Gender Sensitization Bill- A step towards a ‘Nirbhaya’ society

A year after India awakened from its deep slumber to protect its women, I write about my own journey of working for rehabilitation of rape victims and experiences along the way. Like the rest of the country, I was shocked and horrified by the Delhi gangrape and the reaction of the top leaders in our country in its aftermath. At the same time, I was looking to set up a philanthropic organisation through which I could contribute to society outside of my political role. However, as a believer in institutions, I wanted to make a contribution in an area where there was a glaring gap in government provision of both intent and resources. The Nirbhaya case alerted me to the lack of systems to help victims of sexual abuse to recover from trauma and rebuild their lives.

As I engaged in discussions with my colleagues and policy advisors on the idea of setting up a support cell for rape victims, my travels in villages of Haryana alerted me further to the dire condition of rape victims in rural areas as they face double injustice- first at the hands of the perpetrators of crime and then the society which fails to accept them. In one of my meetings in rural Haryana, I met one such family who was struggling to get justice for their daughter while facing immense pressure from the village elders to take the case back. The complexities of caste system and rural society can exacerbate the already deep hurt that the victims and their families suffer in case of such an incident. The media, however rarely turns its attention to these cases. This firmed up my decision to set up a support cell for rape victims which began its activities in March this year. The journey for my team and myself since then has been humbling, sometimes numbing and sometimes exhilarating when we are able to make a significant change to the lives of the victims.

Last week, however, I met with a family who is being supported by my Foundation since July this year. Their daughter was gangraped in January 2013, just a fortnight after the Delhi gangrape case. The girl’s mother wanted to fight for justice and send the accused to jail, however the family was misled first by their own lawyer who was assigned to them by the government and then they started getting threats and warnings from the accused forcing them to take back the case. The girl was repeatedly threatened of an acid attack by one of the accused which forced her to remain indoors. My foundation arranged for a new lawyer for their case and helped them register complaints with the police. However, the pressure was immense from both the village community and the extended family to keep mum. Only a few days later, the girl decided to end her life having been through the misery and not wanting to become a burden on her parents further. When I met the mother of this girl, I felt helpless and distraught, I found myself struggling to find words to comfort her. Here she was, lost a daughter to these lecherous misled young men and now fighting her family, her society and navigating the complex legal system to get justice. What possibly could have I said? As a Parliamentarian, I felt sorry that we couldn’t do enough to protect her daughter, our daughter. As a citizen, I felt that I need to do even more through my Foundation. This girl was Nirbhaya too, but why are we not fighting for her justice? I salute the courage of this mother who is fighting her daughter’s battle against all odds. This is a grim reminder that many such stories remain unheard.

It has been a difficult time for since the last few days. Having engaged with this issue at grassroot level and then hearing about the sexual assaults in work places, has laid bare the grey realities of our society to me like never before. It has reinforced that we need to re-evolve our societal structures, our values and our systems so that our women live with dignity in every kasbah, village, town and city. Following this thought, my team and I have drafted a Bill to introduce compulsory gender sensitization in school curriculum all over the country. How else can one transform the attitudes of a nation other than education? It is my hope that through this Bill, the government will take steps in this direction comprehensively and the civil society will come forward to support it. This is one issue that we must all resolve to address irrespective of our political differences.

We cannot afford to fail. Our daughters are already suffering, the next generation deserves better. We have to lay the foundations of a new society NOW.
Link to The Compulsory Gender Sensitization Curriculum Bill, 2013:

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