The long march to justice

The world’s largest march of rape survivors seeks to change the way you see victims of rape and sexual assault.

Y’s husband beat her senseless when he found out that she had been raped by three men in the fields where she had been working. Then he threw her out of the house and told her to go back to her parents. “I had done nothing wrong. I was just trying to earn a living,” she says.

When M managed to escape from three male captors, who told her they had bought her for ₹2 lakh, her family barred her from seeing her kids. That was in 2016.

Just two out of an estimated 15,000 women and men who have taken part in what is perhaps the world’s largest and longest march of rape survivors, Y and M are finally at the end of a two-month, 10,000 km journey covering 200 districts in 24 states. Along the way, they have met police, judges, doctors, administrators, students, lawyers, teachers. They want to change the way you see them. They want to end the silence that continues to shroud survivors of sexual assault.

In our recounting of rape’s attendant horrors, we might hear about the lonely fight for justice — the callous police, the insensitive doctors — but we almost never talk about hostile families. “First, we have to prove we were raped. In open court, we have to face our rapists and lawyers ask us how we were raped, what they did,” says Y. “Then, our own families don’t want to have anything to do with us. Everyone says, ‘compromise, keep quiet’.”

It’s the family that imposes silence on rape survivors because of a misplaced sense of shame. It’s the family that pulls young girls out of school or forces them into early marriage when they are raped. Nearly 95% of rape cases are never reported, says Ashif Shaikh, convenor of the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan that has organised the march. Despite the under reporting, crime data shows 106 rapes reported every day in 2016. The conviction rate for the same year was just 18.9%.

Now that the march is over, Shaikh wants to focus on not just better implementation of the law, but a shift in culture and mindset towards attitudes.

Among the marchers is a familiar face. It is the 55-year-old Bhanwari Devi whose gang rape in 1992 and subsequent acquittal of the men who raped her by a lower court judge on the grounds that the rape could not have happened as upper caste men could not have touched a lower caste woman, led to a national uproar. From Bhanwari Devi springs the Vishaka guidelines and the subsequent laws against sexual harassment at the workplace.

Bhanwari’s own case has dragged on in the courts — four of the five accused men have died of natural causes as her appeal languishes in the Rajasthan High Court. But she has no regrets. “I spoke up,” she says, yellow odhni on her head. “It’s because of me that all these girls are speaking up now.”

Namita Bhandare writes on social issues

The views expressed are personal

Men sharing childcare make society more equal

Social assumptions about Noble Mothers who sacrifice careers for their children are deeply ingrained

According to a July 2018 International Labour Organization (ILO)(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

It was after his son Viggo was born that Swedish photographer, Johan Bavman, then on parental leave, began looking for information about stay-at-home-dads. He found nothing. What he did find was a study that asked children who they turned to when they needed to be comforted. Their mums, said the children. Dads came at fifth place — below the option of not going to anyone at all.

Sweden has among the world’s most generous parental leave policies — 480 days with 90 days earmarked for each parent, and the balance of 300 days to be worked out between the parents. Yet, says Bavman, who took nine months off for Viggo, only 14% of Sweden’s fathers choose to equally share parental leave.

In India to inaugurate his photo project on Swedish dads, already exhibited in 50 countries and now in India along with portraits of Indian dads, Bavman said: “I wanted to find out why these fathers had chosen to stay at home; what it had done for them and their relationship with their partners and children.”

There is no country — not even Sweden, which claims to have the world’s “first feminist government” — where men and women equally share chores like cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly. In India, found a July 2018 International Labour Organization (ILO) report on care work, the gap is nearly four hours with men spending just 31 minutes a day on this work.

All women work. Not all work is paid for. Quite obviously, the more time a woman spends on unpaid care work, the less she has for paid employment.

When women become mothers, employment becomes even more tough to negotiate. A 2017 World Bank paper by Maitreyi Bordia Das and Leva Zumbyte found a nearly 10% gap in India between women who have no children and those who have at least one below the age of six.

Social assumptions about Noble Mothers who sacrifice careers for their children are deeply ingrained. Often stereotypes about a woman’s role and function within the family are reinforced by government initiatives. The LPG subsidy scheme, for instance, shows only women cooking. And while the government’s move to increase paid maternity leave to six months can only be welcomed, what does it tell us as a society about the responsibility and role of new fathers?

One way to challenge gender roles is to engage with boys, says Abhijit Das, director, Centre for Health and Social Justice. “You have to change the mental map of men and their assumption that a woman’s place is in the home,” he says. Getting men to share the housework and help with bringing up the baby helps them foster closer relationships with their wives and children — challenging and changing the way masculinity is traditionally seen.

Taking extended leave when their babies were born, says Bavman, made men better partners and dads. “It was an important step on the way towards a more equal society.”

Namita Bhandare writes on social issues

The views expressed are personal