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Mainstream, VOL L, No 31, July 21, 2012

A Major Power with No Place for Women?

Friday 27 July 2012, by Bharti Chhibber

Where is India going? Are we moving towards becoming a major player in world politics, an economic superpower or a regressive country where women have no place to live, no freedom, no dignity, no voice, no rights, not even basic human rights? Violence against women has become the order of the day, and these are not sporadic, occasional incidents, these have become an everyday affair. We open the news-papers in the morning, and they are full of reports of atrocities against women. Not all the cases are even reported. Some such gruesome acts of violations against women get highlighted. Politicians make condemning statements, some inquiry is promised, and concerned authorities suddenly wake up from slumber resulting in some action not necessarily bringing the perpetrators of the crime to book. They make headlines, remain in news for some time, gradually slipping to third, fourth pages, finally get lost in oblivion only to be jolted with another such heinous act against women.

In a replica of many such earlier incidents in India, another young school girl was molested by almost 30 men apparently drunk, outside a nightclub in Guwahati. Her ordeal lasted more than half-an-hour, a time that took the local police to come to her rescue. Only after her outrage, video-filmed by a local news channel journalist, became viral online did the local police swing into action. It is further disgraceful that the main accused is still absconding (though he is clearly identifiable in the video) even after ten days of the incident. The journalistic ethics of the cameraman and crew are questionable in this case. The TV reporter has actually been accused of instigating the crowd to molest the girl.

Another young student and head of the NCC wing in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, Sonali’s bright future was ruthlessly curtailed in 2003 when three local guys attacked her with acid resulting in severe damage to her eyes and ears. Today the family is living in constant fear as the accused are out on bail. The victim’s family has spent all they had in saving their daughter and keeping her alive. Now they have to seek help of the Ministry of Women and Child Development in order to survive any longer.

In yet another shameful event, in a Hooghly rehabilitation home, which houses 50 inmates with disabilities, a probe by the police into the mysterious death and burial of a women inmate has unearthed a horror story where women who are either mentally challenged or speech and hearing impaired are regularly raped and tortured by outsiders. It cannot be more appalling and sick than this.

What is happening? Why have we become such a degenerate society? Figures speak for themselves. The National Crime Records Bureau shows that rape cases have increased from 21,397 in 2009 to 24,206 in 2011. Molestation cases have an upward swing from 388,711 in 2009 to 40,613 in 2011. These are only reported cases; we all know so many of such horrendous crimes go unreported. Where is the end? When would all this change? Instead of being civilised we are moving towards a savage society.

Article 51A of Indian Constitution provides that it is the duty of every citizen to remove practices derogatory to the dignity of women. Parliament has enacted the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 that defines human rights to mean the right to life, liberty and dignity of the individual. However, it is a sad state of affairs—despite over six decades of independence women in India are still marginalised and seen as a commodity that could be vandalised.

Further, the issue of honour killings, or diktats of village panchayats to curtail freedom of women never die down. Just about 100 kilometres from Delhi in village Aasra, of district Baghpat, UP, the khap panchayat has laid restrictions on the movement of women. Women would not go to the market alone and if below 40 cannot keep a mobile phone.

Even today women are denied justice in day-to-day life, in family, households and public domain. The human rights of women are violated in the form of female foeticide, infanticide, child marriage, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment at workplace or eve- teasing in public.

However, not all is lost. Along with such shocking incidents, we also have occurrences like the one in Bibipur in Haryana. Here, the first khap mahapanchayat involving women was held recently. The village’s women gram sabha invited 360 khap leaders to seek their support for their campaign against female foeticide. Over 200 women have attended the meeting and passed a resolution seeking slapping of murder charges against those encouraging female foeticide in the village.

India does have laws for protection of women’s rights. The need is for their proper and quick implementation. It is always at the execution and implementation stage that we lag behind. Further, laws act only as a set of code of conduct; they do not automatically change the social structure. Laws by themselves cannot change the patriarchal establishment and tradition but they can certainly give legal and economic power to women to an extent. Efforts should be made to improve the legal aid process so that it can be accessed by all the women in need. Laws may not remove structural inequalities but they can definitely assist societal change.
We need to work on the culture of non-violence and non-bias and bring about an awareness through education and counselling. Social attitudes and beliefs of men including judges and police officers have to be gender sensitised. It is imperative to inculcate values in men to see women with respect as equal partners in life and society. This will go a long way not only in improving deference to the human rights of women but play a vital role in any nation’s success. And the process has to be quite fast for we cannot relegate almost half of the population to the background and yet call ourselves progressive.

India is becoming a major power economically and politically yet socially it is downgrading itself to an atavistic society. Each time such incidents happen, it is not a girl or a woman who is dishonoured, it is India that is shamed and the world is the audience. Is this the impression, rising India wants to convey to the world that we ourselves do not have respect for our women? I hope such despicable, atrocious incidents awaken our conscience too. And we unite as a society to make sure that such nefarious elements are dealt with an iron fist sure and fast.

Dr Bharti Chhibber teaches Political Science in the University of Delhi. She can be contacted at email: bharti.chhibber@gmail.com

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