Monday, December 8, 2008

K. Santhakumari, On Gender Violence, Justice and Police

(This is the text of the speech prepared by Ms. K. Santhakumari, President, Women Lawyers' Association, for the panel discussion on 'Gender Violence, Gender Justice and the Police,' December 3, 2008. It has been marginally edited.)

Gender equality concerns each and every member of the society and forms the very basis of a just society.

It is an established fact that women represent the very kernel of the human society around which social change must take place. The last decade of the last century has seen a growing recognition of women's rights as human rights and as an integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The promotion and protection of human rights of women, will, however, remain a challenge to all countries in the 21st century.

Crimes against women have existed invariably with time and place. Even periods of transformation have never been comfortable for them. Types and trends of crimes, however, kept changing with change in mindset and techniques. Unfortunately, women were not only accorded a lower status in the society but they also came to be used as objects of enjoyment and pleasure. Its culmination has been their regular exploitation and victimisation. Besides, there also developed situational and institutional violence against women along with the new demands of the time where they have to step out of the confines of their homes to earn a living. Thus crime against women is an outcome of their long history of deprivation of socio-economic rights. Protection from harassment, oppression and discrimination has remained a distant goal to achieve.

The process of gender justice, broadly speaking, covers the rights of women against exploitation and victimisation. Through law and policy, women have now secured for themselves many entitlements, but so far they have not been able to defend themselves from crimes committed against them, which negates the whole premise of gender justice.

Unless we recognise her rights — her basic human rights —  gender justice would only be 'lip-service' with no tangible results.

Time and again the Supreme Court has extended the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and held that mere existence is not right to live — it is the right to live with dignity. Thus, wherever crimes are committed against women, the same should be viewed in the context of her right under Article 21 of the Constitution and not merely as a crime against the society.

It is rather sad that while we keep celebrating women’s rights in all spheres we show no concern for her honour and her dignity. It is a sorry reflection on the attitude of indifference of the society.

In India, in spite of special constitutional guarantees and other legislations, crimes against women are rampant. They are on the increase. The constitution imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen through Article 51 A (e) to renounce the practices derogatory to the dignity of women. How many of us are aware of this fundamental duty? Not many, I suppose…

The question is: Have the women been able to reap the benefits provided for them under the constitution of India? The answer unfortunately is not encouraging.

 Though women can be subjected to all types of crimes but some crimes are specific to women, such as rape, molestation, eve teasing, trafficking etc. In India, crimes against women broadly fall in two categories; (a) crimes identified under the IPC and (b) crimes identified under special laws

I am not going to go deep into variety of crimes. But my endeavour is to see that our speakers would address the issue of violence against women and gender justice and police. Police has a major role to play in combating violence against women. But in practice we feel that we do not get justice when we approach them.

The role of police under the circumstances assumes greater importance and it is expected that the police would deal with such cases of dowry harassment or domestic violence or eve teasing in a more realistic manner. A socially sensitised police, in my opinion, is better statutory armour in cases of crime against women than long clauses of penal provisions. Hence, the police can play a pro-active role in empowering women assuring gender justice.

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