Breaking the silence against rising violent attacks on women. By Anjali Singh

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It was the voice of women in Uttar Pradesh that found an expression at a silent march organised by women's organisations working for women rights in Lucknow on 12 February 2011. Though there was no slogan shouting or chest beating to lament the state of declining law and order in the state when it came to providing protection to women against violence, the message which the marchers wanted to send out to the power corridors was loud enough.
With placards and banners screaming their woes, women both young and old marched silently from the UP Hindi Sansthan in newly done up Hazratganj to the GPO crossing.
Says Prof Roop Rekha Verma, former Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University and whose organisation Sajhi Duniya was among the participating organisations, "The recent unimaginably brutal attacks on women in the state quite evidently show that now a woman or girl does not even have the right to say 'NO' when her honour is attacked. Until now if she said yes for fear of her life she was branded characterless and when she has decided to refuse the advances of the perpetrators she is brutally attacked and her limbs and other body parts are hacked to teach her a lesson. What kind of a lawlessness are we now living under. This must not be allowed or women will be the worst victims even when they chose to fight back."
Agrees Anjali Singh, Director Saaksham Foundation, "What is horrifying is that the age of these victims is steadily declining. If a study is done of the cases just two months down the line it will become quite evident that minor girls are targets of terrible brutal attacks and sexual abuse. This is totally unacceptable as children need to be protected not preyed upon. It is the state government's responsibility to ensure that the enforcement agencies are hauled up for such a lapse of law and order. In fact it is amazing that no police action is initiated against the culprits who are not seasoned criminals but common citizens who have no fear of breaking the law when it comes to attacking a woman. As a woman Chief Minister is leading the UP state it is even more shameful what women and girls have to face in Uttar Pradesh."
Adds Asha Mishra, General Secretary, National Federation For Indian Women (NFIW), "The point of the silent march was also to prove how effective the policing in the state is. Several hundred women took out a hour long procession in the middle of Hazratganj and not a single police person was present on the scene! In fact they did not get to know of the event until we had reached the end, so one can imagine how alert or clued in the police force is when it comes to fighting crime against women or creating a protective environment for us in the city capital itself. It's shameful! NFIW is the oldest women's organisation working for women empowerment and justice since pre-independence struggle but never have we seen such anarchy as we are seeing today."
But while the administration and the law keepers continue to snooze over the deteriorating law and order situation, it's the civil society organisations as usual who are playing the watch dog of society.
In keeping with that ideology the women's organisations that carried out the silent march drew up a joint memorandum which demanded better law and order in the state, sensitization of police personnel towards female victims who seek help from thanas, forwarding of all women related cases of violence to fast track courts and proper compensation and rehabilitation of the victims.
The joint memorandum was handed over to the office of the Governor of Uttar Pradesh by a delegation with members from Saaksham Foundation, Sajhi Duniya, AIDWA, NFIW, MESWA and AALI. (CNS)

(The author is a senior journalist writing for Citizen News Service (CNS) and also serves as the Director of Saaksham Foundation. Website: www.citizen-news.org )

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