A Housekeeper Was Accused of Murdering a Woman Staying Alone in an Andheri Flat
On Sunday night, the police found 25-year-old Rupal Ogrey – a trainee air hostess – dead in her apartment in Marol, Mumbai. Ogrey originally hailed from Chhattisgarh, but had shifted to Mumbai earlier this year and was undergoing her training with Air India. The police have since arrested a cleaning staff member, Vikram Atwal, who, as The Indian Express reported, is suspected to have slit Ogrey’s throat after allegedly attempting to sexually assault her. The incident came to light when Ogrey’s family tried contacting her earlier that afternoon. Receiving no response, they informed her friends who reached her flat, only to find it locked. Her friends had then alerted the police who entered the apartment using a duplicate key and found Ogrey’s body.
According to reports, Atwal and Ogrey had had an argument a few days prior to the incident. Ogrey lived with her sister and her sister’s partner, but had been alone in the apartment for a few days as the others had returned home. Atwal had drawn the police’s attention due to the fresh injuries he had allegedly suffered during the scuffle with Ogrey, which he was unable to satisfactorily explain. His movement had also been captured on CCTV cameras. “Atwal’s intention was to take advantage of the woman who was alone and he went prepared. He had bought a big sharp knife from a shop in the locality. The shopkeeper’s statement would also be recorded along with the doctor to whom Atwal had visited for treating his injuries,” a police officer told The Indian Express. Ogrey’s body has been sent for an autopsy, while the police are currently investigating the case.
The shocking incident has, once again, forced the issue of women’s safety, or the lack thereof, into the spotlight. Questions are being raised about whether Mumbai – once considered comparatively safe for women – has gone the way of other major Indian cities. The issue of women’s safety has also raised the concern of what constitutes an adequate response to ending violence against women. In the past, arguments have often veered towards increased surveillance, more rules to govern safety and greater policing. However, such steps – though undoubtedly important – are also rooted in a protectionist ideology that undermines women’s autonomy.
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Protectionism, as defined by Carrie Shelver, Manager of Sexual Rights Initiative’s (SRI) Geneva office, views certain individuals – such as gendered and sexualized minorities – as “naturally” vulnerable to violence and discrimination. The responses emerging from such a worldview, then, serve to limit their agency in the name of protection. It’s a paternalistic attitude, one that has found its way into policies on gender-based violence across the world. “Protectionist policies and practices ostensibly aim to reduce an individual’s or a group’s vulnerability to discrimination and violence,” the Sexual Rights Initiative noted, while outlining arguments from a panel event on the topic. “Despite their ubiquity, such policies and programmes offer their benefits at the expense of people’s autonomy and freedom and fail to deliver on even the modest promises they make. Instead, these policies, more often than not, deepen the inequality and marginalization of the very people they claim to protect, and neglect to address systemic inequality and the root causes of discrimination and violence.”
Take the issue of surveillance as a response to gender-based violence. In 2021, the Lucknow police announced their plan to install cameras with facial-recognition technology to identify women in distress. In the same year, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, announced a system where women moving out of their homes for work would have to register themselves at the local police station. The police would then track these women to ensure they remain safe. Such measures, that impose restrictions on women’s mobility and autonomy in the name of safety, have been criticized time and again. Meanwhile, apartment complexes and gated societies in affluent parts of cities are already surveilling domestic workers through apps, which – Rest of World reported – monitor their movements, often without their knowledge, and become the means to perpetuate further discrimination. Such measures only serve to control marginalized populations, and do little in the way of addressing the root causes of gender-based violence or, in the latter’s case, safety concerns.
“Conversations around the protection of women’s rights have embodied the language of patriarchal respectability for a long time. Instead of upholding the rights of women and other marginalised groups, states repeatedly introduced protectionist policies that focused on controlling marginalised individuals. The implementation of these policies is often done at the expense of other fundamental human rights, such as freedom of movement, expression, and self-determination,” SRI noted.
Protectionism stems not only from the state, but also families and society at large. Earlier this year, when three cases of murder of women in live-in relationships came to light, netizens were quick to demonize live-in relationships and turn the victim’s lives into a cautionary tale for others. As restorative justice practitioners point out, there’s another approach that often gets sidelined in the process of drafting protectionist policies, and that is the role of community and community-building.
As a 2022 paper noted, there’s growing evidence to suggest that “community-based interventions in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) can effectively address harmful social norms that promote or sustain gender inequality and drive violence against women (VAW).” The authors of this study began by looking at what action is already being taken by communities to address VAW, and found that community-mobilization measures – such as dedicated spaces to speak about violence against women, frontlining VAW leaders and addressing community perceptions of VAW – were important areas to intervene. In India, they found that there is weak evidence for the presence of mechanisms that lead to community action, “with social norms about women’s position and violence being a private family matter preventing communities from addressing violence.”
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But there has been significant resistance, even from several feminist scholars, when it comes to engaging with the principles of restorative justice, especially in the context of gender-based violence. It is an approach that is usually considered to be “soft on crime,” as Melanie Randall wrote in the Dalhousie Law Journal. “These principles include a recognition that the harms of interpersonal violence extend beyond the individual victim, an insistence on community involvement to end crime and related social issues, an insistence on offender accountability and community response, a view that offenders can often—if not always—change, and a vision of peace, equality of opportunity, and social justice.”
It has been considered a more radical approach – but factoring in principles of restorative justice in certain cases deemed suitable does not mean we sideline the criminal justice system, Randall continues. Instead, it requires centering the survivor’s or victim’s needs, and goes well beyond a singular crime – that as per the traditional route would end with punishing the perpetrator – to also focusing on rectification to all those harmed, wrote Ashita Alag, Senior Program Officer, Knowledge and Advocacy at One Future Collective.
This most recent case of Ogrey’s murder then asks us to take a critical look at protectionist policies enacted for women’s safety, and the several instances in which they have failed to do what they set out to. It further highlights the need for more radical approaches to be enacted in tandem with the criminal justice system to effectively address the root causes of violence against women. Community action based in restorative justice is just one approach.