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"One in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime. This is an appalling human rights violation, yet it remains one of the invisible and under-recognized pandemics of our time."
–Nicole Kidman.

This fact points out the grave situation of women across the world. Women across the world have been undergoing exploitation of various forms from times immemorial. Sexual harassment has become quite common today. Our days start with startling news about harassment of one form or the other reported in the dailies. The recent issue of Uber taxi rape has once again pointed fingers at this burning issue.

Harassment has become the order of the day today. We live in a nation where over 2.3 Lakh cases of rape, molestation, and abduction occurs every year. A country which is known to adore women as deity has degraded to such an extent. Public places are becoming more unsafe day by day. Women are ill-treated anywhere and everywhere. They are molested, grabbed, groped and eve-teased in buses, trains, in crowds, at workplaces and even at home.

Statistical data shows that about 90 percent of Indian Women had to face eve teasing at some point of time. Passing lewd comments and unwelcome gestures at women has become the coveted hobby of our 'gentlemen folk'. Women often find it difficult to deal with such situations. All that they can do is silently bear the yoke of being a woman and walk away.

Ironically, women themselves are blamed for these. Indian society believes that molestation occurs due to the provocative dressing style of women. However we have no answer to justify the rapes of children below ten years who are not grown up enough to provoke!! Women find it difficult to respond to the harassment in public places. It is very difficult to get witness to justify the woman's accusation. Women are advised to hush it up in order to prevent further trouble. Due to the fear of the social stigma associated with such instances women are forced to hush up. Hence most of the cases go unreported, even if they are reported, they are not taken seriously.

We live in a nation where even the leaders believe that excessive freedom given to women is the reason for increasing rapes and the only available solution is to marry off the girls before they become matured!! And beyond everything, we have leaders who believe that boys are boys, mistakes happen sometimes and they can't be hanged for that!!

The patriarchal norms of Indian society prescribe dos and don'ts to women. It bestows the responsibility of harassment of women upon women for being 'improperly' dressed and for provoking men to molest her. However this is not a convincing argument. Being a democratic nation Women have the right to decide what to wear. Respecting women means respecting her choices. Being dressed in modern attire is not consent to sex or rape. Women alone have the right over her body. She is not a public property in order to be gazed upon and to be touched without consent.

Indian law has imposed certain legal provisions for the safety of women. Molestation and outraging of a woman's modesty are punishable under IPC 354 and 509. IPC 294 has the provision to punish a man found guilty of making a girl or woman the target of obscene gestures, remarks, songs or recitation with a maximum jail sentence of three months. However even after imposition of these provisions, exploitation of women hasn't ceased. Often many of the cases of molestation and eve teasing goes unreported due to the fear of the social stigma and legal battles associated with it which will require much time to be solved. Laws need to be more efficient in order to deal with such a grave situation. Speedy disposal of cases and strict punishment to the offenders will help to reduce the crimes against women.

However mere implementation of law is not sufficient. We must develop an ethical culture where women are respected as individuals who have their own identity and not as mere bodies to be gazed upon. This can be developed only if our boys and girls are treated equally and are made aware of the need to respect each other. We need to break away the shackles of stereotypes. Women should be educated properly and should be well equipped to question the injustices against her. With proper implementation of law and proper socialization we can make India a safer place to live. We need an attitudinal change. Proper education is the only way for this. Let's dream of a future where men and women stand shoulder to shoulder with equal dignity as the torch bearers of a better tomorrow.

Bhagya Lakshmi Vijayan

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