THE first step towards eliminating an evil from society is to create public awareness about it and to raise one’s voice against it. This the Aurat Foundation, along with others, has been doing rather well by documenting cases of violence against women and consolidating the available data in an annual report. The 2008 report for the whole country makes horrific reading. In that year alone, 7,733 cases of violence against women were reported in the media. What is shocking is the large number of women who lost their lives in this period – 1,516 were murdered while 472 were killed for reasons of ‘honour’. Given the state of our justice system and social prejudices, one can assume many offenders would have gone scot-free. True, these statistics may not be accurate in their details, but similar reports, such as the one compiled by the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Assistance, broadly corroborate the data. The incidence of violence may actually be higher considering that a large number of cases are not reported at all or the police refuse to register FIRs against well-connected offenders.
Unfortunately, violence against women is on the rise in the country. This is hardly surprising. With no substantial improvement in the status of women, notwithstanding the cosmetic changes introduced in recent years, and the spiralling crime rate, it is inevitable that women would become victims of all kinds of crimes and social evils. Some of the crimes categorised by the organisations mentioned earlier can be directly attributed to a patriarchal mindset that tolerates no ‘defiance’ or dissent from women who are perceived as inferior and commodities. Why else would we be witness to crimes such as honour killing, acid throwing, rape, vani and domestic violence? The need for consciousness-raising in matters of women’s rights – that still have to be recognised as human rights – cannot be over-emphasized. The traditional prejudice against women also permeates the state machinery and, therefore, it is more difficult to obtain justice for women who have been wronged. The police are actually hostile towards them – 117 cases of custodial violence were reported – while some anti-women laws continue to be on the statute books. In this scenario, women do not receive justice, and the knowledge that women fail to obtain redress means there is nothing to deter the wrongdoers from committing their evil deeds.