Sunday, January 13, 2008

An assault on dignity

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, January 13, 2008

Kalpana Sharma

When 70 to 80 men surround two women, push them,
touch them, pounce on them, it is not
“molestation”; it is sexual assault. So
before we even begin to discuss the incident that
took place in the upmarket Mumbai suburb of Juhu in
the early hours of January 1, 2008, we should call
the crime by its real name.

The assault happened not because a group of
“lustful louts” were indulging in
“Mumbai molestation”, as the media put
it by using sexy shortcuts to describe the incident.
It was in fact an illustration of a range of
assaults on women that take place every day of the
year and in every part of this country. It became
national news because there was visual evidence. The
other thousands of similar and worse crimes get only
a brief mention in the newspapers because cameras
are not positioned to record them.

Other crimes

On the same day that the Juhu attack took place and
a few days later, here is a list of some of the
other crimes against women that occurred in Mumbai
and Maharashtra as reported in the English press:

On December 31, a 28-year-old woman in
Khadegolavali, Kalyan (east) was raped by two men
who entered her first floor room in a chawl, beat up
her husband who is a zari worker, and raped her.
This was at 2.30 pm in the middle of a working day.

On December 31, in Maharashtra Chief Minister
Vilasrao Deshmukh’s constituency of Latur, a
14-year-old girl was found hanging from a tree. When
her body was exhumed, there was a suspicion that the
men who killed her had also raped her. She had
complained about these men “teasing” her
but no one paid heed.

On December 31, the conductor and driver of a state
transport bus raped a woman who was on her way to a
village just north of Mumbai.

On January 5, a 13-year-old girl was gang raped and
burnt alive, her body found in the fields in a
village in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra. She was
on her way back from school.

Maharashtra is competing with other states in its
record of crimes against women. Last year, Mumbai
police registered 356 cases of
“molestation”, that is almost one a day
and the railway police have a record of 1,068 cases,
almost three a day.

None of these incidents was reported in any detail,
nor did they make it to the front page or
“national news”. Crimes against women
don’t always make news. They hit the headlines
only when they are particularly horrific, or when
they affect women like us (that is urban, middle
class women) or when they are captured on visual

The Mumbai incident has shock value. But that shock
should result in introspection and a reality check.
The reality is that crimes against women occur, have
been occurring and have not stopped just because
there is more money, more education, more
urbanisation, more globalisation, more
liberalisation. The difference is that more of them
are being noticed and reported.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

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