Since the #MeToo Movement, many women find social media a safe space for them to call out their molesters and harassers in order to warn other women of predatory behaviour by men in work and educational spaces. Following the #MeToo movement, many such social media movements have taken place. Recently the internet was taken by storm by screenshots of school going kids discussing about young girls to the extent of planning to rape them. Another news that probably skipped a lot of our attention was the suicide of a 17 years old boy from The Heritage School who was accused of rape and molestation at an event two years ago in their school. The boy received a lot of calls and messages and not able to take the mental trauma of it all, decided to end his life.
There are two very important issues that come to the forefront here. First, why do women feel the need to use social media as a platform to voice their opinions? Second, is this really going to help? There’s no doubt about the fact that our judicial system has failed to provide a safe space for women. On the contrary, it champions on making the space not only unsafe but it stigmatises the women who seek judicial help. It is often advised to women to keep shut about their harassment or else they will be ostracised by the society.
We lack stringent laws and fast track courts to help women in our country. Despite women’s movements and awareness campaigns along with subsequent legal reforms to put redressal mechanisms in place at workplaces and educational institutions, many institutions today stand exposed for not even having functional gender sensitisation bodies or complaint mechanisms. It is important that sexism and misogyny at workspaces, schools and universities be brought to an end. While there is an urgent need to put the redressal mechanisms in place at every institution, it is equally important that survivors and complainants are actively supported in their quest for justice. Till we fail the survivors that space, they will turn to spaces which will hear them.
The Nirbhaya rape case which took the capital by storm on the 16th December 2012, her rapists were recently hanged to death. The capital punishment provided solace to her fighting mother, yes but did it solve the larger problem – rape itself? In 2016, of the 3.38 lakh crime cases against women, rape cases made up 11.5% of them. But with only 1 in 4 rape cases ending up in conviction. More than 32,500 cases of rape were registered with the police in 2017, about 90 a day, according to the most recent government data. Indian courts disposed of only about 18,300 cases related to rape that year, leaving more than 127,800 cases pending at the end of 2017. Women reported almost 34,000 rapes in 2018, barely changed from the year before. Just over 85 per cent led to charges, and 27 per cent to convictions, according to the annual crime report released by the Ministry of Home Affairs. This is the reality of our times, capital punishment is neither stopping rape nor is it setting any example. Moreover, a caste-class composition of those who receive capital punishment is very telling of the judicial system.
Another development that had come from the Nirbhaya case trial and the long movement was the Verma Committee recommendation. The committee recognised that rape or harassment of women were not merely crimes of passion but an expression of power. It has laid out laws against rape, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, acid attack, offenses against women in conflict areas, trafficking, child sexual abuse. Moreover, the committee made suggestions and reforms in the medical tests of rape victims, punishments of crimes against women, police reforms, reforms in management of cases related to crime against women, education reforms and electoral reforms to name a few. The committee categorically suggested that there should be more CCTVs in public areas and more PCRs. However, the Verma Committee Recommendations were never enforced. The government goes on to protect rapists and women continue to be ostracised. We recognise that the use of social media for outing our harassers maybe flawed and it probably also leads to some false accusations to surface.
But it is important for the society and the judiciary to recognise that social media became the safe space because the judiciary failed to provide a space to the women to be heard without being stigmatised. What do we do with the young boys from the “boys locker room” group? Probably many of us want them to go to prison but will that solve the bigger problem plaguing us?
There are “boys locker rooms” in every school and colleges and there has been for eternity much before the social media generation. The problem is structural patriarchy that exists in our society which gives power and entitlement to these young boys since a very early age. The fact that so many girls of the same age came in support of these young boys from the group shows us that patriarchy and misogyny is extremely internalised. Schools need to take cognisance of the fact that for most of us, school becomes the space where gender related identities and roles are being enforced on women, where the dominant gender is established. I am not denying that these young boys deserve punishment for what they have done but simultaneously and more importantly they need sensitisation.
We need to learn from these experiences so we can all begin to live and work in an environment where such male entitlement can no longer flourish. It is time for us to create safe spaces for the sharing of such experiences. It is necessary for all of us to collectively review old strategies and evolve new codes of behaviour for interpersonal interactions between genders and that starts from an early age.
We need more stringent laws which do not wait till the rape happens to give a capital punishment but prevent rape in itself.
We need strict laws against cyber-crimes and harassment. We need working GSCASH committees in every school, college and university and more importantly we need stronger gender cells in our workspaces.
Dolan Samanta is a Research Scholar at JNU/New Delhi.