The debate on women’s freedoms has returned to Indian drawing rooms after a gap. The ghastly rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad on Wednesday night has horrified urban India. It took place on a news day when five other crimes of a similar nature were reported from as many cities — Ranchi, Kanchipuram, Cuddalore, Chandigarh, Vadodara. People are outraged at the apathy of the Cyberabad police that asked the family inappropriate questions and delayed lodging an FIR even when it approached them within one-and-a-half hours of her SOS to her sister. Yet state home minister Mahmood Ali made so bold as to claim that had the victim called up the police instead, she would have lived. It places in grave doubt the ability of the law and order machinery to protect the citizen. But when in an exigency, complaining is no strategy.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to contemplate them, there are a few social facts that are crying out to be reckoned with, and in these are perhaps hidden the solutions to this malaise. (a) Women in India are still shamed for rape. Nevertheless, educate mothers to give girls agency. It is, after all, survival of the fittest, and women must be able to have the freedom to trust their own instincts, take care of their vehicles and themselves, own the streets and take their own decisions when under duress. (b) Street rapes are mostly committed by underprivileged men, and these men view all independent women as undeserving and products of privilege. To defeat your opponent or even to deter him, you must first defeat him morally. As economic inequalities will continue to exist, one way and an important one to beat this system of conjecturing would be for women to pay their moral dues to society so they have the courage of conviction to face down assailants and others who post-facto come and shame them.
Remember, harsher punishment for rapists like the death penalty won’t work. It will only make the courts more stringent about our police’s shoddy investigative skills. Don’t forget, India is a country where judges often ask victims to marry their rapists.