For every woman who is fighting for a law to protect her rights, there are a handful of men who say: what about us?

“Why don't they struggle for their rights,” asks Flavia Agnes. The fiery women's rights lawyer was here on Wednesday for a panel discussion on “Women and Violence/ Safety.”

“Men need to stop taking away the gains of the women's movement,” she said. “Women are fighting for their rights because men and women are not equal. If you make laws assuming they are equal, the law will hardly serve its purpose.”

India's legal system dominated the discussion - panellists agreed that despite their rigid formality, the courts were the only place where victims of rape, dowry harassment or any other assault could demand justice.

Points to ponder

But for them to get justice, other things would have to change. Stop expecting women to be this or that, said historian Urvashi Butalia. “People seem shocked that women harass women. But we can be as nasty, rude and aggressive as a man. Why should we be expected to behave any differently?”

The law will respond to violence against women when society responds to it rather than merely trying to cure it. “We spend too much time thinking about how to make men better husbands,” Ms. Agnes said. “But the question is why are women committing suicide when they have the option of obtaining a divorce?”

When the law offers them a way of exiting their marriage, why do women continue to struggle or suffer? “Is suicide the only choice she can afford to make? We need to ask ourselves that.”

NALSAR professor Dr. Amita Dhanda also spoke.

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