On December 16, 2012 a horrific gang rape in Delhi rocked the nation and led to nationwide protests. That was a watershed moment for women’s rights in India and a year onwards, a lot of changes have taken place in this nation…
1. Stricter laws are in place:
The Justice Verma panel was set up within a week of the incident and the laws were changed after about 3 months. Acid attack, voyeurism and stalking were recognised as new offences.
Definitions of sexual harassment and rape were strengthened and the punishments were made stricter. Explicit sexual overtures, demand or request for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, forcibly showing pornography... it’s all been introduced as sexual harassment.
Criminals may also get life terms more often under the new laws.
2. Media coverage has increased:
If someone compared the coverage of rape and sexual assault in the media in 2012 and 2013 then he or she would conclude that India suddenly became a much more violent place for women after the incident.
That is not the case. Till this particular incident many similar cases used to be regularly brushed under the carpet by media houses. Not any more. One has to appreciate the stand taken by newspapers, magazines and TV channels in this country.
They have decided to give much more coverage to cases of violence against women. This puts the spotlight on the criminals and they may finally think
that they may not get away as they have been doing so for ages now.
3. More and more women are coming out:
A combination of all these factors has emboldened women and more and more women are coming out. The survivor of the Tarun Tejpal rape case has taken her battle to court and has been fighting in a systematic manner.Within days a survivor came on national television and repeated her allegations against a CEO in the Dainik Bhaskar group.
An intern also mustered up the courage to speak against Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly,the Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission. Tejpal was an extremely powerful media and political figure while Ganguly is a retired Supreme Court judge.
Such incidents will give courage to many harassed women all across India.In fact while denying bail in the Tehelka case, the Goa judge commented how Tejpal "misused his position as mentor and father figure”. This is an important point because in many of the times the rapist is a known figure making it all the more difficult for the survivor to go to the police.
4. The process of sensitization has begun:
Thanks to a combination of all these factors, the process of sensitization in India has begun. Till now people were told to look the other way whenever such an incident happened.
Not any more. Everyone is discussing it. People are taking to the streets to show solidarity with survivors. Younger children are invariably being exposed to this thanks to excessive media coverage and discussions and they will know early on that this is something wrong.
It is no small task to sensitize an entire nation.
5. Other small steps are being taken:
A debate is raging that juveniles committing rape should come under the same laws as adults. 24X7 helplines which till recently were a formality are being taken much more seriously. Fast track courts are being set up all over the country.
State governments are talking of changing laws and setting up committees to review cases of crimes against women. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had at that time announced a 13-point action plan to ensure the safety of women in the State.
Someone had estimated that if you put all the cases of rape, trafficking, sexual harassment, eve teasing, discrimination etc, then it is possible that one billion women in this world may be affected. That is a huge number and a tough task to give justice to all of them.
But if you want to do something, then you first have to think of doing it and then say that you will bring a change. That way the anti-rape agitation has succeeded spectacularly. People are taking this issue more seriously and talking about it a lot.
Now the final stage is action. And even in that the nation has started taking baby steps and one can only be helpful that a change is in the offing.