A "Literacy Program" on Girl Students' Exploitation and Protection

I recently had an opportunity to be a part of a "literacy program", as it was called, on girl students' exploitation and protection. It was organized by the Dharwad District Legal Services Authority, in association with the Children's Academy, the Women and Child Development Department, the Police Department, the District Children's Protection Unit, the Dharwad Bar Association, the Education Department, the Broadcasting Department and the Family Planning Association of India, Dharwad branch.

Yes, so much for the sheer amount of stakes involved in the literacy program. 

In the wake of the recent media obsession with the reportage of rape cases from every nook and corner of our villages, towns and blocks, this program was a given. There were Police Commissioners, the Women and Child Development Officers, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, the District Commissioner, renowned child psychologists, school teachers and advocates chairing the program. The Meeting Hall was filled to the brim, with school students. Well, nothing unusual with this? Take this - all the students were girls.

The one very important thing which struck to me was this very fact that only girls from different local schools were a part of the program, apart from the teachers escorting them. Why did the district administration feel it relevant only to involve girls in this literacy program? Wasn't it equally, or for that matter, more important, to involve boys in the program?

The girls, all somewhat shaken, and distrustful of the authorities on the dais, were visibly not ready to put in their trust on the police and the judiciary. Girls as young as 10 and 11 years old, boldly demanded a "promise" from the police chief - a promise of better protection, a promise that they won't be raped or kidnapped, a promise to protect them, as they readily - willy-nilly - accepted their lesser status in the society.

Their innocent voice quivered as they spoke of the Delhi incident, and as they asked as to why the police officials there "did not take any action against the culprits", and "why no one helped the girl". To many of the questions asked by the girls, the authorities had no answers. They were fundamental. They struck at the roots. Questions which we, the so called adults refuse to ask ourselves, were asked by the students to the authorities, in the open hall, without fear of reprimand or retribution.

What I observed from the whole event was, the program further reinforced the victimisation position of girls. The program sent out an implicit message that girls are supposed to take care of themselves, it is the girls who are supposed to take precautions. Everyone, including the Police Commissioner and leading advocates, "advised" the girls to "head straight back to home after school" and "not to stay away from home till late in the nights", for the reasons of "safety". For this, one girl asked about the idea of equality - why is her brother allowed to stay away from home late in the nights but not her, isn't this a mockery of equality? 

Though answers did come from the stage that "if you are confident of protecting yourself, you can as well stay away in the late nights also", they seemed somewhat lame and misfounded. Does this mean that the police has no role to play at all in ensuring the safety of the women folk? What meaning will remain of our governance system and democracy then? The questions were left unanswered.

As far as the boys are concerned, the program would have done justice to itself if, predominantly, boys were the target audience, because it is the boys who grow up to be chauvinistic men, and who reinforce misogyny and its resultant violence against women. Given this fundamental flaw in the approach towards addressing the issue, what valid purpose did the program serve? 

It only hush-hushed into the hearts of the innocent girls that they are not equal. Though their text books very ostensibly speak the otherwise, they are just not equal to men, and they just cannot be so, for ages to come. That they "need" protection from the police officials; they should be "provided" with state help; they are always at the receiving end of the violence. And, above all, they are the lesser halves of this male dominated society.

The program was albeit very successful in reinforcing the servility of women towards the men!

Hats Off, to the District Administration!

P.S.: This blog has also been published at Legally India.

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