Exaggerated, yet an issue

Women Most Unsafe In India

By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee

The recent survey by Thomson Reuters Foundation showing India as the ‘most dangerous country for women’ in the world has raised a hornets’ nest in the country. There is justification in the all-round furore regarding the survey trying to malign and belittle India’s position in the global world. Despite various shortcomings as regards the attitude of the State towards women and girls and related crimes on the opposite sex, it is difficult to believe that the country is more unsafe compared to war-torn Afghanistan and Syria.
The survey revealed that women are more unsafe than war-torn Afghanistan or strife-hit Syria and even Iraq, where violence against women is endemic. As is well known these countries are highly conservative and follow Islamic traditions where liberty and rights of women are at low ebb. The government is quite right in stating that the survey followed “a flawed methodology to present an erroneous picture.”
In a detailed statement, the Union Women and Child Development Ministry questioned the reliability of the poll, since the Foundation has not revealed any information on the 548 respondents consulted who are said to be “experts on women’s issues”. There is no denying the fact that there has been a drastic reduction in child marriage over the years in the country with reports of marriage in the age group 0-9 now being ‘nil’. Further, the percentage of women in the age group of 15-19 who were normally pregnant has dropped from 16 per cent in 2005-06 to 7.9 per cent in 2015-16, states the Government.
The report pointed out that while rape cases increased to 40,000 reported in 2016, only 19 per cent led to conviction due to lack of serious efforts to curb harassment of women and girls and the Government taking any sincere steps. The conviction rate may be poor but available statistics reveal that the number of rape cases is more in the Western world. Data available with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states 38,947 cases of rape were registered in 2016, slightly higher than 2014 and 2015.
Statistics on rape cases in the country are 0.03 per thousand people, whereas the US reported a much higher figure of 1.2 rape cases. Another figure of 2010 found that figures for rape in India were 1.8 (per 100,000 population) while for Germany it was 9.4, the UK 17, the US 27.4 and Sweden as high as 63.5. The Indian media has rightly pointed out that while rapes in India are highlighted in the Western media a big way, why is it not the same regarding rapes in Europe and America. Questions have thus been raised about what the survey has been talking about, even if we assume that reporting in the above countries is stricter and the conviction rates are much higher.
The survey, no doubt is erroneous but it cannot be denied that sexual violence has been on the rise. There is no reason to deny that harassment and violence against women needs to be curbed and more attention is needed both by the Government and civil society organisations to ensure the opposite sex gets fair play in society.
At the same time, it is also a fact that women are becoming more educated and a significant section completes its graduation and even post graduation and gets employed, both in the government and private sector. In fact, women, who presently make about 30 per cent of the labour force, are preferred in matters of employment due to their sincerity and efficiency in various types of office work. Statistics also reveal that around 12 per cent of women are behind the wheel as compared to say Saudi Arabia, where ban on female drivers has recently been lifted. The scenario is expected to further improve in the coming two-three years.
The country is also witnessing some States providing more opportunities to girls to complete higher education through various incentives. The southern States particularly have shown remarkable progress in providing all-round opportunities to women and girls, whereas West Bengal and Odisha are trying to come up steadily. The importance of education in ensuring the rights of the opposite sex as also curbing sexual harassment has been realised in most families and a steady change has been taking place.
This has resulted in increased awareness to come out of the four walls of the home. Just like their counterparts, women are more socially inclined and are involved in academic pursuits, religious activities, recreational needs etc. apart from looking into their health and education. In fact, the modern woman in urban India particularly is showing keen interest to enter into a work career because of the pressing needs of the family.
Regarding social violence, it needs to be understood that activities such as girl trafficking and sexual violence etc in rural areas are an offshoot of abject poverty and illiteracy. Thus there is need for awareness generation, putting more emphasis on girls’ education and making the police machinery pro-active in these matters.
The picture in metros and cosmopolitan cities is somewhat different, where girls mostly belong to well-off sections of society and indulge in a different lifestyle such as wearing westernised outfits, find nothing wrong in free sex, enjoy night life etc, which is not in tune with the traditional male chauvinist attitude in our culture and unfortunately fall prey to sexual innuendos, molestation and even rape. Sociologists and psychologists have thus opined that ‘provocation’ by the opposite sex in various forms may lead to an increase in such cases. This despite the fact that India’s religious tenor be it Hinduism or Christianity or Sikhism etc. bestows high regard and respect for women.
Be that as it may, the report should give the added courage to fight sexual harassment in all forms. While spread of higher education amongst the opposite sex has to be widened in the coming years, there has to be a big change in mind set too. The tradition and culture of our country, highlighting ethics, discipline and civility should be manifest in our attitude and behaviour to make us responsible citizens.
The report needs to be resented on all fronts, not just by the Government but sections of civil society organisations and women activists. Every effort must be made both by the Centre as well as State governments that conviction rate of crimes against women no longer remain abysmal. This perhaps will help the country not only improve its global image but counter the dreadful picture painted. -INFA