“A gender-equal society would be one where the word 'gender' does not exist: where everyone can be themselves,” said Gloria Steinem, American feminist and journalist. Yet as the world celebrates another Women’s Day with zest, this goal seems the most far-fetched. It is particularly true for India where there has been a dangerous normalization of violence against women over the years.
According to the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2015, crimes against women are reported every two minutes in India. The crimes have doubled and have become more heinous over the last decade. However, the nationwide conviction rate of those accused of violence against women stands at a mere 21.7%. The data in itself is distressing, but more worrying is the fact that the country lacks a comprehensive legislation to address the issue. Though over the years, many gender sensitive laws like the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, Dowry Harassment Act and various labour laws have come into force, they have not served the purpose of creating a more equal society. Most of them have legal loopholes that are often exploited to the women’s disadvantage.
In the midst of such pandemonium lies a powerful set of recommendations that have been forgotten by the nation. The ‘Bill of Rights’ drafted by Justice J.S.Verma Committee in 2013 following the horrific incident of December 2012 has not yet found a place in the public discourse despite the fact that it widened the ambit of women’s rights. Even though, the immediate task before the committee was to scrutinize the existing rape laws and suggest ways to make them more stringent, it went beyond its mandate to give women’s rights an apt interpretation.
For the first time in the history of a nation, bodily integrity of a woman was discussed at length and women were treated as equals. It empowered women to stake claim to their rights and live their lives with respect and dignity. The bill gave finality to the concept of ‘choice’ and reiterated that it is an inalienable right of any woman in the country. In the most laudable manner, the committee in its recommendations put the onus on men to look beyond the notions of patriarchy and act in a manner that accords all human beings equal status.
In addition to this, the Committee addressed a lot many aspects that are often ignored by the society at large as too trivial to demand any attention. For example, stalking and voyeurism were termed as offences punishable up to seven years in jail. In a country where young girls are brutally murdered in broad daylight when they reject uncalled for advances, such a law can be that instrument of empowerment that people are in need of.
The law enforcers were also strongly criticized by the Committee for the apparent lack of sensitivity in dealing with cases of gender violence. In doing so, it again gave utmost importance to a woman’s consent in deciding how she wants her case to be handled. It also condemned trafficking and slavery and urged the government to take immediate measures to stop such practices.
The Committee had squarely blamed governance or rather the lack of it for the despicable situation of women in the country. The fact that such a mighty document has been gathering dust over the years gives credence to the argument. With Justice Verma having met an untimely demise, perhaps the greatest tribute that the nation can pay to a visionary like him is to bring out the recommendations from cold storage and implement them at the earliest. It will ensure the creation of a society that is equitable and just.