The transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme, Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with India's first woman IPS officer
Nagendar Sharma: Would steps like Parliament passing a bill on domestic violence against women and the ongoing efforts to forge a consensus on reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures help in changing the attitude of Indian society towards women?
Kiran Bedi: Why not? We should welcome anything done for almost half of one billion of the country’s population, which would help in empowering women both mentally and economically as well. Such steps may look incomplete as of now, but when power is given to any strata of the society, which it lacks at the moment, a change in attitude would definitely take place.
Listener from Mumbai: Do you think that steps like reserving seats in state legislature and Parliament would really empower women, when we see that domestic violence is not restricted to housewives. In a recent case, the ADC of a former Maharashtra governor used to beat up his IAS wife. Where does the real fault lie: in our education, society or our psyche?
Kiran Bedi: I think in all three factors that you have pointed out. The erroneous thinking of our society that if you are an MA, PhD, and you have passed IAS/IPS, you are bound to be a good person, is wrong. What type of a person you eventually turn out to be would depend on how your upbringing has been, what has been taught to you apart from the books and what is your mentality, so you are right the fault is in all three basic things.
Nagendar Sharma: You have laid stress on the psyche. When you compare the psyche of Indians with those of other countries, what difference do you find? In your view, what could be done to change the male domination mindset ?
Kiran Bedi: Well, it is a five thousand year old mindset which we are discussing today. A change is coming in the Indian society in the attitude towards women, but it would take time in such a big country with so much diversity. So you would find women doing well in life, leading the police force or heading a board meeting, thereby leading by example on one hand, but, on the other, you would find a vast majority of them silently bearing the physical and mental torture in their homes.
Listener from Oman: Apart from the in-laws, don’t you also think that the Indian law has also been unfair to women, whether it be dowry, cruelty or women’s rights?
Kiran Bedi: Well, a mere law in itself is like a shadow. Law needs a complainant, it needs witnesses and it requires evidence; without these three main components, the law in itself is blind. To make the law work you need to put it in motion, and in cases of dowry or cruelty, who is the complainant? It has be to the victim, who is a woman. She suffers silently, and I have seen, in so many cases, that even after lodging a complaint with the police, she tries her best to not break the house. She is a mother also, where would she go? She has nowhere to go. Even her parents say we have got you married, now you have to live and die in your in-laws' house. That is why I am saying we are fighting a five thousand year old psyche. Figures already speak about the abysmally low conviction rate in dowry and cruelty cases.
Listener from Delhi: My question is precisely that. Why is the prosecution lax in cases involving women? Police officers pressure women only to go back and compromise with their husbands and in-laws. All sorts of pressure are exerted on complainant women. Would women ever be able to live fearlessly and report to police what they face?
Kiran Bedi: Amazingly, if you look at the statistics, the only crime which is going up is the crime against women, and the reason for that is higher reporting to the police of crimes against women. What I am saying is based on figures provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Who are the complainants in such cases? Victim women or at the most their parents. So slowly, things are changing and women are coming forward to report what is against them, despite all sorts of pressures. I think that this figure of crimes against women would continue to go up, as more and more women would come forward and speak out, then eventually we would see a reversal of the trend, which would actually then mean that crimes against women are going down. Once the Law against Domestic Violence is implemented, I do see the situation changing.
Listener from Chattisgarh: I think that in ninety percent cases, men are responsible in domestic violence against women, but ten percent are those who are innocent and suffer because their wives are rich and resourceful. Similar is the position in dowry cases. Now Parliament has passed this new bill, what are the safeguards that innocents do not suffer, there is no debate about those who are wrong...
Kiran Bedi: Well, a study carried out by Centre for Social Research shows that cases of misuse are only four to five percent, when we look at figures of dowry and cruelty against women cases. Now, instead of looking at this minimal negative figure look at the success -- that 95 cases out of hundred, which are reported, are correct. But we do not want that even this five percent figure of wrong cases should remain. The new law on domestic violence against women, passed by Parliament that would soon become an act as soon as President signs it, has certain positive features to check the misuse. Any case of domestic violence against women would be reported to the court and would be taken up as a civil case. The concerned woman would be provided protection by special protection officers of the court. Only if an injunction of the court would be defied, then only would the police step-in, therefore when the new law comes into force, police would be the last resort and not the first. Also I see that Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with cruelty against women, could come into the realms of the new law, and the whole attitude could change in the coming days.
Nagendar Sharma: Once this law on domestic violence against women comes into existence, how would it work? If any woman wished to lodge a complaint against her husband/in-laws, what would she have to do?
Kiran Bedi: Well, once the new law sees the light of the day, which is just a matter of time now, after that a complainant woman can come and file her complaint before a sessions court if any cruelty or violence has been inflicted on her. Slapping would be considered an offence, so would be abusive behaviour, as violence is not merely physical, even mental violence is a big cause of worry for the Indian women.
After a complaint is filed, both sides, the complainant as well as her husband/in-laws would be summoned to the court; both parties would be heard as in a civil suit. If the court feels injustice has been caused to the complainant, relief would be ordered, and she could be provided security to stay in her husband’s/in-laws house. Even after this, if the complainant feels that the environment has not changed, the court would take this to be a violation of the injunction, and the matter would be then referred to the police, where after registration of the case, guilty could be punished upto a period ranging from three to seven years. So as I said, police would be the last resort.
Listener from UP: Whatever laws be made or figures be cited, the fact remains that dowry cases against women, female foeticide and violence, all are continuing unabated and are on the rise, instead of declining with time. Who is responsible for this – our society, our leadership or our entire system?
Kiran Bedi: Well, we ourselves are responsible for this. Now in cases of domestic violence, there is no leader who comes from outside and does it, no neighbour does it, there is nobody from the system, no NGO comes and beats anyone at home, police does not do that. But it is we, ourselves, it is the people living in that very house who are responsible for subjecting some innocent to this brutality. Now who is there in the house? The husband, father in-law, mother in law, brothers in-law, and in some cases unmarried sisters in-law. Therefore it is only the family members and none else who are responsible for brutalities on a woman whom they respectfully brought to their house.
In this entire issue, I feel very pained when I come across cases where women are involved in beating of another woman. Let me also tell you that the rate of cases relating to cruelty or domestic violence against women being reported is very low. Figures of Centre for Social Research show that only one out of a thousand cases are reported to the police, and out of these also, convictions take place only in two out of a hundred cases. More startling is the fact that a victim waits for at least three years before finally approaching the police. No woman wants to break her house, patiently gives time to her husband and in-laws to improve, even has children in the hope that things might change for the better, but only when all limits are crossed, does she take the bold step of approaching the police, and that too how many? 0.1 percent, or one in a thousand.
Listener from Glasgow : Is it right to blame men for violence against women? Don’t you think women are also responsible for this menace? And if they are, to what extent ?
Kiran Bedi: Well, it depends which kind of women are you talking about. I categorise women into two broad categories: firstly those, who are totally dependant on others for everything, I call them helpless because their parents did not allow them ever to independently take decisions, their lives were decided by others. Second category is of those women who are educated, economically self-dependant, have the will to take their own decisions, such women are courageous and do not need any help, but in India such women are a miniscule minority.
Now the law on domestic violence against women is for the vast majority of helpless Indian women, it is they who need help. They have never taken any decision in their life independently. When such women go to their in-laws after marriage, even their mother in-law turn into enemies demanding more dowry. It is ironic, but it is a woman who turns into the first enemy of another woman. Therefore if our education system is to do anything constructive, it should remove the helplessness of Indian women, this tag has to go if our country has to move forward.
Listener from Glasgow (continues) : But the educated women can understand the new law, what about the helpless, for whom you say this new bill is aimed at, how would they come to know about the relief they are likely to get from this step?
Kiran Bedi: Well, women in India have achieved all victories the hard way. In my 33-years' police career, I am for the first time witnessing a change. I had a hard time, trying to interpret various sections of the IPC so that I could find a new way to ensure justice for victims of dowry or domestic violence. Women’s movement was on since 1975 to get a law enacted against domestic violence; it took three decades, but it has finally happened. I have no hesitation in saying it is a big victory of women’s organisations, who had been fighting for this.
Awareness about this new bill is a challenge, but I feel today information travels at a speed which is beyond imagination, and for the helpless -- for whom I say the entire exercise is aimed at -- it is for people like me and you to do the job. We also want to tell men that we do not want any confrontation, nor is the new law for breaking homes, it rather for strengthening them by way of ensuring equality for both. So please do not slap and abuse anymore.
Listener from Karnataka: I feel that 33 percent reservation for women in state legislatures and Parliament would prove counter-productive. It would only help the male members of women candidates’ families to further their interests rather than empowering women.
Kiran Bedi: Let me give you an interesting piece of information to clear your misconception. Out of a total of 30 lakh elected posts in India’s panchayati raj institutions, 10 lakh elected members are women. Now if out of these ten lakh, even ten thousand or less were to emerge as independent representatives, what a wave of change would be there in the country. Look at a state like Uttaranchal, where majority of male members in the families had to leave the state on the lookout for jobs. The change brought about by women in panchayats is for all to see. Similarly, look at Karnataka, where initially around thirty-five seats were reserved for women in panchayats, but today the number of elected women representatives in panchayats in forty-seven percent, women are getting elected from open seats. What you have said is also not incorrect, especially in UP and Bihar. There you have male sarpanches working in place of their wives. In some cases they work as interpreters, but in other cases they take the lead role also. For this scenario to change completely, it would take time.
Nagendar Sharma: Nearly six decades after independence, do you find that the attitude of Indian men is changing towards women, or is it the same and male domination would continue?
Kiran Bedi: I think it is changing, but the change is slow. Indian men with a positive attitude towards women are in a minority, the majority still has to change. And in keeping with 21st century, and in keeping pace with the rest of the world, the male mindset would have to change. However, if Indian women want to get respected, then the attitude of Indian mothers would also have to change. The age-old mindset of mothers to make daughters submissive and teaching them to tolerate everything under the sun, would have to change, and mothers would have to teach their daughters to fight for their rights and not tolerate injustice.
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