Nirbhaya: Safety needs to come first
Nirbhaya – Fearless.
It’s ironical that the one word that has come to symbolise the movement for increasing safety for women in the country is associated with a ghastly rape case, the infamous December 2012 case. The young physiotherapy intern Nirbhaya touched many a nerve and heart when she died of her injuries later. The case provoked India like never before. People throughout the country and abroad rallied, seeking justice for the young girl.
The case again has hit the headlines again this week for the shocking and appalling lack of remorse showed by one of the convicted in the case, bus driver Mukesh Singh during an interview for a BBC documentary. In a nutshell, this is what he said: A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they would have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy.
BBC will air the interview on its Storyville programme to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8 (It will be telecast on NDTV 24*7 at 9pm if you are interested in watching it). The interview has generated outrage in India: Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked Tihar Jail authorities to explain why they gave permission; citizens are up in arms asking why are the views of a rapist given so much importance and well the aam aadmi is wondering if anything really has changed since then despite the numerous claims made by several agencies.
The Nirbhaya case sums up in one word why women still hesitate to venture out to work, why they don’t want to work late nights (or why they want to go home early), why they need transport if they are required to work late, why every word, action makes alarm bells ring in our heads, why parents are scared if their daughters/daughters-in-laws stay alone, why women need a male companion to go to a pub or a disco or even just go home – Safety.
Increasingly, safety at work has become a paramount area of concern. It is not just about getting home in a cab; it is also about trying to work without having to worry about sexual predators for colleagues.
Remember the Uber rape case that broke early this year? The 25-year-old woman was going home in a cab that she hired from Uber. It turned out that the driver was a serial sex offender. Of course, he managed to get a fake certificate and Uber didn’t check its authenticity.
If you thought that rape and sexual offences were limited to just car and bus drivers, hold your horses. Tehelka’s founder-editor Tarun Tejpal was arrested for allegedly raping his junior colleague at an event in Goa; it has been a year since that happened and the trial has not yet begun. In a more recent case, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, a globally influential voice on climate change and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was accused of allegedly sending inappropriate texts and emails to a 29-year-old female research employee at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). Three more women have come forward with sexual harassment allegations against him. I’m not even going to count the number of times I read rape in the papers every day.
You have read about similar instances earlier. How many times have we felt ‘oh poor kid!’ and turned the page on the paper? How many times have companies asked women to hush up sexual harassment complaints? How many companies have set up sexual harassment committees and have actively investigated any complaint lodged with them? This situation is not just limited to India.
One thing is certain: For any woman, Indian or otherwise, safety has come to symbolise freedom. The freedom of movement, of thought, of doing things without overthinking them—something that has been taken for granted by most people—will be the key to cracking the diversity code that companies across the world are grappling with. Be it inside the company or outside, unless a woman feels safe and secure in the environment she operates in, don’t expect gender diversity ratios to tilt any sooner. While many companies are working towards getting more women leaders as it has today become a business imperative, they would do well to remember that they too need to actively change the society around them—one mind at a time.