When is Christmas?

Shops in Britain start selling Christmas cards and decorations in August. During December, many people are rushing around doing their “last minute” Christmas shopping.
All culminates in a huge feast and the giving of gifts on 24th or 25th December.
On 26th December, it’s back to shopping again as shops open their sales.
Is that it? A Christmas of one day, two at the most?
I saw even ministers and church-going Christians tweeting on Boxing Day things like, “Well, that’s it, over for another year.”
What happened to Advent? It’s a 4-week celebration waiting for and looking forward to Jesus’ birth. Most people don’t even have an Advent calendar to mark the countdown to Christmas Day and if they do, just try finding an Advent calendar that relates in any way to Him!
Yet part of November and most of December is Advent. Instead of being celebrated, it’s been largely replaced by several weeks of shopping frenzy, with a sop perhaps given to the reason for the season by attendance at a carol service or a Christingle for the kids.
What happened to Christmas? It’s a 12-day celebration of Jesus’ birth and earliest days. Instead of being celebrated as this, it’s been largely replaced by a one or two-day eating and conspicuous consumption frenzy.
On Christmas Eve, my mother used to take my brothers and me on a tour of the Nativity cribs and Christmas lights all around town. These days, there may be cribs in some churches and an odd family might build their own but I never see one outdoors: they’ve all been replaced by neon Santas, reindeer, Christmas trees and fairy lights. Even the famous Oxford and Regent Street lights have themes like umbrellas, Disney characters, snowflakes but rarely anything related to Christmas.
What if shops didn’t sell Christmas things until the start of Advent? This actually happened during my childhood days. I don’t remember any shops going out of business as a result.
What if shops didn’t start their sales until after Christmas, in mid-January? This is what actually happened during my childhood days. There was no insane, orgiastic scramble at the sales; people didn’t get hurt or killed in the crush. But I don’t remember any shops going out of business as people bought steadily, calmly and sensibly in the sales over the last two weeks of January.
This is not so much a lament for “the good old days” but rather a sad reflection that as far as Christmas is concerned, our society has thrown away the good stuff and kept the rubbish.

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Suggestions for Justice Verma Committee

The current position in India with regard to sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape

Rape starts with sexual harassment and sexual assault so this is where rape prevention measures should start, too, since rape is only the most extreme form of sexual assault.

  •  Any sexual assault that includes vaginal penetration I would define as rape.
  • Any unwanted, inappropriate touching of a girl or woman short of vaginal penetration I would define as sexual assault.
  • Verbal and non-verbal abuse of girls and women based on any aspect of their physical appearance or sexuality I would define as sexual harassment.

It is unacceptable that ALL girls and women, even very young children and very old women, in India suffer constant sexual harassment and sexual assault every day of their lives and can NEVER feel safe on going out of their own homes.

It is unacceptable that rape is so prevalent in India.

It is unacceptable that most sexual offenders in India get away with their offences scot-free.

What can be done to remedy this sorry state of affairs?

1          Girls and women need to feel safe both at home and outside the home

2          Girls and women need to know they can turn to someone who will LISTEN, BELIEVE and  HELP them

3          Potential sexual offenders need to know there is STRICT, STRINGENT, UNAVOIDABLE punishment for offending

4          People need to be taught that the ONLY people responsible for sexual crimes are the sexual criminals

5          People need to be taught that NOT ONLY BOYS/MEN BUT ALSO GIRLS/WOMEN are Indian citizens, with ALL the civil rights that citizenship brings

My suggestions are based on these five needs:

 1          Girls and women need to feel safe both at home and outside the home

 a)         It is very difficult to ensure the safety of girls and women from sexual crimes at home since most sexual criminals are relatives and family members tend to scapegoat victims rather than perpetrators. One remedy for girls and women is probably to provide someone who will listen, believe and help victims; see suggestion 2a) below.

 b)         It would be a good move to abolish child marriage, which leads to the repeated rape of   little girls at their in-laws’ homes. A minimum legal age for marriage should be set and enforced. I would make it 18 for both sexes.

 c)         As far as protecting girls and women outside the home is concerned, the Indian police not only consistently fail to ensure the safety of girls and women but also are often perpetrators of sexual crimes. It would be a good idea to organise groups of compassionate men like the Tahrir Bodyguard groups in Egypt, which are organised to protect girls and women and to name, shame and sometimes give a rough, rudimentary education to sexual criminals.  You could usefully liaise with the Egyptian group, which is on Twitter as @TahrirBodyguard

2          Girls and women need someone who will LISTEN, BELIEVE and HELP them

 a)         Set up community centres in every town and village, staffed by trained women counsellors and perhaps women lawyers too, where girls and women can go to report sexual crimes and be listened to, believed and helped.

These community centres needn’t be in special buildings. They could be set up in schools, clinics, hospitals etc. Counsellor roles could be taken by specially recruited women and/or by teachers, nurses, midwives, housewives, lawyers, doctors on either a paid or a voluntary basis, depending what expertise and funding are available in any locality.

             In Britain, policewomen are available to help victims of sexual crimes but I do not think this would work in India yet because of the high level of sexual crimes committed by male   police officers: female police officers dealing with sexual crimes would be mocked, belittled and obstructed. But in the long-term, you will need to a police force that can deal with sexual crimes and their victims humanely and training will be needed, see 4a) below.

b)         Institute a nationwide publicity campaign to encourage girls and women to report sexual harassment, assault and rape at these community centres.

c)         Counsellors would be empowered to speak with and educate victims’ relatives, to  ensure no “honour” murders follow sexual crimes against victims.

d)         Counsellors and/or lawyers at the community centres would be empowered to liaise with police and court on behalf of victims so that victims are kept safe from not being believed and from further abuse by police or judicial officials.

 3          Potential sexual offenders need to know there is STRICT, STRINGENT,          UNAVOIDABLE punishment for offending

a)         Run a nationwide publicity campaign to let people know that sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are all CRIMES.

b)         Set up systems to arrest, charge, try and sentence sexual criminals.

            The current police and judiciary services have failed spectacularly in this so either institute training and independent regulatory systems to ensure they change their culture of misogyny and failure or set up a new organisation to ensure criminals are arrested, charged, tried and sentenced to imprisonment.

c)         Treat police and judicial official sexual criminals exactly like any other sexual criminals.

d)         Bring into law minimum prison sentences of 10 years for sexual harassment, 20 years for sexual assault and life for rape, with no remission for good behaviour in prison. Sentence length must not be at a judge’s discretion but mandatory. The only thing to be left to a    judge’s discretion would be that s/he could make the sentences longer than the minimum.

            The reason for making sentence length mandatory is that an inordinate number of judges in India appear to be misogynists sympathising with sexual criminals rather than with their victims: note the incredibly low number of convictions and jail sentences for sexual crimes: I’ve just seen a figure of 300 rapes reported and only ONE conviction!

e)         Name and shame all convicted sexual criminals publicly – in newspapers, on TV and radio, on posters on shop windows, in temples, churches and mosques, anywhere where their own community and the nation at large will see the naming and shaming.

f)          Institute a sexual offenders’ register, like the one in Britain, and put convicted sexual criminals on it for life. This should be available at all police stations.

g)         Juvenile sexual criminals should be named and shamed publicly and put on the sexual offenders’ register as both of these might have a deterrent effect. Minimum sentences for juvenile sexual criminals could be less than for adults but should still be both stiff and mandatory. I would suggest 2 years for sexual harassment, 5 years for sexual assault and life for rape.

4          People need to be taught that the ONLY people responsible for sexual crimes are the sexual criminals

Firstly, you need to move people’s perception of sexual crimes from the victims to the criminals.

India currently still suffers from the stupid “blame the victim” syndrome. Since the Delhi gang rape, I have heard even Indian politicians saying girls and women get raped because they wear skirts, drink alcohol, go out at night etc. Basically, girls and women are to blame because they’re female!

All nonsense. The ONLY people responsible for sexual crimes are the sexual criminals.

Girls and women get sexually harassed, assaulted and/or raped because boys and men attack them. This is a power game: the sexual criminal uses sex accompanied by verbal abuse and/or physical violence to humiliate and scare his victim.

So you need to move people’s focus from blaming victims to blaming sexual criminals.

a)         Run a nationwide publicity campaign to make it very clear that it is not girls and women who  are shamed by sexual crimes but the boys and men who commit these offences.

            This could perhaps best be done in pictorial/graphic art form, with pictures posted on advertising boards in every town and village. The message could also be promoted like TV and radio commercials, documentaries and/or soap operas and situation comedies.

b)         Set up an education programme for counsellors, teachers, youth leaders, police officers and clerics, training them to teach boys/men in their own communities that only sexual criminals are responsible for sexual crimes, the horrific effects of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape on girls and women etc.

            This programme should be run by professionally trained counsellors.

c)         Set up an education programme for boys and men, to teach them that only sexual criminals  are responsible for sexual crimes, the horrific effects of sexual harassment, assault and rape on girls and women etc.

            This programme could be run by schools, youth clubs, sports clubs, social clubs,             community centres, workplaces, temples, churches and mosques.

d)         Set up an education programme for parents, training them to teach their sons that only sexual criminals are responsible for sexual crimes, the horrific effects of sexual harassment, assault and rape on girls and women etc.

            Wives and husbands should be encouraged to attend this programme together. Given the typical Indian household structure, husband’s mothers should be encouraged to attend along with husbands and wives.

            This programme could be given in lessons by local community and/or religious leaders. To ensure a wider reception, it could also be run in the form of TV educational programmes, soap operas, situation comedies and/or Bollywood-style films.

5          People need to be educated to accept that NOT ONLY BOYS/MEN BUT ALSO             GIRLS/WOMEN are Indian citizens, with ALL the civil rights that citizenship brings

There is another factor in Indian society that causes sexual crimes to be so common. That is, the low esteem and lack of respect for girls and women. This also needs to be addressed.

 For remedies, you need recourse to education and law.

 a)         Set up education programmes to teach that all girls and boys are equal; all men and women are equal.

            This is a tall order and, like the education programmes listed in 4 above, must reach a large segment of the population in order to be effective. It also needs to be backed up by the law.     

            There’s a mindset that females are inferior to males and that needs to be overturned. The overturning has already started: this is inevitable as women go into the paid workforce and become financially independent. But the old mindset prevails amongst many and will need kick starting into gear.

            Probably the best place to start is in primary schools. This would involve teaching equality in primary school teacher training courses then for primary school teachers to teach their students.

            It is very much a long-term effort when mindsets have been fixed for so many years.  Television programmes, again, might be a way to reach most of the populace on this.

            Children’s TV programmes could be a valuable aid to teachers, too.

b)         As far as legal measures are concerned,, something that could bring girls and women   closer to equal status as Indian citizens would be to abolish the dowry system, which causes both sexual and non-sexual violence against girls and women.

            At present a son is regarded as bringing money into the parental home though his work and from any dowry he receives whereas a daughter is regarded as a financial liability. Abolishing dowries could change that. As young women now enter the paid workforce, both a son and a daughter could bring money into the parental home and a daughter would be valued accordingly.

c)         I am not going to make other specific suggestions about legal measures because I do not  know enough about Indian law to know what laws are already in place.

            Any laws enacted to bring women into equality in any sphere with men will take a long time to have any effect but are worth having nevertheless.

            For example, in Britain, our government enacted things like the Equal Opportunities and Equal Pay Acts which in theory place women on an equal basis with men. In practice,  women have not yet been accorded equality. Forty-three years after the Equal Pay Act was passed, women still do not earn as much as men for the same work. But the law is there and can be called upon to support women if necessary. Also, because the idea is backed by law, eventually full equality will come.

In conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to make these suggestions and to wish your committee every success.

The rape and murder of one young woman has become the symbol of all the sexual harassment, sexual assaults and rapes committed in India – and worldwide.

I have been tremendously impressed by the massive anti-rape protests and outpouring of sorrow and anger by Indian people since the rape in Delhi. It is obvious that many, many people want radical change from the unacceptable status quo.

This silver lining of possibility for such change, emerging from this blackest cloud of rape and murder, is a great opportunity for India to rethink and change its society into a juster one for women.

 

I would hope that your committee will come up with 21st century solutions that will not only lead India to treat women more fairly but also might prove a role model for other countries to follow.

 

 

 

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