We pride ourselves on our deep-rooted cultural roots and moral values, often going out of our way to defend and uphold our cultural identity. Women form a very important part of this culture and many of the Gods we worship and revere are feminine. Women also execute a myriad of roles in our social structure as well (wife, daughter, breadwinner etc.) Despite all of this, we are often exposed to brutal and masochistic crimes against them. Genital mutilation, rape, eve-teasing and harassment of women are just some of the things that have become the norm in the world’s largest democracy.
The various feminist groups and different activist groups within the country are continually advocating for a more progressive society, along with a gradual loosening of the shackles of patriarchy. While it might sound extremely easy theoretically, the practical fruition of the objective seems almost utopian. The actual solution is not hard to arrive at, with the common view being that the situation will only improve once the mind-set of the society is changed. Changing the mind-set of an entire society is no easy feat, though. A more achievable and realistic solution to the problem lies in a combination of individual effort, stringent legislation and efficient protection of statutory rights of women.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made efforts to improve the status and condition of women in India with the introduction of various policies and yojanas. However, there still remains a huge mountain to climb and a simple analysis of status quo will go to show how far we have to go.
The issue of marital rape has confounded and angered various woman rights groups across the country. The reason for their anger is that despite continual recommendations, the prevailing view of the Government is that marital rape, as it is understood internationally, cannot be applied to India.
In the view of the Honourable Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi, the government is not entirely convinced that criminalising marital rape is the best way forward as ‘various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs etc,’ render the concept moot and not viable in a country like India.
The aforementioned position reflects an orthodox, myopic and regressive view. A view which condemns women to a life of subjugation and repression once they enter the ‘sacred institution’ of marriage. This hesitance of the BJP Government to criminalise marital rape gives husbands a free-pass to sexually intimidate and violate their wives without fear of reprimand.
Rape as a concept itself is a criminal offence and the institution of marriage must not act as an exception to the general rule. Any delay in the Government’s efforts to declare marital rape illegal will simply strengthen the patriarchal and orthodox practices followed by a majority of men in Indian society. More importantly, it would ensure a further disillusionment of women, who will eventually lose all faith in the system which is supposed to protect their rights and ensure them a life of dignity.
Sexual Harassment at Workplace
A commonly forgotten problem is the serious one of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. After the Vishaka case the Indian Government passed 'The Sexual Harassment Of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act' in 2013. The Act was supposed to serve as a beacon of hope for various women, who were struggling with the problems of sexual harassment by employers or co-employees at the workplace. Whilst the Act mandated for strict and mandatory regulations to be followed by companies across India, the implementation of the provisions of the Act has been poor.
According to a FICCI-EY November 2015 report, 36% of Indian companies and 25% among MNCs are not compliant with the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013. This has led to dismal conditions, with women being the target of incessant harassment, despite the existence of a legislation which explicitly disallows such legislation, with women in Uttar Pradesh facing dire consequences. While it is not feasible to expect a 100% success rate with the execution of any legislation, the minimal efforts put in by the Government have been disheartening to see.
One would think that the inhuman rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012, which sent shockwaves through the country, had taught us a lesson. However, a list of issues show that we have a long way to go. The Criminal (Amendment) Act, 2013 passed in light of the incident was criticised for not heeding the Justice T.S. Verma Committee on issues of reduction of age of consent and amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to hold armed forces personnel more accountable for their crimes against women. The recent rape committed against a woman (known only as ‘Jisha’ to the media) in Kerala has been described as ‘one of the most horrendous incidents ever witnessed’ in the country by the Director of Centre of Social Research, Ranjana Kumari. However, the delayed reporting of the case, the trivial communalisation of local politics; and aspersions cast on her social status have ensured that we are already mishandling the situation.
While the statistics and analyses paint a gloomy picture, there is still some hope. The decision of the Bombay High Court to overturn a 400-year-old practice and allow women to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur temple has been well received. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme has seen reasonably successful, with the Sex Ratio at Birth in states like Haryana drastically improving. The number of girls attending school in rural areas has also seen improvement, pointing to scope for awareness and education of women with respect to their constitutional and civil rights, along with remedies available to them.
It is time that we normalise the issue at hand. Women being granted equal rights should be a basic pre-requisite of our society. When prominent political figures in our country allege, that crimes against women will increase if they are allowed entry to temples, it’s a sign that we need progressive, visionary thinking, especially from our leaders. A prime example to learn from would be Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been a major advocate for gender equality, even saying that men should start being feminists too and that there isn’t anything wrong with men identifying themselves as feminists, given that we are in the 21st century.
Such normalisation and a liberal approach to this issue will ensure definite progress of our society.
In 2012, India was ranked as the worst G20 country in which to be a woman. India is a country where 93 women are sexually assaulted every day. There is no magic solution to India’s gender inequality and differentiation problems. It needs a holistic approach; top to bottom (strict legislation and effective control) and bottom to top (grass-root awareness and education programs, breaking stereotypes among men).
Rights and liberties are constitutionally (or otherwise) granted to all citizens of a nation, and are meant to be enjoyed by all of them, without any exceptions. The time has now come to stop differentiating between man and woman when protection of these rights is in question. We must be progressive, more liberal and less myopic in our approach to societal integration, if we truly are to develop as a country.