Opinion » Columns » Kalpana Sharma

Updated: January 18, 2014 18:57 IST
The Other Half

In the line of fire

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The questions we must address are what do we mean by ‘safe’?
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The questions we must address are what do we mean by ‘safe’?

If women’s safety is all about owning a handgun, what about the rapist who lurks at home?

Now that there is a handgun especially designed for Indian women, are we going to be ‘safer’?

On January 6, the Indian Ordnance Factory in Kanpur announced the launch of ‘Nirbheek’, India’s first gun for women. We are told it weighs just 500 gm and is a 0.32 bore light revolver. It will cost a mere Rs.1,22,360, thereby ensuring that it is out of reach to the majority of Indian women who fear for their safety.

How amazing that someone should actually think that a light handgun named ‘Nirbheek’ or fearless will actually make a material difference to the lives of Indian women.

Just to give some perspective, in Uttar Pradesh, where this gun has been manufactured, the police (tasked to ‘protect’ women, one presumes) has 2.5 lakh firearms, while the ‘aam janta’, mostly men, has over 11 lakh firearms. And these are the licensed ones. Can any woman, even if she is equipped with a pricey light gun, feel ‘safe’ under such circumstances?

Let’s discuss the question of women’s safety that keeps popping up over and over again, particularly after the terrible gang rape and subsequent death of a young woman in Delhi on December 16, 2012. There have been countless debates and all kinds of demands. Hang the rapists; change the Juvenile Act; have more police; have more CCTV cameras in all public places; train women in martial arts etc.

Writing this literally from the other side of the world, the perspective that greets me is that suddenly all of India has become ‘unsafe’ for women, that our streets are full of sexual predators just waiting to pounce on unwary women and that our criminal justice system is simply not able to deter these predators.

Between these clearly exaggerated images and the drummed-up fears, lies a different reality, one about which we need to be constantly reminded.

The questions we must address are what do we mean by ‘safe’? Are women ‘unsafe’ only in the public space if by safety we mean sexual assault? What if such assaults take place at home, at the workplace, in schools and colleges — spaces that would generally not be viewed as ‘unsafe’ because you are surrounded not by strangers but by people you know?

Every year when data on crimes against women is published, this is the other perspective that emerges, if only people were to read beyond the screaming headlines. So, for instance, a Right to Information petition by social worker Anil Galgali revealed that in Mumbai last year there had been 237 rapes and eight gang rapes, including the one in the deserted Shakti Mills compound in central Mumbai that drew a great deal of media attention. But once you read past the statistics, you realise that in most cases, the perpetrators of the crimes were ‘friends and lovers’ or neighbours of the raped woman. Men known to her. Not unknown men hanging out in public spaces.

In Delhi last year, although the number of reported cases till August are far greater (1,121) there too, according to the police, surveys have established that the attackers are known to the women. This is, in fact, the main factor preventing women from reporting the crime.

Thus, while there is no denying the horror of the gang rapes that have captured media attention, we must not lose the perspective that if safety consists of women not fearing that they will be sexually assaulted, then the main site of danger lies in homes and familiar surroundings and not outside.

Stricter laws, guns, and martial arts will not solve this lack of safety. Here, as has been repeated in these columns and elsewhere, we have to tackle the system of patriarchy, where men believe they are entitled to control the lives and actions of women, where men believe they ‘own’ the women related to them, and where men see nothing wrong in punishing the women who dare question or try and upset the established systems that guarantee their superior status in our society.

To illustrate this further, let me narrate the horrific story I read even as the year began. An 11-year-old Class 5 student from a village in Betul district, 175 km southwest of the capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, was singed on her cheeks and beaten with a rock for refusing to quit studies. The perpetrator of the crime? Her father. The girl, Roshani, is recovering in the district hospital but no member of her family has come to visit her.

How do we ensure that the Roshanis of India feel ‘safe’ enough to get an education? This is the perspective we need when we discuss women’s safety.

Wonderful Article,, actually the issue and the solution are together
described with respect to the Indian men mentality..
A kind of same solution i think, it is not just the rape or safety
that is to brought to attention from outsiders but from the known
Thanks Kalpana Sharma.

from:  Sarita Singh
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 17:37 IST

I completely agree with the author. One should also keep in mind the way women
have been objectified in literature, cinema around. We need to change this mentality.
Many women in fact objectify themselves in the society. When would men stop
showing their dominance by sexually assaulting a woman which is nothing but a
cowardly way ?

from:  Jyoti
Posted on: Jan 20, 2014 at 12:48 IST

If a gun can save the women, then why a police constable is raped; why
women cadres of US Army are continuously raped and they have to
tolerate such outrageous behavior of their seniors even when they are
the members of providing safety to the distressed and oppressed.
It is very ridiculous to know the aim of the gun and the price at
which it will be available to the women for their "safety". The price
is in itself a neglecting insinuation for the thousands of women who
live a marginal life. Rs.1,22,360 is not a small amount which an
Indian woman easily manage to buy a gun. A country where more than 80
% women are housewives can never afford this life saver gun.
I think it will be very dangerous for the women themselves. Today,
their modesty is outraged, but tomorrow besides modesty, their life
will be finished and the sole responsibility will go on the dead. A
country like India where patriarchy has deep root in its soil will
deprive the victims of their last rites.

from:  Sohrab Sherghatwi
Posted on: Jan 19, 2014 at 16:44 IST

The article was really moving. One was reminded of a saying Gods rejoice
where women are worshipped. One feels,Indian men need not worship
women,but can at least treat the latter with respect and dignity.After
all, whoever is born into this world wants to live peacefully. There
cannot be two opinions on this.

from:  S.Ramakrishnasayee
Posted on: Jan 19, 2014 at 13:07 IST

I think that this distant view of women as some object comes partly
from the age old habits of women keeping to themselves. I think there
must be more interaction with women in order to understand how women
think and realize that they are not very different from men. Men who
behaved indecently with women might not have had proper female
friends(and by female friends, it could as well be their own mother or
sister).Your mom or sister is not there only to cook you food(Take them
to a jewellery shop and you'll know what I'm saying. :P).

More interaction with women will sensitize men to the needs and way of
thinking of women and they will look at women with 'normal eyes' than
with 'sex eyes'(most of the times).

from:  Gopichand
Posted on: Jan 19, 2014 at 11:34 IST

The author is absolutely right in her contention and inference. There are more rapes in the
family and neighborhood than in the streets. The statistics will support it. The statistics are
made up of reported cases. The sorry part is that the reports of rapes in the family are few
and far between. It generally stays as a family secret that no one dares to mention. This is
not just an Indian phenomenon, world over where the patriarchal society is prevalent, one
can see this happening. Yes, it is not the guns or martial art that will save the women,
perhaps a shrill scream for help may offer a better chance of escape! While rape has a
content of lust, the important content of it is power and control. Gang-rape not only has the
factor of power and control as a part of it, it has the added need for gratuitous violence over
the victim. Personal ethics and morality had been a part of the religious upbringing and
religion, it seems, is taking a back seat in the modernizing societies.

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Jan 19, 2014 at 07:59 IST

It isnt so good to distract attention and claim that there is a
rapist at home.If that is the case, the very basis of the marriage is
unsound and in such a case the marriage should be dissolved.It is
stupid for anyone to answer to such a thought except that the ignorant
should know that the marriage itself is always based on affection and
give and take and that is how it endures.If there is incest at home
and pedophile tendencies then that comes from lack of social
counselling and relief should be arranged through societal
mechanism.The faults in all societies cannot be wished away.

from:  Prof.Paul.V.John
Posted on: Jan 19, 2014 at 05:25 IST

A simple pepper spray/even a perfume spray handy always will be a better
safety device everywhere, home,office,schools or any place , even for men
who are likely to be victims of 'hold ups' than an expensive shot gun ....

Posted on: Jan 19, 2014 at 04:06 IST

Thanks for this article. The problem is not only with men, but also with women who do not allow other women to speak up for themselves, and demand their rights. How many families do we have where the mother-in-law does not want her son to help his wife with the household chores, just because her husband did not help her. We have so many instances of women not allowing other women to go ahead just because they have been brain-washed by the patriarchal system into thinking that they are secondary to men. Women need to speak up and ask for equal rights not only for themselves, but also for other women. Its disgusting to know that people close to women are most often the rapists, speaks a lot about the attitude of many Indian men. It's time they also come together and speak up for respect for women and outcast men who treat women like this.

from:  Nitya
Posted on: Jan 19, 2014 at 03:49 IST

Very important point made in this article. The shock of betrayal by one's own trusted would cause significantly more trauma. The tragedy for the victims of such mostly unreported cases is missed and ignored by the media. Thanks to the author and the newspaper for bringing this point out. Do highlight this as a major article in ur print edition also.

from:  ganesh
Posted on: Jan 18, 2014 at 21:33 IST

The safety of woman lies in the fact that men's understanding towards
women. Men understanding towards woman independence should be changed.
they have their independence we don't need to give them.. they have
their rights to do what they like.. mindset of people should be changed
by educating them..

from:  Nagoorkani Abdullah
Posted on: Jan 18, 2014 at 21:15 IST
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