Finally, we are at the top. No, not in healthcare, education or infrastructure. Nah, the growth rate has not touched that mark either. Today, ours is the most dangerous county for women in the whole world. To be frank, it hurts. We take pride in being an Indian. Be it cricket, or Olympics or human welfare, we always want India to be at the zenith.
A recent survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) has labelled India as a country not made for women. Why should it not be? We as girls had always been told to stay away from boys, agree to what the bread-winner (husbands) tells, ignore our problems and serve the family. And in case a man stalked us, or stared at us, just ignore. That’s how men are meant to be. It is natural for a man to do that. This is how a typical girl is brought up in India. Of course, there are exceptions.
What about boys? They are taught to be dominating and demanding since childhood. In case a demand is not met, it may sound “unethical” and “unacceptable” too. And what if a boy is unusually kind, helping or supportive towards his mother or female members of his family; he is, of course, considered “unmanly”.
This is exactly how a 10-year-old boy, Roop, is being portrayed in a recently launched daily soap on ColorsTV. His father is leaving no stone unturned to make him understand the value of “mooch” and being a “man". So much so, he is being forced to leave a co-ed school, where he is friendly with girls and female teachers. Small wonder that the so-called “men” view women as a product, a commodity, and try to satiate their desires by hook or by crook.
That’s how Indian society has been. It is about extremes, where words like co-existence, mutual contribution, equal partnership and respect, do not exist. If they exist, they come with “ifs” and “buts”. In other words, where women are independent and walk out of their houses, to earn a living, men are still considered superior. Certain jobs are still meant only for men, despite the strides made by women in those not-for-women areas.
Administered to 548 experts across the country, the TRF survey covered six major aspects — health, discrimination, culture and religion, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and trafficking. It is shameful that we were ranked the first (the worst) for sexual violence, culture & religion and human trafficking. While we are the fourth worst country in terms of accessibility to health facilities to women, we stood at the third position for non-sexual violence and discrimination out of 192 countries.
The foundation did the same survey in 2011. The transition from the fourth worst country to the worst points out that things have only worsened in India. This can be substantiated by the data published by the national crime records bureau (NCRB) 2016. The report shows an increase of 2.9% in cases of crime against women during 2016 as compared to 2015.
Cases falling under cruelty by husband or their relatives have increased by 32.6% and those falling under “assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty” increased by 25%. There has been an increase in the number of abduction (19%) and rape cases (11.5%) as well. These facts lay bare the entire picture of women safety.
Another misconception about “rape” is that only a particular category of men indulge in such crime and only “certain” types of women get raped. The NCRB 2016 shows that in 95% of the cases, the victim knew the offender. In other words, the criminals are no longer strangers. They are most of the time in the vicinity, whom the women think are safe to deal with.
Coming back to the TRF report, many have pointed holes at the way data was collected, collated and analysed. A recent statement from the National Commission for Women rejected the report, claiming that the sample size was too small to represent the entire country. Similarly, a statement issued by the Women and Child Department says, “The ranking is based on a perception poll based on responses to simply six questions. The results are not derived from any kind of data and are solely based on inherently subjective opinions. Further, the poll has been conducted with 548 respondents, which have been defined by Reuters as experts focused on women's issues”.
True, the sample size was too small and a little more than 500 people cannot arrive at a conclusion that we are the worst in terms of women safety and their rights. But even if we ignore this survey, the report (NCRB) based on actual facts and cases, does not paint a hunky-dory picture of our women. It shows how the national capital, Delhi, treats women as it has retained the “rape capital” tag since the 2012 Nirbhaya case. Incidentally, the report was released by the home minister, Rajnath Singh in the national capital. Simply put, the information is authentic and the government cannot go on a denial mode.
Instead of denying the outcome of the survey, the government should look at the wider perspective. The TRF report has widened the definition of women safety. It actually links the issue with gender gap, health facilities and cultural influences. Ask any woman, if she feels safe, going out on the streets after 9 in the evening, the answer would be “no”. Some would say they prefer to stay at home or go only with a family member.
That is the point. That is where the government has to work. The report should force the government to rethink and introspect, where have we gone wrong. Despite so many stringent laws and regulations, if women do not feel safe, where do we lack? Clearly, implementation of these Acts is a challenge.
Indian women have learnt to modify their behaviours. They have learnt to adjust themselves with the surroundings. The fact that 95% of the offenders are people from the extended “circle of trust” shows that women have little value. Despite being educated, if our girls are being trained to act as if they do not exist or they exist only to serve men, it shows where we have failed as a society.
And to talk about education, we have seen girls being denied access to schools as they have been entrusted with the larger responsibility of looking after their siblings, cooking and giving food to the king of the family - “the son” – who is being sent to a private school despite limited resources.
The ministry of human resources has reported recently that nearly 62.1 million are out of school and the Right to Education Act covers only 20% of these children. A large majority of these children are girls. Around 32% of the girls drop out after elementary education, mainly due to family compulsions.
On the health front, too, the women do not get any solace. The recent global nutrition report 2017 speaks volumes about the health condition of our women. More than half of the women falling in the 15-49 age group are anaemic – the highest in the world. A survey conducted in a tribal region of Maharashtra shows that 92% of the women suffered from gynaecological problems. Of course, it cannot be extrapolated to the entire country but the figure itself is horrifying, to say the least.
Another data shows 63% of the working women in urban areas suffer from such issues. Not that they are not aware, they struggle to maintain a balance between their office and home, at the cost of their health. Except for an educated or a privileged few, women rarely discuss their health issues.
All said and done, seven years have passed. We slipped four notches down in the TRF report. Instead of ignoring the report, the government should strive to make this country a happier place for women. It should show to the world that it has learnt a lesson. The report should act as an eye-opener, not an eye-closer.
(The writer, a company secretary, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 09th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 28)