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April 21, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

Activist on a mission to empower women

By Nilima Pathak, Correspondent

New Delhi Founder director of a Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Social Research (CSR), Ranjana Kumari has spent three decades since her student days as a social activist protecting women’s rights.

With a mission to empower the women of India, the CSR has been working towards guaranteeing their fundamental rights.

Since its inception in 1983, the CSR has been operating on a local and national level to enhance the capacities of individuals, communities and institutions to create a humane, equitable and gender-just society.

Believing that “women can be catalysts and agents of social change”, Ranjana’s focus areas have especially been issues related to violence against women, pre-natal sex selection and illegal migration of women to different countries. She has been senior adviser to the Ministry of Labour and co-ordinator of the South Asian Forum for Women’s Political Empowerment.

She speaks to Gulf News in an exclusive interview.

 

Gulf News: Would you attribute the rise in atrocities on women to lack of security in the city or society becoming immune to women’s issues?

RANJANA KUMARI: The problem is inequality of power between men and women. We have a strong culture, which is very male-dominated and women are blamed for every wrong. They are sometimes blamed for not wearing proper clothes and at other times for going out in the night. We must have regulations and these regulations need to be imposed strictly. Delayed justice in the courts and lack of proper policing all add up to the culprits or the violators of the law sensing that they can get away easily after committing a crime.

 

How far is it correct to blame a woman’s dress in case of rape?

I don’t think a woman’s outfit has anything to do with the rise in cases of rape. After all what justification can be given in the case of rape of a six-year-old girl or a woman of 60? We have come across and counselled several rape victims and in most cases rape has taken place at home by a relative or a neighbour. Incidentally, those women who dress up in modern and revealing clothes do not venture out in the markets. They come out of their vehicles and go to a club or a shopping mall and do not become the target of the lust of men.

 

Recently, the government announced compensation for rape victims. Isn’t it a mockery of the justice system?

Compensation for mutilation of a person’s body, mind and soul is not an answer and no amount of financial assistance can help. Providing money should not be considered a solution for violation of women’s rights. Instead, conditions should to be created so that such incidents do not take place.

 

A woman judge has suggested chemical castration for rapists. Do you think stringent punishment as this can help curb such crimes?

As a human rights and women’s rights activist, I am against any kind of physical harm to the other person as well. Castration is not a practical solution, because the state cannot take the responsibility of calibrating people. This will mean the state itself is becoming brutal. Also, the fear of castration could have other repercussions. Men might even tend to murder the rape victim after committing the crime and be crueller to them.

 

And what about men who on being rejected take revenge by resorting to acid attacks on women?

This is one of the most heinous forms of crime where a man wants to disfigure a woman’s face or body and inflicts acute pain on her. We have laws on the one side, but easy accessibility of chemicals on the other side. Also, few people have been punished for such crimes. There has to be definite and quick punishment.

 

Women’s organisations are often accused of not pursuing the cases despite the fact that the country has hundreds of NGOs working towards emancipation of women. Why are they lagging in their approach?

I agree that the women’s groups need to be more pro-active. But blaming women’s organisations for crimes inflicted upon them by men is also not right. Women’s issues are society’s issues and we need more women to join us.

 

Trafficking of young girls has been a major issue for decades and a number of minor girls have been found working as housemaids. What remedial measures can be taken to control such crimes?

It’s the middle class people who are indulging in this crime. Young girls from poor families are brought from across the country and sent to placement agencies to work as domestic help. People employ them on meagre wages and indulge in exploiting them. Child labour is criminalised in India and should be completely stopped as a social practice. The issue can be tackled if only the middle-class people understand that no one should employ a child below 18 years of age. The place for the girl child is in the classroom and playground and not doing cooking and cleaning jobs at people’s homes.

 

About five children go missing in Delhi every day. Why is there no end to kidnappings and no solution to find the missing children?

Children are trafficked for many reasons. People are worried about girl children, who are thrown into prostitution, but boys are as made available in the market in the name of paedophilia. There are also organised rackets running in the country on begging and organ selling. If only our law enforcement agencies were efficient, much of it could be brought under control.

Profile: Career path

  • Ranjana Kumari was born in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
  • Completed her early education from Varanasi and did a Master’s in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
  • Worked as professor for five years in University of Delhi.
  • Founder director of Centre for Social Research.
  • Served as member of the Task Force on Industrial Relations for the International Labour Organisation in Geneva.
  • President of Women Power Connect (WPC), an NGO that works towards the goal of gender equality.
  • Member, National Mission for Empowerment of Women, Government of India.
  • Runs a campaign I Stand for Safe Delhi to end sexual harassment of women through street plays and theatre.
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