Can we treat our daughters with respect?
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-05 07:52

Can we treat our daughters with respect?

A civilization could be judged by the way it treats its women. These are words of Swami Vivekananda, an Indian thinker. Back home, Chairman Mao Zedong ensured that women were treated with the dignity they deserved by adding his weight behind a Chinese saying: Women hold up half the sky.

Much time has passed between what Vivekananda said in the late 19th century and Chairman Mao's assertion in the middle of the last century. But women are yet to get their rightful place in the two ancient civilizations. Perhaps the condition of women is worse in India than in China. That, however, is not the subject of this story.

Women, for many men, are still objects. We treat them in whatever way we think is right. We tend to forget it's they who gave us birth. We are happy in our ignorance that they are sisters, wives and daughters of men like us. And it's our daughters that were subjected to the worst form of humiliation in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, recently.

The sordid incident would have escaped public attention had the local media not exposed it on Tuesday, though the tragedy took place in March. The episode started with police picking up two girls on suspicion of being prostitutes. Mind you, both are primary school students, and only 13 and 15 years old. It's a travesty of justice that even years after legal authorities advocated a rule of law that makes a suspect innocent until proven guilty, minor girls are forced to prove they are not prostitutes.

Can we treat our daughters with respect?

The horrifying incident is a shame on mankind. The poor kids had to undergo medical tests to prove they were not prostitutes. The shock and trauma they are suffering can easily impair their pure minds. The fact that they were picked up from in front of their houses in full view of neighbors has worsened matters for them. They have become reclusive, and their future lies in tatters because they have reportedly stopped going to school.

It's a shame on us that we force our minor daughters to prove they are not prostitutes. It would be a greater shame on us if they failed the test, for it would only reflect our indifference and irresponsibility.

The policemen had egg on their face after results of the medical tests were announced. The girls were virgins, screamed the medical reports. But the damage had been done. The girls can't be carrying their innocence in the form of a medical report. Oriental societies have their own ills. Social stigma is one of them. And no medical report can wipe it out. So the moment policemen detain a girl in our society, especially on charges of prostitution, her future enters a vortex of uncertainty.

It's a different matter altogether that the policemen had no business acting the way they did. Here are two girls who may not even have full understanding of sex, and police accuse them of prostitution. This high-handedness of the police has its basis in a weird practice: Local authorities assess police performance on the basis of the number of cases they crack; and, cops have to fill their quota of arrests, and cracking cases. In all probability the two girls are victims of that practice.

These girls can still grow up to serve society in the best way possible. They can still become scientists, doctors, engineers, pilots or even top-level politicians. And, if the cops' act stops them from becoming any one of those persons who do we put the blame on?

If law enforcement departments can have quotas for arrests and cases, can they also have a quota - and a distinct one - for not harassing innocents, especially minors, and women, and impairing their lives. Can they at least make a beginning by treating our daughters properly?

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com

(China Daily 06/05/2009 page8)