voice when she was abused, the abuse of her younger sisters could have been averted. It has come to light that, even the wife of the accused was aware of her husband’s activities and supported him.

These kinds of men, who treat their women badly, could be anywhere. He may be a company head or an auto-rickshaw driver on the road. Now if these men cannot respect the women of their own family, can we expect them to respect the women of other families? The answer is a simple “No”. Similarly, those men, who cannot respect the women of their own country, how can we expect them to respect the women of other countries? Do we have a mechanism to know how the taxi drivers, travel agents and all the personnel likely to interact with tourists treat their women in their houses? If not, then can we really expect that by making these people wear badges, the women touring the country will be safe? I don’t think so.

The root of all these problems faced by women lies in the mentality and thinking of the society, both men and women, who always hold a woman responsible for every abuse, violence or any other crimes that are committed against women. Whenever an incidence of rape or sexual assault comes to news, it is often heard both from the ‘representatives’ of society and from the common folks in the neighborhood about how women who visit pubs or make acquaintance with men are asking to be abused and raped. The character of a woman is always the first thing that is questioned. Why do we, the members of this society always indulge in this blame game? Can we not just introspect ourselves and recognize that the only fault that exists in the society is in its mindset that does not respect women, that does not recognize women as being as much human beings as men. No matter what a woman is asking for, can the society not respect them and stop doubting the character of women? Even if a woman is a prostitute or stands naked in front of a man, the man does not get the right to mistreat or rape her. Yet, abuse of women- verbal, physical, mental and sexual happen every other day at the hands of both men and women of society. And each time, it is the victimized woman who is blamed.

The only solution I see is a drastic change in the mentality and thinking of people happening on a large range. The people of India who were once famous for holding the best moral values, needs to learn the lesson of morality again. They need to understand that their one act of misbehavior could be the worst memory of somebody’s life. We must realize how the Indian society has failed as a whole, that today we need to put on badges like “I respect Women” to let the women know that they are safe and respected. Is it not shameful that the people of other countries will have to judge us not by our attitude and behavior but by the badges on our shirts?

It is high time, that we the people of India decide what we want to do. It is our choice, it’s in our hands. Do we want India to be safe for every woman (Indian or Western)? Or do we want India to be branded world-wide as a country of women exploiters unsafe for female tourists? Burning of fire-cracks at every Indian victory in a cricket match is not patriotism. If anybody really cares about India and its people, one must first learn to treat women with respect and as an inseparable and equally important part of the society. The Government, need to implement an elaborate education and awareness campaigns and workshops if it really means to imprint in the minds of the people the words “I respect Women” that are supposed to be printed on badges. People should also be made aware of their legal rights and about the punishments that are handed over to people who commit these crimes. Men and women must take initiative and volunteer to carry forward such social awareness programs on a large scale so that it reaches one and all. Schools should come forward with programs to train young girls in self-defense. It was reported some time ago (Indian Express, January 10, 213) about Maharashtra government’s proposals to open a special wing of Mumbai Crime Branch, specifically to investigate crimes against women. It was also proposed that some of the fast-track courts would be specifically used for dealing with crimes against women. Such proposals must be implemented throughout the country in all cities and towns. Every police station, especially in the cities must have a separate division to register and promptly take action against crimes committed on women. A patrolling squad consisting of people from the immediate neighborhood must be formed everywhere in the cities to monitor and prevent any untoward incidents against women. The people who volunteer for such patrolling duties must be adequately trained by the Police. Unless and until the government takes some positive initiatives regarding the education of the masses about the need to change the social outlook towards women that currently has nothing but contempt for them and also implement measures to check and prevent the crimes that are committed on women, the present decision to print badges with taglines “I respect women” printed on them would be nothing more than a political posturing.