At times of crises, sometimes, it is important to state the obvious. Safety, Security, and Justice are each of the three obvious axes around which Prevention of Gender Based Violence can work for individuals, families, and societies. Here is examining each.
Axis 1 – Safety: How safe is home? How safe is the family member or life partner? How safe is the neighbor next door? How safe is the driver or conductor or a fellow passenger? How safe is a colleague or boss? How safe is the teacher, policeman or the doctor? How safe is the political or religious leader?
How safe does a person feel in their home, public space, or workplace? Particularly, a child or a woman?
There is a huge gap between crime reported vs actual incidence of crime or violence. Most of the perceived moderate to mild natured crime go unreported and unnoticed. The complexity of societal norms and mindsets act as a deterrent to reporting. Thereby completely blocking justice or prevention.
Axis 2 – Security: As per a 2015 report, India has approximately 1 policeman per 700 persons. To give us a context, we note that UN recommends at least one policeman per 450 persons. But will recruitment just be enough? What about a mindset and culture change approach in the police force rather than a workshop on “sensitization”?
Similarly required is a mindset or culture change of local leadership, whether political, religious or economical. Repeatedly, violence has been related to power. The perpetrator generally wielded greater power or influence, be it political, economic, physical, or emotional. It has been also observed, that perpetrators tend to reach out to be sheltered or protected by those in a position of power.
Axis 3 – Justice delayed is justice denied –is globally applicable and in India, especially for survivors or victims of violence, gender-based or otherwise.
Strong punitive action and, severe punishment can act as a major deterrent to the growing incidences of sexual assault and violence against, primarily towards children and women. Many believe this will also lead to fear among the perpetrators and lead to a certain amount of prevention. However, if the process of justice is delayed, that can act as a huge pushback and morally discourage to the survivors, their family, and the supporters of justice.
The Government of India accorded its approval for the continuation of 1562 Fast Track Courts that were operational as on 31st March 2005 for a further period of 5 years i.e. up to 31st March 2010 with a provision of Rs. 509 crores approximately, based on the Supreme Court directives. Yet, delays in meting out justice abound. A case in point – Despite being considered as one of the most horrific, inhumane crimes committed in the recent years, the Nirbhaya case is yet to be closed.
Our work on ground reaffirms our belief that to prevent gender-based violence, knowledge among citizen’s right and legal pathways, especially on laws and practiced against violence must be present among and upheld by individuals irrespective of literacy, caste, creed, religion, or economic status. The community will be more empowered with such knowledge and skills to bring in behaviour change.
What are we doing to address these questions and issues? Why is there no buy-in and investment for prevention? There are few programs and agencies working on it, but clearly not enough. Existing practitioners and policymakers can focus more, and others can join to address these issues sooner than later. Although the stronger acts are encouraging both laws and policies needs efficient implementation. Hand in hand other critical pieces should advance e.g., capacities of all stakeholders need to be strongly built or improved in terms of knowledge and skills, practices need a stronger audit, larger buy-in from leadership, and powerful sectoral players from industry, education, health etc. is needed.
We believe and work each and every day towards a 360-degree ecosystem approach anchored within communities that acts as a much stronger and powerful deterrent. A law that may stand alone with few systems on the ground to work towards its successful realisation, is necessary but not enough.