Parliamentarians are also human. When they demand instant justice for the rapists and murderers of the Hyderabad veterinarian doctor, they reflect their ordinariness. Expressing their outrage like the ubiquitous common man could also win them brownie points from the enraged populace. Jaya Bachchan, the Samajwadi party member of the Rajya Sabha, was the most shrill in demanding instant death for the perpetrators of the heinous crime. The culprits should be brought in public and lynched, she thundered in true filmy style, an accomplished actor that she is. Others, not to be left behind, echoed similar sentiment, with one DMK member demanding surgical or chemical castration of convicted rapists. This outrage is understandable but reflects a poor understanding of the prevailing justice system which moves, if at all, at a snail’s pace. Similar sentiments are expressed by honourable MPs whenever a particularly barbaric act of rape and murder dominates media headlines. Last time we heard such an outcry from parliamentarians was during the street protests over the rape and murder of a young girl in Delhi in 2012. In spite of some changes in law undertaken following the report of Justice A N Verma, a retired Chief Justice of India, there has been no systemic improvement. The truth is that so long as the police, the investigating agencies, lower judiciary and, above all public attitudes, do not improve, delivery of justice will remain tardy. It is remarkable that the convicts in the Nirbhaya case which had attracted attention beyond national borders, and had led to prolonged multi-city protest marches and candlelight vigils, are still to receive their full punishment. Their appeals for clemency were dismissed at the State level only a few days ago, but they are bound to buy time by appealing to a higher authority. The truth is that women in every sphere of life, be it at home or outside, are treated as an inferior gender. Men are not reconciled to treat them as equals and thus worthy of the same respect they themselves seek by dint of their gender. In the case of the Hyderabad vet, she fell prey because she had the courage to go out in the evening unaccompanied by a male on her two-wheeler. Four louts deflated the tyre of her scooter and then ensnared her on the pretext of fixing the puncture. The incident also reveals the deep-seated hazards women face in our society trying to make their own place in it.
Lack of education, of a value system which treats women with respect and dignity is woefully lacking in our culture. Even our cities and towns which have a concentration of middle classes and naturally enjoy better civic amenities such as well-lit roads, communications, and better policing report daily atrocities against women. Induction of women in police force has not altered attitudes overall, with a victim of a sexual assault suffering further humiliation while reporting the crime. Unless we begin to teach our children gender respect, unless we take stringent but lawful action against errant policemen not showing urgency in addressing cases of sexual violence, no amount of stringent laws would improve the situation. Men preying on helpless women trapped in isolated public places would continue to momentarily outrage our parliamentarians and media. We need a concerted multi-pronged approach to deal with this horrendous assault on the respect and dignity of our women.