The security department in the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation announced that women are allowed to carry small knives in the metro, because they need it for self-defence. And the police department in Kerala said that it is starting up self-defence classes for women, to help them combat harassment and molestation. While these drives to equip women with defence skills might be useful in certain ways, they seem to be focussed on the likelihood of women experiencing assault on the streets. The question, as well, is whether they are slanting the debate over sexual assault towards encouraging women to take responsibility for its prevention — could the new attack lobbed at women victims in the future become “Why didn’t you have a knife on you?” The measures also don’t acknowledge the enormous proportion of women with disabilities, who most often experience abuse at home or in schools. Anyone recall the ‘Nirbheek’? The .32 revolver — available in many different colours including fluorescent pink — which was introduced in early 2014 as a women’s safety measure? The IOF of Kanpur was sure that it would revolutionise women’s safety (never mind that it cost over a lakh, and so effectively disqualified the most vulnerable cases anyway), but things hardly worked out the way he saw it.
There’s another factor these measures are ignoring. Have you taken a long hard look at today’s papers? Just this morning the recent Nagawara case, where a 23-year-old woman was molested on a main road in Bangalore, was revealed to be an elaborate plot by her brother-in-law, who wanted to portray her as a victim of assault so that no one would marry her. And a man in Shahjahanpur bit off his wife’s nose during an argument. The surreal frequency of these cases, where assault begins in the family or is pre-planned by male family members, just go to underscore the tired fact that conversations about women’s assault need to be much broader, and start with men’s attitudes.