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Comfort Women: The Cruel Reality

Comfort Women: The Cruel Reality

By Payal Mitra

Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

Rape and sexual assault has become extremely commonplace in our society, despite constant public outrage and relative empowerment of women. After a while, you’ll be tired of newspaper reports and people harping about how this is a serious issue and that the government needs to start being pro-active and ensure absolute safety for all women. All opinions, all articles, all speeches, all election campaigns, have been reiterating the same thing. And now, this article is turning out to be another similar story.

Nevertheless, a glimpse into history, triggered the same sentiment again, when I came across the Japanese ‘Comfort Women Scandal’. During the Second World War, Japan, in order to keep its soldiers happy, set up ‘comfort stations’ near army bases. Initially these stations had voluntary workers. But, hundreds of thousands of women were abducted or tricked into forced sexual slavery and raped day and night by the military men. Even Koreans, Chinese and Dutch were coerced into the trade. Most of them didn’t survive the war, while the few who did were battered physically and emotionally. To date very few comfort women have even testified. All this was government sanctioned. When those in power oversee such horrific deeds, to whom do these women turn to?

That was still around 70 years ago. What about now? In the US, the Pentagon has released new data about the reported number of sexual assaults in the military. Between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013, there were 3,553 reports of sexual assault. A 43% increase from the preceding year. During the same period, there were 219 casualties in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. An anonymous survey of military members, however, revealed there may have been as many as 26,000 assaults last year—up from 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011. More appallingly, an Air Force Colonel, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who was head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention branch was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman last year. He was acquitted by the Arlington Jury. The incident was swept up in an ongoing debate over whether the military is equipped to handle sexual assaults among its men.

Likewise, the Tail hook Scandal and several other cases where women and men soldiers were gang raped by fellow soldiers.In response to the deteriorating scene, on April 17, 2013, Congresswoman Speier re-introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act), which would look into the reports, oversights, investigation and care for the victims of sexual assaults. It would place jurisdiction in the newly created, autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprising of civilian and military experts.Our country is rife with such scandals of its own. Despite having the following laws, how far is the general public aware? If laws are implemented, we could sweep away all such obscenities and instil a sense of fear in the minds of the offenders, which in time, will hopefully turn into respect for the opposite gender.

Laws under Indian Penal Code (IPC)

  • Section 209: Obscene acts and songs, to the annoyance of others like:

a)    Does and obscene act in a public place or

b)    Sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words in or near any public place.

Punishment: Imprisonment for a term up to 3 months or fine, or both.

  • Section 354: Assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.

Punishment: 2 years imprisonment or fine, or both.

  • Section 376: Rape

Punishment: Imprisonment for life or up to 10 years and fine.

  • Section 509: Uttering any word or making any gesture intended to insult the modesty of woman.

Punishment: Imprisonment for 1 year, or fine, or both. (Cognisable and bailable offense)

So we even have a law against indecent songs in public. What about Bollywood item numbers? Even little kids can be seen gyrating to crass and demeaning numbers like ‘Fevicol se’, ‘Munni Badnaam hui’. Section 509 could put a stop to cat calling and eve teasing. Yet, there is virtually no awareness or fear of these laws. Awareness of one’s rights and legal measures are available, which will go a very long way in fixing the imbalance.Moreover, tell me how several men, who were in charge of sexual harassment policy, were implicated in sexual harassment themselves? What kind of careful selection process for those jobs would have produced the result of the enforcer becoming the offender?

Ultimately the debate over men’s true sexual nature is of minimal importance. It doesn’t matter if we can prove that men are horny by nature. All we have to learn how to work with our desires and live in ways that respect everyone’s integrity and safety. If we change the gender culture in the military or general public by changing men’s hearts and minds, their sexual “nature” won’t be a problem. ‘How?’, has always been the question. Currently, I feel it needs to be legally enforced. A change of heart will take too much time to wait for, but will hopefully, follow in the future.

Payal is a second year student at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. When she is not trying to make sense of endless equations and the most complex theories, she is an avid reader who likes to believe that she has a strong liking for the world outside physics too. She has a knack for finding problems, and fervently prays for a brainwave to their solutions someday. She hopes to help reflect change in society, wherever possible. For any comment, please email her at: [email protected]

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