“Would like to share a positive sexual experience here?”
“Yes or No”
Almost all of us nodded to say ‘No’
“Then how do you ask a woman to share experience of sexual assault, in this case 9 years old to explain what had happened to her in the correct sequence to someone whom she doesn’t even know? Don’t you think this is problematic?”
This powerful opening dialogue by Naina Kapur, Advocate and Preventive Law and Equality Practitioner made all of us rethink about ‘Violence against Women’.
|With Meenakshi Gopinath|
First day of the National Consultation began with the session on “Legality or Justice: The Issues at Stake” with the objective of exploring the challenges within the justice delivery systems and also to examine the accomplishments of the judicial system post of Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013. Justice Gita Mittal shared some of the very important happenings post Nirbhaya rape case which included report by Justice Verma Committee. She shared a case of 7 years old who accused 19 year old boy of sexual assault, while writing report police mentioned “Galat kaam”, Magistrate referred to it as “Buri harkaatein” and Judge again addressed it as “Galat kaam”, when this case was presented before High Court- the court had to let go of the accused because reports didn’t bring out the ingredients of the sexual offence. She highlighted the reluctance of the officials to engage with the detailing and the use of proper vocabulary around the sexual offense be it penetration, sexual abuse etc. She believes that along with legal intervention there should be parallel program of the Education system to work on the mindsets and to curb violence against women.
|Justice Gita Mittal|
Ruth Manorma, President, National Alliance of Women talked about how Dalits have survived 5000 years of violence. With effective facts and figures, she highlighted the atrocities faced by Dalit women and their fight for justice. “We don’t need paper tigers, we need substantial reforms” says Ruth Manorma.
Second session “Walking the talk on VAW” which had special address by MaryKay L. Carlson who talked about 16 days of activism against Gender based violence which starts from 25 November till 10 December this year in depth followed by Dr. Rebecca R. Tavares, Representative, UN Women office for India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who emphasized on mindsets, communications and social norms while engaging in the discussion about Gender Based Violence.
Post Lunch session on “Changing Attitudes and Behavior through popular culture: The impact of Advertising and Multimedia Campaigns” was very interesting and amazing. Pamela Philpose started the session by throwing light on how media projects smiling passive women, beautiful gifts to be unwrapped and as object of men’s desire rather than individuals though the word “objectification of women” came much later. Dipti Nath, Assistant Professor, LSR through glistening presentation and videos talked about changing media discourse post Nirbhaya case for example- AIB’ video “Rape- It’s my fault”, MARD supported by Farhan Akhtar, Abhijeet Avasthi made the advertisement on Hizras guiding people about traffic rules which according to her were making valuable impact- liberal and progressive mindset.
Maala Parvathi’s account of violence and discrimination in the state of Kerala was appalling and scary. She shared how she was abused sexually in a public bus while travelling at night due to her assignment as Journalist. Also when she started fighting the injustice by conducting night journeys she was shamed by calling her attention and publicity seeker, though she didn’t stop and her efforts resulted in better safety practices for public transport. “In Kerala, you just have to smile and that makes you available for men there, such is the condition and no one talks about it”
Sanjay Srivastava, Professor, Institute of Economic Growth talked about basic difference between masculinity and patriarchy and then about the work he is engaging in. Interestingly there was lot of talk about women regaining public spaces and use of safety apps on smart phones, how many women actually have smart phone and know how to use them is still questionable? Another important aspect is 90% cases of violence against happens in home or crowded public transport by someone who is close to them then why just talk about mobility only in public spaces?
The second day of National Consultation began with the fifth session that revolved around the strategies to prevent and end domestic violence and examine intimate partner violence beyond the institution of marriage. Suneeta Dhar, Advisor, Jagori began the discussion by explaining the difference between Domestic Violence (it is largely borne by women; however now it includes both child and elder abuse) and Intimate partner violence which includes same sex relationships as well. She also shared about how Jagori is working against DV- by providing them space where they can come in the time of crisis, also forming peer collectives of survivors who then become first respondents in their respective community. Jagori is also actively working for the budget that is allocated in the name of Nirbhaya fund or for curbing violence against women.
Sonali Khan, Vice President and Country Director- India, Breakthrough shared about their recent project that is running in 7 districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh- their studies shows that there is high prevalence of violence for both adolescent boys and girls but higher reporting is by boys, also it talks about how physical, mental and sexual violence is so much accepted and is imbibed in our culture and society because that’s how society can exercise its control and manages itself. She talked about Breakthrough’s initiative ‘bell bajao’, “apni ek kahani apne bête ke sath share karein” which became hugely popular as such conversation doesn’t happen at home and this ad acted as a trigger for such conversation and also “Stand with me- be my safe space” where people can share whatever they feel like. So Breakthrough works on broadcast to engagement where people get space to talk out!
Mrinalini Padhi talked about the gap in the laws and their implementation- backward chaining is not happening for example Supreme court has banned the sale of acids in market but it is still available in the markets as the stakeholders like retail and wholesalers don’t know about the judgment so they engage in disseminating information in vernacular form to stakeholders. She brought out a very crucial point regarding tribal law and culture- there the women is not even aware about their basic rights hence gets victimized very conveniently. “Language of Law should be made simple so that common people can understand. It is complex made for lawyers so that they can confuse judges!”
The sixth session “Gender Identity, Intersectionality and Socio-political conflicts” had some very amazing speakers Vrinda Grover who talked about impunity (looking at sexual violence against women through intersectionality lens). She shared an example where they had gone to address army soldiers in Kashmir about the mass rape cases in villages of Kashmir, after her a Retd. Army officer addressing the crowd said that he had gone to one of the village and asked woman there “yaha koi rape hua tha?” to which woman replied, “Mujhe pata nahi ye rape kya hota hai”. To her surprise he received high end applause. This insensitivity is questionable, it is important to think what is that which is reinforcing impunity? Impunity is nothing but institutional habits of not giving justice and that needs to be disrupted. Vrinda Grover with her powerful and eye opening dialogue enlightened us about Socio-political aspect of violence against women.
Ezabir Ali spoke about her work on the rights of half widows in Kashmir. I was hearing this for the first time and to work in Kashmir hats off!! The stories from the filed session talked about the initiatives which have become successful over the years. Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India shared about Edutainment-Challenging Social Norms to counter violence against women through a series “mein kuch bhi kar sakti hoo” that was aired on Doordarshan, Radio, News and IVRS which had 58 million viewers across India with 48% viewers being men. The serial deals with powerful women empowerment issues with sensitivity and realistic approach.
Manjari Jaruhar through a presentation on “Legal Rights and issues to create Awareness among women” shared her story of being an IPS officer in 1976 posted in Bihar. MLA of the district where she was posted said to her senior, “Ladhkiyon ko mat post kijiye, problem ho jayegi”, however she didn’t stop and carried out her duties with utmost sincerity and responsibility. In her presentation, she mentioned that there are plethora of Laws that came into existence post Nirbhaya case but implementation is poor and even police is not aware about it- some of them being that women can file Zero FIR, free legal aid, right to privacy while recording the statement of the victim, case can be registered against police officials for not filing FIR among many others. Interestingly this 3 day conference had people from learned background still many of us were unaware about these laws.
The 3rd Day started with the session on “Education and socialization to counter Gender Biasis and Discrimination” with Dr. Krishna Menon, Professor at Ambedkar University throwing light on how teachers should be mindful of gendered nature of classroom and try to build Feminist classroom. I particularly loved the way Jaya Indiresan, Research and Training Consultant, CAP Foundation shared her experience of starting Gender positive initiative in engaging manner. She believes that every teacher must be a Human Resource Developer and the educators be MBA- moving beyond academics. Following her, Ravi Gulati shared his journey of founding Manzil where every person is a student and teacher at the same time. He gave key words for progress “Sunnana- Samjhna and Gudhna”.
The last session was about Brainstorming on core recommendations of the WISCOMP consultation where some amazing suggestions came up like the strong need of directory of words or vocabulary, there must be mapping of various initiatives that work on issues of gender and violence, zero tolerance towards violence whether it is social, economic, political, physical or sexual in nature, questioning gender mainstreaming and yes breaking the culture of silence and culture if reinforcing of fear.
It was interesting, eye opener and intimidating at the same time to attend National Consultation. The state of violence in southern part of India particularly Kerala where we have highest literacy rate alarmed me, I was actually thinking that UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and Jharkhand are better because there is open discussion and work going in here to fight against violence and inequalities. Also to know that Feminist organizations are working in troubled states of Kashmir and North East was motivating. National Consultation gave a brilliant platform for the Feminist discourse having people across the country to discuss the current legal, socio-economic, educational scenario with respect to Gender based violence.