NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has suggested that governmental agencies may be able to do little to stop violence and crimes against women, since many of these crimes are committed by people who are either friends or family. She also dismissed the normal rape-apologist claim that women who dress a particular way are 'asking for it'.
"What efforts can be made by external agencies, when you have known people absolutely violating the women?" Nirmala said at an event in New Delhi on Monday evening, reported news agency ANI. The comment underscores the fact that significant number of crimes against women happen in their homes, and not out on the streets. It also underlined the difficulties that agencies like law enforcement or commissions for women face when attempting to deal with such crimes committed by family members or friends.
India's first full-time woman Defence Minister was also in no mood to tolerate the lame 'explanation' that a woman may have been sexually assaulted because of the kind of clothes she was wearing at the time of the incident. "Some people say about the way women dress. Then why does rape happen of elderly people? Why does rape happen of toddlers?" Nirmala said.
Her comments come in the middle of a period of increased focus on the women's safety and the perceived rise in violence and crimes against them. They also come at a time that her government responded to the recent abduction, rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua by promulgating an ordinance to give child-rapists the death penalty.
The views Nirmala expressed through these comments have been put forth for years by activists. They have repeatedly sought to raise awareness that a significant share of crimes against women are committed by family members and friends, and not by strangers on the street, as usually portrayed.
Activists also question the efficacy of knee-jerk reactions like changing law to make punishments more stringent, repeatedly pointing to the fact that sexual assault cases have a very low conviction rate in the country. They also point out that even the death penalty does not prevent certain crimes from continuing to happen.