Amidst heated protests regarding the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape, and the exponential increase in crime against women despite laws like The Criminal Law Amendment Act and The Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, a question that has steadily risen to occupy its rightful place in the dominant discourse is: Is India No Place for Women?
Thinking back to my last two years in school, I recall that after the December 2012 incident, I had observed marked changes in the attitude of students. Taboo words like ‘rape’ and ‘sex’ had become indispensable parts of our daily discussions. We had started questioning everything we had been brought up to believe in and had begun debating government policies that we’d never even considered before. Skits about women’s rights and protests in front of government buildings became commonplace. Discussions with other friends at that time made me realise that the wave of unprecedented consciousness wasn’t specific to my peers; young Indians were questioning the existing social order and demanding change. But at that time, though we were questioning the system, we couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with it. At least, I couldn’t. Feeling strongly about women’s rights but with no knowledge whatsoever about them, I enthusiastically entered law school and landed my first project, ‘Rape Laws in India’, which is what got me thinking.
Let’s talk statistics; to describe them as staggering would be a grave under-statement. Crimes against women, at 52.2%, are the most frequently committed crimes in India. This category is the largest contributor to total crimes (at 11.7%), but has the least conviction rate. In a shameful 22.4% of cases, perpetrators of these horrific criminalities escape scot free.
These figures exclude rape and dowry deaths, which have been included under ‘Violent Crimes’. North of 33,000 cases of rape were reported in 2013, with conviction taking place in a mere 27% of reported cases. Reported. What about the cases which women choose not to report, or those which are dealt with shoddily at the level of the police, when there is refusal to lodge the victim’s complaint? The given estimates are bound to be conservative.
India only has 908 women per 1000 men; Haryana has the lowest sex ratio in the country, with only 857 women per 1000 men. Not a single girl child has been born in 70 villages in Haryana for years. According to a recent UNICEF report, 58% of women now aged 20-49 years in India were married off before 18 years of age. At 240 million, India constitutes a third of child marriages worldwide. These statistics paint an appalling picture of the injustices women in India are subjected to on an everyday basis.
In India the problem of a girl being a victim of gender bias, sometimes even before her conception, is all-pervasive. The general scenario in rural and semi-rural areas is something like this. There is a bias towards sons, they will carry the family’s legacy forward. They should be showered with love, and educated well. The girl child is a curse, ise ghira do. If the misfortune of bearing a girl child cannot be avoided, she shouldn’t be educated. Ultimately, she has to bear children and do household chores, education is wasted on her. She is an extravagantly expensive proposition as it is, with the huge amounts of dowry the groom will demand. She should be married off by age twelve to a man much older to her.
India is a patriarchal society. Patriarchy prevails in the form of domination, a mode of family coercion, and cultural construct of property ownership. But this society suffers from a grave paradox when it comes to women. On one hand, women are regarded as highly sexualized beings, who will never refuse sex, and on the other, society gives them no agency to make independent choices and exercise them. 
A woman’s consent is presumed. No means yes. She wants sex, she cannot refuse it. Whether it’s getting ogled at, eve-teased, harassed or raped, of course it’s her fault. The modern woman is the one ‘asking for it’ with her ‘provocative’ dressing and mannerism. “Ladke, Ladke hain, galti ho jaati hai”. Who are we to question that? Women belong inside the house. Working outside is to dare to step out of the shadow of gender roles. Chastity and virginity are her most prized possessions, but she has no right over her own body. She is property, to be passed on from her father to her husband; a crime against her is ‘trespass on (their) property’. Marital rape is not a crime, her body is her husband’s property after all. She should be ostracized for having sexual relations before marriage. If she claims to have been raped, two fingers have to be forced into her vagina, no matter how much pain and humiliation it brings her; if she has had sex before, she will never say no to it and the very concept of rape is flawed. Her character is mocked at every step of the ‘redressal’ process, because at the end of the day, of course it’s her own fault. Maybe “child marriage is a viable solution for rape and other crimes” against her.
This succinctly represents the challenges looming large over women in India today. The question that emerges is: Who devised these preposterous notions of ‘morality’ for women, and why don’t we question them? Regressive norms and notions, lackadaisical attitude of our ‘leaders’, the police and judiciary, and the deprecatory attitude of women themselves threatens their rights in this seemingly inherently patriarchal and misogynistic society.
While going through some court judgments as part of elementary research, I was stunned at the ratio decidendi, the logic, applied by our judiciary (in cases from 1947-1984), which is representative of just how deep the notion of patriarchy ran in India. Even now, authorities seem to believe that women provoke inappropriate conduct by certain aspects of their personalities and then seek to claim that it occurred because of their sex. The Rape Law in India is based on the notion of male rights over a woman’s body. Rape is not viewed as an invasion of the physical and psychological integrity of a woman, and neither has the concept of a woman’s right to her own body been given weight. When the laws with regard to rape are formulated, these laws were conceived as instruments to protect a man’s property from the sexual aggression of other men. Marital rape is still not recognized as a crime in India. Earlier, a vast range of crimes against women were all clubbed under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, under the head of ‘Outraging the Modesty of a Woman’. Only after the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 have stalking, voyeurism, acid attacks and other forms of harassment been recognized, and separate penal provisions now apply to them. Prostitution and the pornography industry pose entirely different challenges and questions.
To ensure their safety, girls generally preferred to travel with a male; maybe a friend, or a brother. But the December gang-rape presented us with a refutation of this proposition, where Nirbhaya’s male friend was beaten and completely immobilized by the perpetrators before they proceeded to rape her. Small, everyday incidents reaffirm that women are not safe, even with male escorts. My first time travelling on the Delhi Metro was with two male friends, but that didn’t seem to deter another passenger from gawking, and making obscene gestures.
Sexual harassment at the workplace has become all too common. The recent shocking incident at the Tehelka office, as well as harassment of a legal intern by a former Supreme Court judge are testament to the same. The title of this post is actually inspired by a debate on The Outsider by the same name, hosted by Mr. Tim Sebastian. I heard Ms. Shoma Chaudhry speak passionately about issues facing women’s rights. But my mind instantly reverted to the fact that when the time came to practice the principles she so vehemently supports, she stepped down and sang an entirely different tune. Instead of supporting the employee that her superior had allegedly molested, she attempted to suppress the matter to the best of her ability.
Even progressive, independent women sometimes foster regressive views. On my first weekend back from college, a friend asked me what projects I was working on that semester. On the very mention of ‘Rape Law in India’ she said, “That law should be very strict, and allow no flexibility to the victim! Women misuse such laws all the time.” On informing one of my school teachers that I was undertaking an internship with a women’s rights firm, she promptly responded, “Go where the money is; all women want to do is hire expensive lawyers and extract services for free, they never want to pay.” The impact of already poorly implemented legislations on curbing crimes against women gets further limited if women themselves are possessed with such views. Progressive women are also found to be recalcitrant when it comes to sharing experiences of harassment. They are reluctant to even file a complaint.
Educational Institutions sometimes, inadvertently or otherwise, foster a divide between males and females. There exist “Co-Ed” schools with walls separating the spaces to be occupied by boys and girls. Some colleges prohibit girls from leaving their hostel or entering some parts of the college wearing shorts, or certain kinds of ‘revealing’ clothes, while no such restriction is imposed on the male students. “If you can’t wear this to your workplace, you can’t wear it to college,” it seems.
Why is gender-based sex selection and child marriage still widespread? Why are the streets unsafe for women at night? Why are women gawked and ogled at, eve-teased and raped? Why do we need a male companion to provide validation to our existence, and ‘protect’ us? Because India is No Place for Women. I had shamefully restricted knowledge about the challenges to women’s rights during my school years, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. This post isn’t an attempt to pin blame or condemn the male species in any way. It’s just me, expressing what I’ve come to believe in, hoping to contribute to transforming India from ‘No Place for Women’ to a ‘Safe Place for Women’.
 National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs Website, Ncrb.gov.in, (2015). Welcome to National Crime Records Bureau. [online] Available at: http://ncrb.gov.in/ [Accessed 16 Jan. 2015].
 SRS Statistical Report 2012
 “Rape Laws in India”- Dipa Dubey
 “Seeing like a Feminist”- Nivedita Menon