The Thomson Reuters Foundation survey, which labelled India as the most dangerous country for women behind Pakistan and Syria, has initiated a national debate on women's safety and security. The government and the ruling BJP led NDA outright rejected the survey, citing that it is based on the opinion of a few unnamed experts whose qualifications we know nothing about. The opposition pointed out that despite the Centre’s stated lack of faith in this survey’s methodology, the issue cannot be ignored.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on the findings of the survey and if women are still subjected to violence in the digital India. Dikshit too raised questions on the credibility of the survey but said that more women are subjected to various kinds of violence in the digital era. Dikshit, who was India's longest-serving woman chief minister, mooted the idea of a national code of conduct for women saying that ‘second rate citizen' status of women needs to be removed once and for all. The onus should be on family and the society to do it. Also families should teach young boys that they should respect women, she suggested.
IC: What are your comments on Thomson Reuters Foundation report on Indian women?
Sheila Dikshit: I do not know what the basis of their survey is. People used to give much more respect to our women than now. This point does not necessarily make us the worse country. In the past two or three decades, more women have started working in India. Earlier women used to live closed up life, but not anymore. Women are heading companies or running organisations, working in banks etc. To treat them ill just because physically they cannot match your strength is very unfair.
IC: Women play greater role in families and yet they are subjected to all kinds of humiliation and assault. The findings of survey simply talks about that. Why is there so much hue and cry?
It is true that we do not treat our women the way we ought to treat them. But we are worst in the world; that is not correct. What were the criteria to declare India as the worst country for women?
IC: You are not completely denying that women in India are victims of violence...
Yes, women are victims of violence in certain sections and certain parts of India.
IC: Since 2012 Delhi gangrape case, incidents of rape, sexual violence against women and trolling on social media have become the biggest challenges of women. Your views.
I am disappointed by this trend because the society is changing. Men are educated now. In spite of that an old system is being carried on where women were hardly given any respect. Often, Women earn much more than what the husband earns, but the husband treats her as second rate citizen. The daughter in law too is always considered inferior. The second rate status that women in India have got should be removed. Women should be given equal status as is given to men.
IC: What are your suggestions?
The responsibility lies with the society to ensure that women are treated as equal. In some families women are not treated as equal but in other families, women are treated at par with men. There is a need for adopting a national code of conduct relating to women. It should be taught in schools.
IC: The Modi government has started several schemes for girl education and welfare of women in the country. Despite this, there has been no decline in cases of violence against women. Why?
Society and menfolk have to protect women from violence. Women are more confident now, but the confidence has still not removed the abusiveness some of them are subjected to.
IC: More rape cases are being reported now; there are many more cases which go unreported. Does it worry you?
Yes, I am worried. Little girls are not being spared and men, who do such crimes, are not even ashamed of their act. We should have a mechanism where rape accused are punished immediately. We need to adopt a different kind of approach to deal with those accused of heinous crimes like rape. We need to be more vigilant with regard to safety and security of women.
IC: In Kathua rape case, rally was taken out in support of the accused by some activists of the ruling BJP?
It is unforgiveable and should not be allowed at all. These rallies should be banned. Police have enough power to take action in such matters. Nothing against women's dignity should be tolerated.
IC: The recent social media assault on Union minister Sushma Swaraj follows a pattern that has become grimly familiar, particularly when the target is a woman: assault by mob, with little regard to the facts and ad hominem abuse instead of issue-specific criticism. The general impression is that women in politics are safer than women on the streets…
I have never had anybody running after me. Even if there is somebody then you give them a look ...that man runs the other way around. So it depends a lot on the society that you belong to and also the way you handle. The system has to change.
IC: You were at the helm of affairs when Nirbhaya case happened. It has been six years now. Are women safer now than they were in 2012?
Things have become bad for women because more women are going out at night for work or otherwise. Women themselves travel at 7 or 8 in the evening which is a vulnerable time.
IC: During Nirbhaya issue, you had made a controversial statement that women should not be so adventurous at 3 am at night. Do you still stand by it?
What is your priority? Is your priority to keep your mother, your daughter safe or is that not a priority? I had said it in that context. If it is a priority and if you find that it is not safe then don't do it. If it is not a priority, then go ahead and do it. We had said at that time that it is the responsibility of the organisations to ensure that these women are dropped home in office transport.(Published on 09th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 28)