Attitudinal Change Imperative
By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee
The triple talaq judgment has reinforced strength among women activists yet personal laws are against the fairer sex as male chauvinists torture women, force them to get money from their parents’ and leave them in the lurch.
Such incidents are common in rural areas forcing a woman to go back to her parents’ house, sometimes with kids. Alas, not only are laws not enforced but also law enforcing agencies remain silent spectators. Worse, a married man having illicit relations with one or two women apart from his wife is common.
Pertinently, in rural societies this is a custom with rich landlords as also in urban areas. Highly educated women in metros and big cities do not allow this and walk out if her husband has multiple sex relations. According to the Commonwealth Rights Initiative (CHRI) analysis two years back more than 57 rapes take place daily, averaging over two rapes every hour per day from 2001 to 2013. Undoubtedly, unreported rapes would be twice the number, four rapes every hour per day.
Rap[es are not prevalent only in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand but there was a quantum jump in Maharashtra, Karnataka etc where figures more than doubled compared to 2001.
Besides, Meanwhile a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll recently, found Delhi to be the worst megacity in the world for sexual violence against women and them feeling insecure from sexual attacks.
Undeniably, this scenario speaks poorly of our attitude towards the fair sex. Obviously, women’s education and empowerment have not reached the remote countryside, yet in cities where there is awareness repeated sexual attacks on women cannot be tolerated. Thus, the cultural tradition that we brag about of the increase in society’s educational levels have failed to make any impact. This begs a question: Why should women be treated as a commodity?
Further, as women in the economically active group of 16-55 years constitute over 58 per cent of the total population we need to make to empower them economically as it helps her to become socially empowered. True, women are increasingly entering the work force, either helping their husband in the field or doing another job to add to family income, but they do not have the much-needed autonomy, thanks to lack of education and, of course, the patriarchal nature of society.
Women participation in economic activities, outside the home, is often considered as an important enabling factor in their socio-economic empowerment as this exposes them to the world outside. A majority of women enter the labour force due to economic compulsions and benefits of their economic contributions are likely to be mediated by their socio-cultural context and their work burden. Sociologists agree that employment could be a source of economic independence and gives women a sense of self worth.
In this context the NDA Government is thinking of bringing the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament, possibly this year, to ensure 33 per cent reservation for women. Whether this is a BJP strategy to woo women voters, as Opposition Parties allege is not known but it can safely be said that the present number of women MPs is only around 10 per cent. If the BJP and NDA percentage is taken this would be much less.
Also, a debate is raging whether uniform personal laws should become applicable to all religious groups as is the system in any civilized country. Even for electoral gains if the Bill is passed, women are expected to get better opportunities.
However, what is most important now is to ensure how laws relating to divorce and compensation are handled, not just in the cities but across the country. Women should not be allowed to suffer and those who delay the process must be booked.
The lower tiers of the Administration have to be motivated to help the fair sex who fall prey pre or post marriage. Our law enforcing agencies have to vigilant. For this each police station all over the country should have at least two police personnel – one senior and junior – to attend to problems of women be it rape, molestation, trafficking or sexual harassment.
The recent Supreme Court judgment has rightly said that sexual intercourse between a husband and a wife below 18 years amounts to rape. As is well known, in rural societies child marriages take place and such intercourse affects the child’s health. Doctors suggest the correct age for child bearing should be 19 or 20 years or more.
India has had a rich history of plural and specific common laws like the Dowry Protection Act, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act etc which seek to enlarge women’s economic rights but poor implementation have created problems. Proper training needs to be conducted at the State or national level to effectively help them deal with the problems and allow women to assert their rights.
Other problems faced by women relate to health, sanitation and under nutrition. Those from economically weaker sections still discriminate between boys and girls and give better food and health care to the former. The discrimination against the fair sex has been admitted by all Parties but the situation has not yet undergone any perceptible change.
Priority should be given to health care for children, specially the girl child and panchayats should be made aware of the fact that whether it is a boy or a girl all need to be treated in an equal manner in matters of education and health. More opportunities for the girl child would change the mindset of their parents in the coming years.
It also needs to be pointed out that women, even in metros and big cities, are treated as sex objects. And this is also reflected in most films where violence and sex draws considerable appeal. A section of the young generation gets perverted by seeing such films and fashion sequences and this motivates them towards the opposite sex. Even politicians have been found watching pornographic films, which is indeed quite distressing.
While girls’ education is being given sufficient emphasis, along with this, the attitude of society has to undergo a change. Sociologists believe that the indicator of prosperity being enjoyment of women and wine, like the feudal landlords, should undergo a transformation. However, not just among the rich but also among the low class, specially in slums, squatter settlements and railway colonies, there are umpteen examples of people having multiple relationships with women.
How soon this would change remains a big issue. But one cannot deny that there has been some improvement in the attitude towards women which is manifest mainly in cities. This has to reach the far corners of the country so that women are accorded more rights and allowed to live a life of dignity. —— INFA