by VIRENDRA SHARMALabour MP forEaling Southall ENDING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN WILL NEED A COLLECTIVE EFFORT EVERY week it seems as though more bad news comes – another child raped and murdered, another girl killed, her life wasted. The stories are horrific, hours, days or weeks of abuse of a child by adult men. We need change, our children and our grandchildren need change. The rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa in Kashmir shocked people, but it is just the most highly publicised case in a long list. When India’s prime minister Modi spoke in London at the Bharat Ki Baat Sabke Saath event, he said that we shouldn’t just wonder when our daughters come home late, but we must also ask our sons where they had been. He is right, it is never a woman’s fault when she is attacked, the attacker is always to blame. Our community is not there yet, though. This change cannot just come from politicians, it needs change from society, it needs action from parents, schools and families. Wherever the mindset and opinions which treat a girl as worth less than a boy are seen, we need to combat them. In the case of Asifa, the murderers and their accomplices have tried to defend excuse their actions by cloaking it in religion. No attacker of a child can in any way claim to be religious or to defend their behaviour as a religious act – this was an irreligious act and to try and use religion to defend it is a perversion of religion. Religion is about kindness and tolerance, good works and generosity of spirit, and this is the opposite – a cruel, small and barbaric act. The perpetrators deserve the harshest punishment under the law. The news that Asifa’s killers could now face life sentences or the death penalty is a welcome deterrent. I do not support the death penalty, but there is something about the rape and murder of a child that sets it apart from the rest, and while I wouldn’t urge the court to execute the offenders, I wouldn’t shed a tear for them either. The political response was slow but has now caught up with public opinion and while the prime minister took a while to respond, his response was heartening and his commitment to work for change laudable. The ministers in Jammu and Kashmir who defended their friends in the face of such heinous accusations and overwhelming evidence should be ashamed of themselves. I am delighted they have resigned, but the fact that it took them so long, and they felt able to say what they did, is shameful. Politics is about service and representing the people, and a politician defending the powerful against the powerless is the system upside down. New allegations have also come out about a senior politician in Uttar Pradesh, but it has taken almost a year for these charges to be taken seriously. It is hugely important in a free country, with a free press and an independent judiciary, that politicians cannot hide from these allegations or have them crushed. The accused should be suspended by his party while the investigation is ongoing. Nobody should be above the law. I want to see change, and I know so many in our community want it too: change that breeds respect of women, and treats them as first-class citizens. This begins at home – parents need to teach their sons to respect women, and their daughters to not tolerate violence of any kind. Schools need to have zero-tolerance approaches and to continue to educate girls and boys about healthy relationships. India has achieved so much in the last 70 years, leading the world in industry and innovation. We have sent Indian technology into space, but closer to home, we still don’t value women as much as we can or respect girls as we should. We can be better than this, and I hope that the outrage these recent cases have caused can be used to end violence against women and girls. Virendra Sharma is chair of the Indo-British All Party Parliamentary Group.
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