On Violence Against Women

Street sexual harassment is something that women have to contend with in India. While generally true, I have heard that the degree of harassment varies from city to city. Delhi is especially bad but Kolkata is a much safer place for women. It appears that in Kolkata, people take an interest in what is going on around them, and if they notice a woman being assaulted, they actively discourage the behavior by beating the crap out of the person. It is part of the culture and everyone knows. It basically is common knowledge: that if you are considering harassing a woman in public, you are likely to get beaten up; and if you the third party, you are expected to either initiate the roughing up or join in enthusiastically in the edification of the criminal.

Beating up guys for assaulting women is a second best response. It would be much better if they could be dealt by the law enforcement. But then there are better things for the law enforcement to do. Yet, there are ways of fixing the problem without too much effort. You don’t have to police people everywhere everyday for years on end. The society has to take a stance and decide to change the “culture” of violence against women. The cost is front-loaded but it is a one-time cost. Here is what you do.

Publish and make it known that violence against women will not be tolerated from such and such a date onwards. Make that date a few months into the future. Plaster the notice on such places where potential assaulters will have the opportunity to know that there will be zero tolerance for the crime. Make it known that the punishment will be exemplary and harsh.

Then go out and on that specified day, catch a few guilty of street violence against some women. Throw the book at them and report the incidents far and wide. Let it be shown on TV, talked about on the radio, discussed in the pages of the newspapers. Let the pictures of the guilty be published all over the place as if they were movie stars. Do this every few weeks and I guarantee that in a few months, street violence against women will be a thing of the past. The culture would have changed.

It is tolerance of what should not be tolerated that causes problems. People consider it acceptable—both the criminal and the victim take it as part of the way that the world operates. But if the signal goes out that that something will not be tolerated, people figure out the changed circumstances and respond appropriately.

You may recall what happened to the 18-year old American kid, Michael Fay, who was arrested in 1994 for vandalizing cars in Singapore. They caned him, since that was the punishment, and they did that despite pleas for clemency from the President of the US. The incident was well publicized and with good reason: the Singaporeans wanted to make sure that they did not have to cane too many people. People are rational beings and are quite capable of figuring out that vandals are punished severely in Singapore and alter their behavior appropriately.

The punishment for street violence against women, in my opinion, should be caning, followed by 100 hours of community service—picking up trash from the streets. Trash should be forced to pick up trash.

Impoliteness and rudeness in society is a symptom of deeper problems, rather than a problem in itself. While it is good to address the symptoms, it is also necessary to understand why it exists and what can be done to address its cause. That is a difference and long discussion, however.

{See the Blank Noise Project: From the site, “Blank Noise is a community of citizens, women and persons, also known as ‘Action Heroes’, united to eradicate sexual and gender based violence.”}

Author: Atanu Dey


8 thoughts on “On Violence Against Women”

  1. Atanu,

    In ‘steady state’ as engineers would term it, mere enforcement of rule of law can prevent such crimes.

    But right now, the situation is hardly in a ‘steady state’; where the crime is so ubiquitous that it is considered too unimportant to be tackled. Therefore, as you argue, the deterrence value of exemplary punishment is a useful tool to combat this crime. The punishments have to be so far out of proportion to the misdemeanor (because the currently perceived probability of actually being punished is small) so that the ‘expected value’ of the crime still deters the potential criminal. Once the perceived probability of punishment goes up, then the sentencing can be made lighter. It still makes sense to have it on the rule books though…I recall Naveen Mandava had posted on this a few days back.

    That said, the Indian judicial system is unlikely to implement any of this any time soon.


  2. True. Everything that you say. But always, there is an indifference in all except in the victim of harassment, or of whatever other crimes. I think if the law is unpardoning and truly harsh, then our next problem to deal with will be implementation and execution of the said law; otherwise, it is a long process of getting the law made – comes not at all easily for the Indian parliament, or does so only in cases like the Shah Bano case. Bills get passed into laws in the blink of an eye for injustice to reign supreme.


  3. Atanu,

    We are mixing up human sexuality and women into the core problem – harassment. Harassment of any person should be the target of the law – it’s plain bullying. A bully uses sexuality as a tool to harass, and ‘defend’ his/her act; that should not penalise the freedom of sexual expression of both men and women. A bully targets those (s)he perceives as ‘weak’. Introducing the women as the ‘affected target’ tacitly admits them as the ‘weak’ – something that women are not; they are as much strong or weak as any man. Legally, or socially recognising them as ‘weak’ merely makes them excellent targets of a bully.

    I’d rather have the law, and the society address any harassment to anybody – man or woman or children or any life, using any means – sexuality or status or any other. Violence against women is at least voiced out and heard. I fear that attaching sexual and gender issues with harassment could adversely affect normal sexual and gender interactions.

    Simultaneous with penalising harassment, I see a need to correct the classic “Men from Mars/Women from Venus” defenses so that the focus is “We are here together on the Earth”.

    Just a seed for the “different and long discussion” :).


  4. This reminds me of the Pulse Polio campaign to eradicate tenacious diseases. No amount of individual vaccination will work against these even if continued over a long time and only a ‘pulse’ programme, which flushes out the disease, can succeed. To use some rather mundane imagery, it is the difference between pouring mug after mug of water in the loo, versus putting a bucketful! The results are markedly different.


  5. Hi..I am working on a documentary film , which talks about women of modern India..

    I would like to speak with you about this.
    Unfortunately I do not have your contact number & hence thought of posting this..

    Could you please call me up , my no is: 98206 88903 & my mail Id is Nehajoshi8@hotmail.com


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