Over the last few years, India has turned into a battlefield for war between the sexes, not to mention, typecasting of India as the ‘rape nation’ after the BBC documentary, India’s Daughter. Now I’m not writing this article to defend my country, but I’m writing this article to draw your attention to another matter. After the Delhi rape case, when people from all corners of India raised their voices in support of women, it somehow ended up being a ‘Men vs. Women’ struggle. Now clash between genders is an age old phenomenon, but it hadn’t turned so ugly before. In our overzealousness to support women, we seem to have made villains out of our men, so much so that they’ve started to become defensive. This trend can be seen on all social media platforms today. We, as a society, still don’t know what went wrong and where because people of both genders had come onto the streets with candle marches and whatnot to show solidarity with women. Then how did the sentiment turn from ‘one perpetrator vs. the victim’ to ‘men as perpetrators vs. women as victims’? We all know that men aren’t always the perpetrators of this discrimination against women.
I think that the Delhi incident acted as a tipping point of our society’s patience, and our habit of keeping mum was broken at last. But when we started talking and raising our voice against injustice, we got so carried away, we started dumping all our baggage at once. Two things can now be seen happening because of that:  we’re losing our steam, which actually should be utilized for resolving a few problems rather than just venting out, and  while the other gender is supportive of us women, with the avalanche of problems we have expressed against them, they’re growing disgruntled and are retreating into a sullen denial.
For that reason, we should all take a deep breath and stop what we’re doing (that is, hurling generalized accusations) and think. Let us first make a list of the exact problems we, as women, face and gather the facts and figures related to those problems. This will help us understand the severity of each problem and the pockets where the problem is in dire need of resolution. The next step would be to come up with workable solutions and ‘communicating’ those solutions to the right people. This means that we should stop generalizing everything and blaming the masses, including innocents, and start isolating the problems, perpetrators and victims, and then seeking a resolution. Point to be noted here, and remembered, is that if we want our rights, we alone will have to struggle for it. While the government and other systems would try and help us, we can’t achieve freedom till we make an effort ourselves. Remember: Freedom is always balanced out by Responsibility; without responsibility, one cannot achieve (and maintain) freedom in its truest sense.
So here’s a list of problems that we, as women, face in India:
- Female Foeticide & Infanticide
- Dowry & Related Mental & Physical Harassment
- Violence against Women, Sexual Exploitation & Sexual Abuse
- Early / Child Marriage
- Female Genital Mutilation
- (Hidden) Poverty
- Female Foeticide & Infanticide:
If you’re reading this article, you didn’t become a victim of this atrocity. However, the figures in India are shocking. An ideal, and natural, gender ratio should be 980 girls to 1000 boys however, census data between 1991 and 2011 shows that the country’s female-male gender ratio rose from 927:1,000 to 940:1,000, but its child gender ratio fell from 945:1,000 to 914: 1,000. Now this figure may seem insignificant – why is 60 girls less such a big issue? However, consider the massive population of India of over 1.22 billion and you’ll see that a deficit of 60 females per 1000 males translates into a deficit of about 37 million (3.7 crore) females in India! Now that’s a huge figure. In Jind, a prosperous agricultural district in Haryana, people have already formed a Kunwara Union (Unmarried Youth Organisation) that has coined a slogan: bahu-dilao-vote lo (brides-for-votes), urging all politicians to help them deal with the dire situation. In 2001, the sex ratio in this district was 852:1000, which rose slightly to 871:1000 in 2011. Overall, Haryana has the worst sex ratio at 861:1000, while our capital, Delhi stands at 866:1000.
For those who have not witnessed or heard of incidences of female foeticide or infanticide in their family or neighbourhood, it would be difficult to digest the fact that there exists a systematic process of killing/eliminating women in India. How are girls between 0-6 years killed?
- Negligent Homicide: Subjecting them to hunger and medical neglect.
- Homicidal Violence: Inhuman violence at home inflicted by families.
- Premeditated Murder: There exist established, traditional ways of killing infant girls: drowning the baby in a bucket of milk; feeding her salt; burying her alive in an earthen pot; even wrapping the infant in a wet towel or dipping her in cold water soon after birth so as to ‘induce pneumonia’, and then throwing away the prescribed medicines. These are all barbaric ways of squeezing the life out of an innocent being. Yet, these practices are still being followed in our ‘Holy Land’ and that too, at an alarming rate.
The responsibility, now, falls on your shoulder to ensure that you don’t do this to your would-be daughter and don’t let others do it to theirs as well. Each individual has to take responsibility, an oath. There may be a lot of pressure from your family, or you may think of a hundred reasons for not bringing a girl child into this world, but you must fight all of that and decide against Female Foeticide and Infanticide. Otherwise, you also become the perpetrator and the future would be very bleak.
- Dowry Deaths & Related Mental & Physical Harassment:
Dowry is considered to be the main reason behind female foeticide and infanticide. However, the 2012 National Crime Records Bureau report of India states a reported crime rate of 46 per 100,000, rape rate of 2 per 100,000, dowry homicide rate of 0.7 per 100,000 and the rate of domestic cruelty by husband or his relatives as 5.9 per 100,000. These reported rates are significantly smaller than the reported intimate partner domestic violence rates in many countries, such as the United States (590 per 100,000) and reported homicide (6.2 per 100,000 globally), crime and rape incidence rates per 100,000 women for most nations tracked by the United Nations. This means that the fear is bigger than the actual monster called dowry.
Still, the dowry problem in India is very big and quite severe. In 2009 the notable medical journal The Lancet published a study that made a shocking revelation. It revealed that in one year at least 106,000 women were killed by fires in their homes in India. That is — one woman burnt to death every 5 minutes! These results were acquired by collating hospital records of women’s suspicious deaths by burns. The relatives of each deceased woman and their in-laws were interviewed to determine that these deaths maybe related to dowry. Most of these cases weren’t acknowledged or filed by the police, and it’s a fact that most burnt women don’t even make it to the hospitals. This means that while this figure of 106,000 suspicious burning deaths of women is a conservative figure, the official government figures are even lower, much lower. Official dowry death figures since 2000 has remained as 6,000 to 7,000 each year while it has increased just a little to 8,000-9,000 per year during 2008 to 2012. Point to be noted here is that burning is not the only way a woman is killed for dowry. So the actual dowry related death figures could be much higher than this figure of 106,000.
For dowry, women are harassed mentally and physically, pushed to committing suicides, hanged, stabbed, force-fed acids, shot, drowned, poisoned, or doused with gasoline and set on fire; and these are cold, premeditated, gang-murders. The last method is so prevalent it has come to be known as ‘bride-burning’.
In 1961, a law was passed (The Dowry Prohibition Act) that made the giving and taking of dowry illegal in India. Since then, a lot of amendments have been made as well. Yet, the custom continues.
While dowry murders and related harassment is an unforgivable sin, a lot of women these days are taking undue advantage of the legal protection they get through the 498(A) law. As per National Crime Records Bureau, from 1998-2012 around 10 Lakh cases have been filed under 498 (A), 21 Lakh people have been arrested, of which 448,704 cases completed trial and a mere 89,452 resulted into conviction and rest whopping 359,252 resulted into acquittal. While an acquittal doesn’t necessarily mean a false case, 498 (A) wasn’t made as an alternative for quick divorce, dispute redressal, or as a tool for getting back at the husband for revenge. It was made to punish the wrongdoers. Hence, misusing this legal protection (or, 498A) is another unforgivable sin, a Human Rights issue, where such women are sucking the seriousness out of a gruesome act, thus depriving the real victims of timely intervention and justice. If a lot of women cry wolf when there is none, the society and our legal system won’t pay attention when there comes a real wolf and a desperate cry for help.
Both, husband and wife need to keep in mind that they married to start a ‘family’ together, which means taking care of each other and bringing a new life into this world. Their ‘marriage’ is important, not the money (dowry) and not the trivial problems that families are bound to face at some time or the other in their lives.
The Supreme Court has observed that most of the complaints under Section 498 A of the IPC are filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues without proper deliberations, filed with oblique motive of the women. At the same time, the court said that a rapid increase in the number of genuine cases of dowry harassment is also a matter of serious concern.
Earlier, the provision in 498A law was that all the accused be immediately arrested and jailed, which actually was a sort of protection to the real dowry harassment victim. However, with this law being so abused, the Supreme Court has now given directives to not arrest the accused without substantial proof. This has put the real victims in grave danger. Women who are filing false cases need to understand how they’re becoming the deaths of innocent women all over the country.
- Violence against Women, Sexual Exploitation & Sexual Abuse:
Although women may be victims of general crimes like murder, robbery, cheating, etc, the crimes that are directed specifically against women are called as ‘crimes against women’. Such crimes under Indian Penal Code (IPC) are:
- Rape (Sec. 376 IPC)
- Kidnapping & abduction for specified purposes (Sec. 363-373 IPC)
- Homicide for dowry, dowry deaths or their attempts (Sec. 302/304-B IPC)
- Torture – both mental and physical (Sec. 498-A IPC)
- Assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (Sec. 354 IPC)
- Insult to modesty of women (Sec. 509 IPC)
- Importation of girl from foreign country (up to 21 years of age) (Sec. 366-B IPC)
In 2012, there were a total of 244,270 reported incidents of crime against women, while there were 228,650 incidents in 2011. Of the women living in India, 7.5% live in West Bengal, where 12.7% of the total reported crimes against women occur. Andhra Pradesh comes next with 7.3% of India’s total women population against 11.5% of total crimes against women reported. 65% of Indian men believe women should tolerate violence in order to keep the family together, and sometimes women deserve to be beaten (point to be noted here: believing is different than actually doing it). In January 2011, the International Men and Gender Equality Survey Questionnaire reported that 24% of Indian men had committed sexual violence at some point during their lives. In layman’s terms, crimes against women are:
- Rape (including marital rape)
- Female infanticide
- Domestic violence
- Acid Attacks
- Dowry deaths
- Honour killings
- Insult to modesty and
- Human trafficking and forced prostitution
Also check this site for information on legal details and various Preventive or Supportive Acts in India:
Even with so much of hoopla these days about crimes against women, only 6% of the total crimes are being reported. Yet, out of 90,000 to one lakh cases investigated every year, nearly 10,000 complaints of dowry harassment turn out to be false, which means 10% are false dowry cases. Also, a whopping 53.2% rape cases filed between April 2013 and July 2014 have been reported false. If women start misusing the laws meant to protect them in need, nobody would take them seriously when they really need the protection. Such women making false claims are actually belittling the efforts of all feminists and the struggle of real victims.
While Gender Gap Report is a reality, and celebrities like Emma Watson are launching initiatives like HeForShe Impact 10X10X10, we as women should ensure that their efforts don’t go in vain by raising voice only when a real crime is committed.
- Early/Child Marriage:
At 240 million, India has a third of child marriages in the world as per a UNICEF report of 2014. This could be attributed to the higher population of the country, but still, 240 million is not a small figure after all. In the UNICEF report, the world statistics brings out the correlation between child marriage and lower development of women, lower educational attainment, poor maternal health and higher infant mortality rate. According to UNICEF, 47% of Indian girls are married by 18 years of age and 18% are married by 15 years of age. The worst affected states in India are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. With the enactment of laws like The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, and increasing literacy and awareness among people, the numbers of child marriages have gone down in recent years, but we still have a long way to go. Girls living in poor households are twice more likely to get married under 18. They also are more likely to experience domestic violence and five times more likely to die in childbirth. You, as a responsible, educated woman, need to keep an eye out for such girls in your locality. Remember, child marriage is illegal in India, so you could seek police intervention to curb this malpractice.
- Female Genital Mutilation (FGM):
FGM is the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia and yes, it is practiced in India as well, but is largely kept hush-hush. The Dawoodi Bohra community is the only sect practicing FGM in the country and elsewhere in the world. It is usually performed by the older women in the family or community, without even mentally preparing the victim for the procedure. This leaves the victim scarred for life, mentally as well as physically. FGM is hidden; nobody talks about it. Hence, very few countries have any statistics on it. India doesn’t. Since the procedure is illegal, it is often performed clandestinely by inexperienced people, leading to serious medical complications. For this reason, FGM makes a non-painful thing like urination a painful affair; forget about menstruation, intercourse or childbirth. While Muslim scholars have said that the necessity of FGM is not mentioned in Quran, the ritual is highly prevalent among the 10-lakh-strong Bohra Muslim community across Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat. This is one area that feminists, human rights activists and the health sector should explore further. FGM is a taboo issue and the only reason this ‘child abuse’ still continues is that people are silent. Raising awareness and campaigning for girls to have a safe space to talk about these issues is the way to break that silence, and address this problem.
- (Hidden) Poverty:
Poverty is a complex, multi-dimensional problem that is caused due to various reasons. While poverty affects households as a whole, because of gender division of labour and responsibilities for household welfare, women bear a disproportionate burden, attempting to manage household consumption and production under conditions of increasing scarcity. In simple words, when affected by poverty, men can roam around the streets with the same shirt-pant for days; women can’t – they need a place to call their home, they care about their kids, husbands, parents, and feel the need to provide for them all. If they can’t, it affects them in more ways than one can imagine. Poverty may be caused by recession, disaster, or conflict (like in the Middle East) which results in loss of life, material, and/or livelihood. There is also the poverty of low-wage workers and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family support (example: my current bai was once thrown out of home by her in-laws along with her 3 kids in the middle of the night), and outside social institutions and safety nets (example: I once met a 12-year-old kid who was looking for a job because his father had long abandoned the family and now his mother was hospitalized, but no one in his community would help him with money). Any of us could fall in a similar situation at any point in our lives and wouldn’t know what to do. One of my colleagues died in a road accident and I got to know that his mother was widowed long ago and she’d raised her kids all by herself, stitching clothes all her life. She’d got her daughter married a few years ago and this boy had just started earning, when she could no longer put a thread through the needle anymore. With his accidental death, and her dwindling eyesight, she fell into dire straits, never to rise again. Another friend of mine took a sabbatical from job in her early 30s for family reasons, while her husband pursued a good paying career. They bought a new home with high EMI and soon after, the husband lost his job. The woman had to start an emergency business of selling veggies, tiffins and snacks, forcing her to step out of her middle-class comfort zone into the big bad world of physical labour. Another lady, one of our tenants, was disavowed by her parents as well as her husband’s family because the couple had run away to get married out-of-caste. Unfortunately, her husband died when her firstborn was only one year old. She wasn’t educated much and only knew painting. She struggled all her life to get her son well-educated and self-sufficient by selling her paintings. In the beginning, money was scarce and she had to depend on the community to help her out. Slowly, her paintings started selling at a good price. Hers turned out to be a success story, but it was filled with a lot of difficulties. These were just a few examples to show you how poverty lurks in the dark corners around your life and how it could ambush you anytime. The only way to keep safe is to be prepared at all times by making yourself self-sufficient.
Poverty often has various manifestations, including lack of resources sufficient to ensure a sustainable livelihood; hunger & malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increasing morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments; and social discrimination and exclusion. The risk of falling into poverty is greater for women than for men, particularly in old age.
While government bodies and international institutions try to help women by empowering them and providing means of income, proper awareness needs to be created about such initiatives and help should reach the women affected.
Annex 1 takes a peek into the Millennium Development Goals, which is a commitment of world leaders to form a global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets with a deadline of 2015. Annex 2 lists the various programmes run by Government of India to help citizens, especially women, with the problems they face.
According to United Nations Human Development Report, only 32.8% of Indian women formally participate in the labour force, while men stand at 81.1%. According to the 1999-2000 Indian National Sample Survey, 35% of Indian women were working, which was lower than the 1989 survey. This trend shows that there’s a steady decline in Indian women’s participation in labour force, especially in the urban areas, because poverty forces women from rural areas to work and earn. An estimated 52-75% of Indian women engaged in agriculture are illiterate, an education barrier that prevents women from participating in more skilled labour sectors. In all activities, there is also a gender wage disparity, with women earning only 70% of men’s wage. Lack of employment mobility and education render majority of women in India vulnerable. But, if all of us women work toward freeing our gender from this curse, we could do wonders. Example:
On one hand, there are women who are housewives and are willing to do some or the other work to increase household income, but they don’t want, or can’t spend the whole day in labour because of various reasons. On the other hand, there are women who are good at entrepreneurship and can spare some time to start an enterprise. The second type could tap the potential and collective man-hours of housewives, while spending their own energy and time to create markets to sell the products or services collectively provided by the housewives. The more the creativity of these entrepreneur women, the more businesses they can come up with, and every woman can benefit from such enterprise, thus empowering women and elevating them from poverty.
To sum it all up, it’s a fact that India is plagued by some very serious problems and the plight of women in the country we call ‘Mother India’ is pretty bad. But it is not a fact that every woman is a victim and every man is a perpetrator. A majority of men are supportive of women and want to help but don’t know how. Even we, as women, don’t know how to help ourselves, but if we engage in ‘constructive, respectful discussions’ rather than skewed, one-sided, opinion barrages of criticism, we should be able to create a future we all want. Just stop getting too emotional about the trivial incidences and start focusing on the real problems, thinking of workable solutions, and helping each other out in times of need. A lot of social experiments and real incidents in recent times have proved that we don’t come forward to help a girl when she’s molested or eve-teased. While she is responsible for defending her own self, we, as society are responsible to stop such atrocities as well. Step forward, help. Rich or poor, educated or not, woman or a man, each and every one of us is struggling in his/her own life. It’s time to stop cribbing and start respecting each others’ struggle and start helping each other. Be a ‘society’, not just a bunch of people forcibly crammed together in a confined space.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):
Millennium Development Goals are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets (with a deadline of Sept, 2015) for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions – income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion – while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights – the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security. MDGs emphasize on increasing gender equality in education and labour market. The 193 United Nations member states (including India) and at least 23 international organizations are committed to help achieve the following MDGs:
- To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- To achieve universal primary education
- To promote gender equality and empower women
- To reduce child mortality
- To improve maternal health
- To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- To ensure environmental sustainability
- To develop a global partnership for development
The world has made significant progress in achieving many of these Goals. Between 1990 and 2002 overall average incomes increased by approximately 21%; the number of people in extreme poverty declined by an estimated 130 million; child mortality rates fell from 103 deaths per 1,000 live births a year to 88; life expectancy rose from 63 years to nearly 65 years; an additional 8% of the developing world’s people received access to water and an additional 15% acquired access to improved sanitation service.
But progress has been far from uniform across the world-or across the Goals. There are huge disparities across and within countries. Within countries, poverty is greatest for rural areas, though urban poverty is also extensive, growing, and underreported by traditional indicators.
The UN is now working with Governments, civil society and other partners to build on the momentum generated by the MDGs and carry on with an ambitious post-2015 sustainable development agenda. The UN System Task Team, created in January 2012 to provide analytical inputs and expertise so as to create a post-2015 development agenda, presented its first report, Realizing the Future We Want for All, in June 2012.
They have now come up with eleven thematic consultations:
The following programmes are run by the Government of India to empower and help the citizens, especially women:
Indian Government also provides Micro-Credit opportunities to set up Micro Enterprises.