The biggest change is that nobody is calling her a “zinda laash”: Flavia Agnes

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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 “rape 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 city?

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 in Mumbai, 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.

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