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Software hub in India gets an official ‘Rape Schedule’

Mar 21, 2012

On a recently passed order of not deploying women at work after 8 pm by Gurgaon authorities, after a woman employee was gangraped at a mall, women rights activist Pratiksha Baxi argues that women's access to public spaces is regulated by the threat of rape, with the assumption that women face greater chances of risk when they work till late at night. It means that women are expected to organise their life, work on the fear of rape at work or in public spaces; failing which, they are blamed for having "invited" the violence of rape.

Gurgaon, India: The administration of Gurgaon, one of India’s biggest software hubs, recently passed an order that malls and other such establishments in the city should not permit women to work after 8 p.m., unless permission is granted by the labour commissioner, following reports of a woman employee who was abducted and gangraped from the Sahara Mall. Thus, a “rape schedule” has become official.

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Seems the labour laws in Gurgaon and neighbouring, Delhi, remain archaic and prohibit women from being employed in certain categories of shops. Simply put, women’s access to public spaces is regulated by the threat of rape, with the assumption that women face greater chances of risk when they work till late at night, or access public places after dark.

It means that women are expected to organise their life, work and futures foundationally on the fear of rape at work or in public spaces; failing which, they are blamed for having “invited” the violence of rape. It means that the state abdicates all responsibility to put in place measures to prevent, redress and prosecute rape.

It means that it imposes curfew on all women. A state of emergency for women is after all, “normal” law and order for the state. Gurgaon is a horrifying example of “public-private partnership” which promotes, institutes and normalises rape cultures in public spaces.

The abject failure of the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) to provide the city with an infrastructure has meant that roads are not built or maintained, sidewalks do not exist, systems of lighting remain poor, paths are strewn with open sewers and public transportation is pathetic. This means that the chances of resisting an assault or raising an effective alarm are considerably reduced, if not non-existent.

Even if the policing was adequate, which it is not by any stretch of imagination, can cutting edge policing prevent or redress sexual violence in the absence of basic infrastructure?

Every such act of public abduction and gang rape signals that men think that rape is recreational. That it is not political violence against women; rather they think it is a sport. That the mall is the site of marking the target, the street is the site of a chase and the car or a builder’s flat is the site of hideous violence.

Only a few months ago we heard that the Gurgaon police spent Rs 30 lakh to purchase an ‘Emergency Service Vehicle’ equipped with hi-tech devices including spy cams, operated by trained policemen. Not only is one such car and team ill equipped to police the city, it would be quite impossible for such a vehicle to reach a scene of crime or an accident site in a timely manner, given the traffic that clogs the city. In any case, policing too has been outsourced in Gurgaon to private security agencies.

Providing work in malls or work in the outsourcing industry has not only meant challenging the idea of “appropriate women’s work” but it also means that a city’s infrastructure should have incorporated prevention of any form of sexual violence in its design.

Even privatised solutions seem to have failed. To get to the malls or the enclaves of outsourcing companies, women mostly rely on private transportation provided by a company or taxis. But now we know then this is not safe either. Your taxi can be stopped and you can be abducted and gangraped.

Every such act of public abduction and gang rape signals that men think that rape is recreational. That it is not political violence against women; rather they think it is a sport. That the mall is the site of marking the target, the street is the site of a chase and the car or a builder’s flat is the site of hideous violence.

These men know that their targets are not protected by any security measures at their workplace. These men know that the streets are not policed and in any case, the police will blame the woman for working late at night. These men know that they will not be prosecuted, that gang rape in India is a national sport.
Without doubt the public-private partnership, which nurtures almost lovingly a rape culture, is foundationally pornographic. It makes its profits by erecting its edifice on imaginations which remain faithful to violent masculinities.

To this partnership, safety of women is not a commodity; nor is it part of the city’s master plan.

The “messiness” of Gurgaon is planned. It is deliberate in pushing women into zones of vulnerability and risk, for which neither the state nor the employer own responsibility – be it by way of policing, prevention or tort. It means that such a design builds safe routes for violence against all women – not only women who work late nights in malls but also those working class women who work in sub-human conditions to construct these malls. Yet all those working class women who labour to build our cities do not even have the “luxury” to follow a “rape schedule”.

It does not occur to the government or the judiciary that this is about sexual violence at the workplace. While there is no law in India about rape at the workplace, the Vishakha guidelines make it manifestly clear that sexual harassment at workplace violates women’s constitutional rights.

If a woman is stalked, sexually harassed, followed, and raped from her workplace on her way home, the employer is as culpable as the state. But then it is not acceptable in India for survivors of rape to file tort cases against those third parties who failed to take reasonable care to protect a woman against rape, as they do in American courts.

Instead of accepting the vicarious liability of the state to prevent sexual assault in public spaces, we are now told that women must take permission to work after eight in the evening.

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