The recent cases of gang rape of a female photojournalist in Mumbai and a physiotherapist intern in New Delhi have not only intiated a wave of protests all around India but also made the people question the legislation that protects women in the country. Unfortunately, rape cases and the subsequent willingness to pass laws ensuring women rights are not new in India.
Since the passage of the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961 that prohibits the request, payment, or acceptance of dowry (the gift demanded or given as a precondition for a marriage), people in India are demanding for more and better laws that makes women feel safer and adminster stricter and quicker punishments to the perpetuators of crimes against women. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, passed this year, is one of the newer laws that seeks “to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."
However, laws alone aren’t enough to end the sexual crimes against women. For Tessta Setalvad, an Indian civil rights activist and the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) – an organization that fights for justice for the victims of violence in the state of Gujarat, the rules by themselves are not good enough: “You need to have the provisions that enable women to access the law. And that’s where the problem arises because in law and order machinery it serves a very gender-biased mindset."
Senior Resident Editor of Hindustan Times, Sunita Aron echoed a similar belief. But to her, changes are slowly made not because of the creation of new pleas but because of the pressure exerted by activist groups and the media. Aron also said that one of the main problems is the lack of coverage of crimes against women happening in rural areas: “The focus of the media is not there (villages and rural areas). It’s basically that it happened because of the media and public pressure, not because the government or the administration wanted to take any action”.
By Marina Demartini and Nate Anton.