In 1996, a sixteen year old young girl was lured from a school in Kerala, the state that I come from. She returned 40 days later to the post office where her father worked and even the father could not recognise the child. The girl in captivity was taken from lodge to lodge, town to town; she was raped 67 times, sometimes by a single perpetrator, at times by two simultaneously and the society asked only one question – why didn’t she runaway from their captivity?
Her medical examination of 1996 reads "…cuts and bruises all over the body. Bite marks and scars of festering wounds where she had been beaten. The injuries in her private parts had become serious wounds because of bacterial infections. They were so bad that pus and blood spurted from the wounds when they were touched. The infection in the uterus is so severe that she would never be able to bear a child. Bodily fluids had collected to swell her body in many places. Festering throat."
Yet she is asked, ‘why didn’t you escape?’ Fifteen years later in 2015, the High Court sentenced 15 of the accused to rigorous imprisonment of seven years for rape and six accused to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for gang rape. Last month, yes last month, the Supreme Court rejected the bail applications of those sentenced by the High Court and the case has come to a close. However, after 19 years, the Supreme Court of India also asked the girl the same question – Why didn’t you escape?
Nobody has asked why those 42 educated and influential men chose to rape her? Nobody asks how the family had the courage to pursue the case in court and bear the jibes of cruel neighbours and a pitiless society,” says writer activist K.R Meera. KR Meera is a Malayalam author, most recently of Hang Woman and And Slowly Forgetting That Tree.
As we commemorate 16 Days of Activism let us ponder over the pain that thousands of young girls and families have to undergo world over. How can we ensure cities and society in general is more just and fair and there is no violence against women and girls and it is perceived as an infringement of women’s human rights?
The safe cities programme is one way to ensure that there is more visibility to public space violence where efforts are on to restore safety, mobility and dignity for women and girls. It pushes the system to not only respond to the individual and collective cases but also create systems where there is more equality, respect and dignity for women. According to the Women and Cities 111 report, ActionAid, 2015, the three major issues faced by marginalised women linked to public violence is apathy from the police and the justice system, silence, blaming and victimisation by public (those who witness violence) and lack of public services and systems, leading to violence and not reporting of violence.
Women and girls in the communities we work, urgently demand to end Institutional sexism, that all systems, structures and services are made gender responsive and women be made part of the local governance. A safe city is where the rights of women are safeguarded, protected and fulfilled where girls can pursue education and women can work outside homes and lead a dignified life without sexual harassment and sexual violence. During this 16 Days of Activism, ActionAid joins the women to demand state accountability towards public space violence.