Better half? Not really

Published: September 1, 2009 - 17:00 Updated: July 2, 2015 - 14:25

Travelling after dark is a challenge that every working woman undertakes in Delhi, but it's not a pleasant experience and anything can happen

We might boast of a woman UPA chairperson, a woman President and a woman Lok Sabha Speaker, but the dream ends here. A reality check - this country is short of respect for the other half of the population. Crimes against women are now presented in statistics, which seems to grow everyday. But even statistics and facts can startle you.

Discrimination begins during pregnancy of the mother manifested in high rates of female foeticides. If not, then female infants are murdered. If the girls manage to survive, there is preferential distribution of family and social resources (food, schooling, healthcare) and clear preference is given to boys.

According to WHO, 60 per cent of Indian women are anaemic. Weak women give birth to low-weight girl children. This continues and yet again begins the vicious circle of female malnutrition through adulthood and into the next generation.

Many are married off very young. According to UN (2005), around two-third (70 per cent, between 15-49 years) of married women in India are victims of domestic violence that includes beating, rape or coerced sex. Domestic violence can be psychological abuse, social abuse, financial abuse, physical or sexual assault.

Women are victims of honour killings in India when they are accused of having brought dishonour to the family, if, for instance, she marries outside her caste or even within the same gotra. She can be lynched or publicly flogged for this. And, it would have the sanction of the family, community and panchayat. The administration and police seem abjectly helpless, unable or unwilling to stop this menace.

If this is not enough, many women are forced to enter the flesh trade. Many are trapped by traffickers, beaten to pulp, smashed, brutalised, gang-raped and forced into prostitution. This has had various outcomes. Throughout the developing world, people infected with HIV are increasing. By the beginning of the next century, women living with HIV or AIDS throughout the world are likely to outnumber men, says UN. Male-to-female transmission of HIV appears to be 24 times more than female-to-male transmission.

In India, rape is a common phenomenon. You have rapes of all "kinds". In a study done in Mumbai by UN, 20 per cent of adolescent abortion seekers said they were victims of forced sex, 10 per cent due to rape by male domestic servants, 6 per cent due to incest, and 4 per cent from 'other' rapes. Rapes, including child molestation, are rampant within families or among 'known' persons.
Gender discriminations are also reinforced by economic inequities. Women are only supposed to reproduce and bring up children, do household chores, work in the fields and stay in the house. The resulting poverty and dependence leads to limited access to healthcare, education and empowerment.

Even the government seems to give preferential treatment. Illiteracy among women is rampant - only about 54 per cent are literate. Even if India claims to be a developing country, it is actually becoming regressive. India does not have a law on marital rape. Even if a woman's husband has sexual intercourse with her without her consent, he cannot be prosecuted for rape.

Delhi is often called the 'rape-capital'. The capital can't guarantee safety to its female citizens. Travelling after dark is a challenge that every working woman undertakes in Delhi, but it's not a pleasant experience and anything can happen. TV journalist, Soumya Vishwanathan, and Jigisha Ghosh, an IT professional, were killed when they were returning home from work at night. The 'safety' of home for a single woman is as dangerous as the unsafe space of streets. And, women are generally not supposed to "dress provocatively"!

Travelling after dark is a challenge that every working woman undertakes in Delhi, but it’s not a pleasant experience and anything can happen

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This story is from print issue of HardNews