Recognise, resist and report unusual sexual advances, no matter how small they might be was the message from the Open Forum on "Crime and Punishment : Fight against Sexual Violence", organised by The Hindu in association with Villa Marie College.

Break the silence and nip it in the bud. Recognise, resist and report unusual sexual advances, how small they might be.

These were the encouraging words infused in the minds of young girls to put an end to the menace of rape and sexual advances by strangers even as the collective stress was on for expediting the judicial process, compassionate investigation and a change in the mindset of society.

The Open Forum on “Crime and Punishment : Fight against Sexual Violence”, organised by The Hindu in association with Villa Marie College here on Friday, dissected the drawbacks of the system and at the same time called for pricking the collective conscience of society for a positive change.

Initiating the discussion, Dr. Philomena, Principal, Villa Marie College, recalled the Delhi gang rape and similar incidents across the country and termed them a blot on the image of the country. She wanted men to change their mindset instead of raking up dress code issues and restricting women’s freedom. At the same time, she wanted women to be cautious.

Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor, The Hindu, who moderated the discussion, explained that The Hindu as a newspaper preferred civic engagement on the issue and ensuring that the spirit of the debate was kept alive. Describing the young students as the future of the nation, he said that they should represent the civil debate and carry forward its spirit. Favouring freedom of women, he said women should go where they wanted, wear what they wanted and love whom they wanted.

He saw a strong need for a debate on the cultural aspects and the patriarchal system that put pressure on women to compromise on rape cases. There is also a need for a broad discussion on the portrayal of women in advertisements, television serials and movies. He wanted society to introspect if it created a conducive environment for women who have the double burden of managing their careers and families.

Activist Vasant Kannabiran called for adopting zero tolerance to every implicit sexual move by strangers. “By being silent you are only allowing impunity”, she said, adding that rape was not just a sexual crime but a crime against women’s body and dignity. “Women are humans, and their rights should be protected,” she said.

Madabushi Sridhar Acharyulu, Professor, NALSAR University of Law, termed the callousness of investigating agencies and indecisiveness of the judiciary more painful than the rape itself. Calling for certainty of punishment, he said that the victim, unfortunately as a witness, was being further victimised. He favoured drastic changes to the definition of rape and wanted brutality inflicted on women in the name of collecting evidence by doctors to be contained.

Prof. Sridhar felt that the sensitivity of a case was lost due to delay, and the sequence of the trial also missed due to frequent adjournments and transfer of judges. He also saw a danger in the judiciary protecting the accused and the victim in the name of settling the issue.

“Do complain, do report and be responsible,” said former Inspector General S. Umapathi. He added that investigation into rape cases was a cumbersome procedure. However, to make punishment more harsh and relevant offences should be treated consequently rather than concurrently.

He felt that people mediating for compromise in rape cases should also be punished, and that bail should not be given to the accused easily. He said no NGO was working for rape victims, and that they can play a positive role. Umapathi added that in the UK a 40-million-pound victim support fund was created, and that such a system could also help victims here.

K. Satyavathi, Chief Functionary, Bhumika Women’s Collective, said that women’s safety was the responsibility of the Government, and that there was a need to inject gender sensitivity from childhood incorporating human rights and women rights in school curriculum.

Film maker Mahesh Kumar Kathi said that people should reject and refuse to go to movies portraying women as objects of sex. “Unfortunately, people are accepting heroism depicted in the form of chasing women and ill-treating womanhood,” he regretted.

Ratna Bharathi, a student, referred to the discrimination against women starting right from the womb and said that girls should put up a strong fight against the practice. “I will fight against rape not just because it is a sexual offence but as it is also a fight between good and bad and human and inhuman.”

Later, students raised several pertinent questions calling for change in the mindset of society. They also raised concerns on how the role of alcohol was being ignored, on why the accused got the bail so easily and how advertisements were depicting women as sexual objects.

Suggestions such as appointing women cab drivers for working women and installing CCTVs in taxis and public transport system were made. The students also vowed to discuss the issue with parents without any hesitation and sensitise their brothers at home.