Because she breaks the mould

There has been a constant flow of commentary in the media, on social media, in drawing rooms and in bylanes on the recent acts of violence, especially sexual violence, against women. Questions of whether the rising incidence of sexual violence can be attributed to an increase in reporting by victims, and whether victims have now overcome the shame that was earlier associated with sexual violations, are repeatedly asked. We cannot rule out that the incidence of sexual harassment and violence against women might have risen. India's child sex ratio has been skewed against girl children for half a century now, slipping to 914 for every 1,000 boys in 2011. This has led to an increasingly masculine demography, which is especially visible in the north and northwest of India. Research still needs to be done to determine whether such a demography implies a greater threat to women's safety, security and well-being. But reports of sexual harassment and violence against babes-in-arms, young girls and older women, certainly send a signal that the female gender, across age groups, is vulnerable to violence.

The discussions around the recent high-profile cases of sexual violence against women have, however, been limited to reiterating the need to implement the legislations that have been designed to address it. Few pieces, if any, have asked the fundamental questions about the current gender trajectory of Indian society. The role of the state in protecting and providing a safe environment for women has certainly been raised, albeit in a largely metropolitan context as sexual violence in small towns and villages does not have as much traction in the national media. The state, for its part, has reacted in various defensive ways: Sheila Dikshit's unforgivable statement that women should not venture out alone after 8 pm; some in the judiciary allegedly contemplating not hiring women interns; universities attempting to impose dress codes on female students; the informal state ó khap panchayats ó arguing that women should not have access to cellphones or be able to choose their own partners and so on.

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