I woke up this morning to the news of a 17-year old girl’s murder in Kaithal, Haryana. She was killed by her own father for refusing to stay married to the 55-year old groom her family had found for her. This disconcerting news came just a day after the story of a pimping father in Kerala had splashed across the national media. Needless to say that these are horrendous acts of crime against women, what is even more disconcerting is the victims’ families had a role to play in most of the recent crimes that came to the fore.
Contrary to popular belief, these crimes are not just happening in remote villages or satellite cities. It would be unfair yet not so wrong to tag Delhi as the most unsafe city in India, for women. Recent statistics will show that such crimes are rampant all across north India, and in states like Goa and Kerala in the south. Rape is the most conspicuous form of crime in the country today. As many as 16 women are assaulted in some way or the other, every hour, across India. Over the last few months, cases of rapes and assault have made it to the headlines with alarming frequency. Honor killings, dowry harassment, female infanticide, sex trafficking and household disputes are some of the other factors that contribute to the rise in number of crimes against women. Atrocities against women is not a recent phenomenon, it’s been an omnipresent issue. This problem is rooted to our customs and upbringing.
Early poets had often personified India as a woman, and she was commonly addressed as ‘Bharath Matha’ (meaning Mother India). Many denominations within Hinduism worship goddesses in various avatars like Lakshmi, Saraswati, Parvati, Durga, and Kaali. Obviously men in India have little or no understanding of what Hinduism embodies. It’s unfortunate that even some of our ancient scriptures suggest the vilification of women. Since centuries, there has existed a disparity of power between man and woman, as a result of which women were oppressed and enslaved. Being the weaker sex, women had no choice but to live under the shadows of their domineering counterparts. Naturally, this led to them being abused, harassed and discriminated against.
Exposure to western culture helped in bringing about a change in the way the city-men treated women and they gradually started imbibing lessons in reverence and chivalry. This however did not permeate down into the lower rung of the society or rural India. Hence, men from small towns and villages would be the perpetrators behind a majority of the crimes against women. Urban women are at the forefront today alongside men, be it in the field of sports, politics, business or science. Despite women having taken rapid strides in every facet of the society, emancipation in the true sense is still a distant dream. Having said that, it would also be erroneous to generalize the state of all women in India, due to the heterogeneous nature of the society we live in.
The robustness of the modern-day Indian woman has led to a radical surge in the no. of harassment/rape cases being reported. Then why is it that our law & order system fails to prosecute the offenders in these cases? Simple, our relic laws are too mellow. Combined with a judicial system on the verge of collapse, where cases characteristically take years to be processed, and a lack of forensic capabilities, it’s easy to see why even ‘laws’ are not a deterrent for these lowlifes. The crux of the issue lies in the clear failure of the way in which women’s right bodies function, lack of edification exercises concentrating on rural India, inept patrolling methods adopted by the police, lack of an emergency help line like the 911 in North America and last but not the least an obsolete judiciary. So what’s the solution? I don’t know. Asking women to be more careful with what they wear is certainly an irrational solution, not that the ‘Slut Walks’ are helping either! Moreover, the issue is much larger and a solution would be much more complex.
Of course, India is not the only country with a high ratio of crimes against women. But no developed economy treats their women insolently. Violence against women represents a drain on the economically productive workforce. In India, a survey showed that for each incidence of violence, women lost an average of 7 working days. Is the government listening?
It seems as though Indian women haven’t been liberated even after the British returned back to England. If you think about it, Indian men and the British do have a lot in common! I leave you with this question, “what will it take for women in India to feel safe and free in their own country?”