Stigma Thy Name Is Woman
By Poonam I Kaushish
India continues to be at war with its girls and women. Repressed, abused and discriminated against this is the fate of millions of women. Tales of gut wrenching savagery, brutal rape and murder of young girls unfold daily horrifying a nation. Every minute of every day in some part of the country we witness a Nirbhaya, Kathua, Unnao, Muzzafarnagar, Telangana, Hathras etc. A society where women are burnt for bringing less dowry, a killing is reported every 77 minutes, female fetuses are aborted just because they are girls. Yet the show must go on as we celebrated International Women’s Day Monday. Sic.
The Government went through the motion lauding women warriors. The Lok Sabha Speaker hosted a lunch for the women press corp, “we have the highest respect for women,” said the Supreme Court as it heard a 14-year-old pregnant rape victim seeking a nod to abort the fetus, an all-women team took charge of ATC operations at airports.
Maharashtra set up five Covid 19 vaccination centres in each district of the State exclusively for inoculating women, piped in another, “We are working towards offering equal opportunities to women by recruiting around 25-30% women in different fields.” Cut to the real world women from Punjab are joining the ongoing farmers’ protest at Tikri.
If we take Parliament as a barometer of women in India it holds out very little hope. The present Lok Sabha has the highest number of women MPs a mere 14%!, much below the global average of 24%. Think. If in 1950 women formed 5% of Parliament, today a mere 9% increase in the last 69 years serves is a sobering reminder of how slow the progress has been. More. India fares poorer than countries such as Afghanistan (27.7%), Pakistan (20.6%) and Saudi Arabia (19.9%).
States like Tripura, Nagaland, Arunachal, Himachal Pradesh and the former State of J&K don’t have a single women MP in the Lok Sabha. In fact, Nagaland has never had a female MLA! Besides, only 724 women contested the polls out of nearly 8000. The Congress fielded 54 (13%), BJP 53 (12%), Mayawati’s BSP 24, Mamata’s TMC 23 (43%), Patnaik’s BJD 33%, CPM 10, CPI four and one by Pawar’s NCP (his daughter). As many as 222 women contested the polls independently. Four transgender candidates also contested while Kejriwal’s AAP fielded a transgender nominee. The situation in the Vidhan Sabhas is worse
More appalling were their educational qualifications. While 232 (32%) declared their educational qualification to be between Class 5 and Class 12 pass, 37 said they were just literate, 26 illiterate while the rest stated they were graduates according to the Association for Democratic Reforms.
Further, there are only a handful of women leaders today: Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati. Both Indira Gandhi and Jayalalithaa are deceased. So unlike the strong female contingent who fought alongside other freedom fighters, Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalani, Aruna Asaf Ali, Durgabai Deshmukh and Savitri Phule, who not only defied the notorious patriarchal norms but also blazed a trail of women’s empowerment. Unfortunately, post-Independence India, women slipped to a secondary status where not just leaders, women continue to remain the ‘unwanted’ and the neglected sex.
Recall, 2014 was hailed as the year of ‘womanifestos’, with all major Parties vying for 33% reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies. But seven years after the BJP came to power there has been no mention of it, despite it asserting it high on its list of priorities.
This begs a question: Why is India failing its women so miserably? Importantly, why don’t we have reservation for women yet?
Specially against the backdrop that 25 years ago in 1996 a proposal for 33% reservation for women was made. The Bill came up for discussions in 1998, 1999 and 2008 and all four times it lapsed on the dissolution of the House. Not only did it face fierce opposition it was torn in the Rajya Sabha by an RJD MP and some abominable remarks were made, “Do you think these women with short hair can speak for women, for our women.” Sic.
True, one-third reservation of women in panchayats and urban local bodies has led to a welcome spurt in female political participation and leadership, yet there are also instances of women being used as proxies by men to win elections in various states from Maharashtra to Bihar.
Alas, patriarchal social structures and the caste system are so deeply rooted in Indian society that gender inequality and discrimination against women is widely accepted. Ttoxic masculinity tells men it is okay even commendable to seize women who they can’t otherwise have. Topped, by our regressive society which ensures that if they cross limits there would find sympathisers and defenders who will pin the blame on the woman.
Girls are often married off before they reach puberty. They are treated like prisoners in their new homes and are regularly beaten by their husbands. For the large part, the girls are denied any opportunity to study. In some UP districts women set up Nari Adalats’ to dispense prompt justice but judgments passed by the are not recognized by the State but they are widely accepted by the participants.
According to the National Crimes Records Bureau, 39,000 sexual assaults occur every year, five rapes occur every minute and one woman is killed every hour. In a UN survey India ranked 85 out of 121 countries unsafe for women. Shockingly, 6.26 rapes take place for every 10,000 women.
UP ignominiously holds the record of the most cases of crimes against women in the country for two consecutive years — 59,853 last year and 59,445 in 2018 according to the NCRB’s latest report. It ranked second in rapes (3,065) behind Rajasthan (5,997). It also ranked third in rape-murder cases. Out of 278 such cases in the country, 34 were committed in the State.
Plainly, in a society heavily loaded in favour of men, women and young girls live in an increasingly unsafe environment wherein they are viewed as sex objects and mince-meat for male lust camouflaged as human animals. Comply or reconcile to battling it out at every level. Perhaps it has something to do with our patriarchal lineage and misogynistic culture.
Consequently, violence against women is a heinous manifestation of the deep-seated prejudices against them which dictate that she must be confined to the domestic sphere. These bigotry still dominate our ethos given that India’s female labour force participation rate is only 23.3%. To argue that women have won the battle to work is far from the truth.
Additionally, India’s gender ratio continues to be low. Currently, 940 females per 1,000 males, the lowest in South Asia countries ,lagging behind Sri Lanka (1,034), Nepal (1,014), Bangladesh (978) and Pakistan (943). This is largely because of our traditional bias against the girl child. Undeniably, literacy rate has registered a substantial increase since Independence, but the female literacy rate (65.5%) still remains 16.6% less than the male literacy rate (82.1%).
Clearly, it is high time our leaders help women break the glass ceilings and give them their place in the sun. Reservations will go a long way in facilitating women to shatter this. A revolutionary change is needed. Merely mouthing platitudes will no longer work. Time to remember that the best thermometer to the progress of a nation is treatment of its women. There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. Will we end the tokenism? Break new ground and unshackle women? — INFA