Two months after December 2012: What is the progress?

IBNLive Blog - Feb 26, 2013

It has been more than two months since the infamous Delhi gangrape that shook the people's conscience across the country. While the incident induced a resonance across the country, it's also important to understand what has been happening over the last two months. Has there been any change? Has the outcry been sustained enough to shake up the inertia in the system? Have there been any legislative developments in this regard? These are all important questions that one needs to ask, if we are to have a long term vision of improving the safety of women and the law and order apparatus in the country.

What has been the impact on legislative front?
The public pressure during the peak of the movement was so immense that it was hard for the state to ignore the calling of the people. In this context, an ordinance was passed that covered the findings of the JS Verma committee. The JS Verma Committee produced a comprehensive report, which was well received by civil society, consists of numerous recommendations in order to enhance safety of women in the country. Some of these recommendations include having a more streamlined and easier process for women to file complaints, creation of rape crisis cell in police stations, life imprisonment for rapists and elimination of insensitive tests such as the "two finger tests" for victims who complain to the police. While there were certain points of contention including the lack of death penalty, by and large the recommendations were welcome. However, the ordinance that has been tabled by the state seems to be missing some of the key recommendations made by JS Verma. The ordinance is likely to be passed in this session of Parliament with a consensus seeming to be reached between all the stakeholders in Parliament. Whether this is in line with what civil society wants is anyone's guess.

How have the state governments responded?
Most of the state governments have been vague. The most comprehensive stance has been from the Tamil Nadu chief minister, who has outlined a strong 13 point plan in dealing with perpetrators of crimes against women. Besides a couple of other states, most of them have not come up with concrete action plans. Since most of the agitation in the latter half of the protests was Delhi centric, are the state governments being lax about the urgency of this? Since the states are in charge of law and order, isn't it equally important for them to bring about new initiatives to enhance the safety of women?

Has the awareness faded away?
Yes and No. At some level, there is a sustained campaign with relentless media coverage on the subject. There have been numerous cases reported and some channels have taken it upon themselves to create an agenda for change. These measures are kept the public pressure high on issues concerning gender protection. Has the grassroots movement been sustained? This is something that I doubt so. Much like other social media driven movements, this has also probably hit its saturation point. Much of the natural outrage late last year has faded into silent anger or has moved onto another subject. Considering the opaque nature of the Indian system, it is important that the awareness at the grass-root levels is sustained so as to push for better legislation across the country.

Do you see this as an integral part of dinner table discourse?
I think the biggest takeaway of the protests is the ability to penetrate into the middle class house and have such discussions across the dinner table between children and parents. It has lead to an opening up of perspectives with a household with regards to such issues. Leave alone discussion, in most households, such topics would never even been discussed if not for the movement. To know that 2 months after the incident, still such discussions take place, is probably the biggest offshoot of the movement as yet.

In hindsight, after 2 months, two things remain very clear. This movement has had its effect in terms of changing public discourse, much like the Anna Hazare led Lokpal movement. However, it is facing the same challenges that the anti corruption movement faced. Besides the laws that are likely to be introduced, there has to be a sustained campaign in creating more awareness and changing the regressive mindsets of people who are indulging in such crime.

In the long term, only time will tell, whether December 2012 protests have had a lasting impact on the social change that it sought to create. It indeed is a long road ahead.

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