Flavia Agnes

*You have written extensively on how the stigma attached to rape has to be
rooted out of society and the need for change in terminology from
“rape victim” to “rapes survivor”. We saw in the Delhi incident of December
16, terms like “zinda laash” being used. Is this case any different?*

In this case, the girl has sent out a very statement by her own conduct, by
saying she wants to get back to work and this is not the end of her life. I
think the biggest change is that nobody is calling her a “zinda laash” or
saying that her life is now over and what will she do and where will she
go? That in itself is a sign of our making some form of progress.

*After this incident everyone has been debating that Mumbai is no longer
safe for women. Do you agree with this?*

I do not agree with this at all and it’s a story that media has latched on
to. When we talk about the safety of women in a city, we look at the
culture of that city and not just statistics. The culture of Delhi is such
that women do not feel safe travelling by public transport or being out
late at night, the same cannot be said for Mumbai. I was sitting in a panel
recently, when I asked some women how this incident will change their
lifestyle and it was very heartening to hear them say that it won’t. So, on
the contrary, I would say Mumbai is very safe for women.

*The perpetrators were poor, unemployed youth. How do you perceive their
crime in the light of their background?*

This is the economic capital of the country, but the way this city is
growing the rich-poor divide is only getting worse. These were poor,
illiterate and unemployed men, there has to be a sense of collective
responsibility. Also, the way the families of the perpetrators have been
portrayed in the media is very problematic, we have put up the faces of
their mothers and grandmothers as the breeders of rapists. We have delved
into their backgrounds and put their poverty out there to gawk at, and then
we suggest capital punishment. How will that change the inequity in the

*What would you say about the media coverage of this incident?*

There has been hyper-sensationalism from the media. At Majlis, we have been
running a rape victim support programme for two years, most of the victims
are very poor, but nobody writes about them. We have to look at the class
characteristics and how all rapes are not treated equally. A rape gets
highlighted when a middle class woman is raped by poor men. I have received
calls from media of every country after this incident, it’s our domestic
issue, but this sort of heightened interest only leads to sensationalism,
where we have come close to giving away the girl’s identity.

*The role of police has been questioned this time in Mumbai, as it was in
Delhi. What do you see as solutions?*

We have been working on a programme which is a collaboration between the
Ministry of Women and Child Development and Majlis to provide socio-legal
support to survivors. One part of this is our interaction with the police,
where we provide training to all senior officers, teach them laws and
procedures. For example, we have tried to explain the nuances of the new
anti-rape law to all senior officers in the police and training in
procedures to help them do their job better, such as what should be done
when a woman files a complaint, how to record evidence.

*What are the implications you draw from this case and the one in Delhi in
December last year?*

I find that both cases reflect moral policing in society, both women were
accompanied by men as was also the case with Keenan Santos and Reuben
Fernandes incident inMumbai, somehow these women are perceived as easy and
the men are thrashed. We have been seeing a crackdown on couples who are
together, through drives on PDA. Look at the ban on dance bars and how it
reflects moral policing. When dance bars were open, women used to be out
till late at night, taking public transport all by themselves, and the city
was a safer place. The answer is not to keep women inside, but to have more
women on the streets and to have a more open environment.


*Flavia Agnes, women’s rights lawyer and founder of Majlis, talks about the
Mumbai rape case, what it reflects about the city, and the dangerous effect
of moral policing*


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