As I analyse the current scenario of women in India, I remember the soul-drenching poem of Rabindranath Tagore, a renowned Indian mystic and poet:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free,
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
by narrow domestic walls,
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,
Where the mind is led forward by thee
into ever-widening thought and action,
Into that haven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Are women safe in India? This is the question often asked in recent years because of incessant atrocities against women. According to the provisional figures of Census 2011, women constitute 48.46 per cent of the total population of India. The sex ratio in India has been unfavourable to females especially in the age group 0-6 years. It slipped down for two consecutive decades from 1991 to 2011, a steep fall of 31 points. It is due to the elimination of female babies through sex-selective abortions and infanticide.
In spite of blatant violence and discrimination against them, women make noteworthy contributions to science and technology, literature, medicine, art, music etc., for the integral development of the Indian society. In spite of this, women experience denial of freedom, equality, and human dignity and the vast majority of them, the necessities of life. Every strata of social life seems to be heavily weighed against women whether one is a tribal or a dalit, educated or otherwise, employed or unemployed. They all experience oppression and violence in one form or the other because of their female sex. Therefore, the status of women in modern India is a subject of great concern.
The Indian society is highly patriarchal in its structure and functioning. The Indian women carry the burden of caste, religion, gender, class, and ethnicity. India, being a multi-religious and multi-cultural society, religions, scriptures, cultures etc. support female inferiority to a great extent. The position of women in Indian families is geared to achieve patriarchal demands. Women are considered inferior to men in all respects. Mostly men control the life of women at different stages of their life, both in rural and urban set up. This is a major deterrent for their dignity, which in turn paralyzes their contribution to the growth of the society.
The present literacy rate for males is 82.14 per cent while women literacy is 65.46 per cent. The female literacy rate in India is lower than the male literacy rate, which is one of the reasons for the low status of women. People in the village consider education as unnecessary and unimportant for girls as they do not generate income to the families; they are more a liability than an asset. Once married, they become members of that family and their main task is to take care of siblings and help parents in their domestic chores. Women in rural India are engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry, and domestic work. They are paid less and often their work is not valued. Most women in India are the custodians of socio-cultural norms. They fail to assert themselves against traditional customs and practices.
The problem of gender-based violence is on increase in India. The National Crime Record Bureau statistics show crimes against women increased nationwide by 7.1 per cent since 2010. The violence against women has many forms: female foeticide, female infanticide, dowry deaths, bride burning, domestic violence, sexual violence, trafficking of women and girl children and so on. Women also experience malnutrition, poor health, maternal mortality, lack of education, gender discrimination, overwork, child marriages and domestic violence. These crimes are intertwined with dependence on men, lack of freedom, powerlessness, and loss of self-respect. Women also become victims in the hands of the police who suppose to offer them safety and support. Women are aware that there is no safety for their life. The present attacks on women, especially the heinous gang rape in New Delhi, have created a greater awareness of crimes against women across the country. This is a clarion call to address issues of violence against women with firm determination and conviction. However, there is a long way to go, to fight for justice and transform the structures of oppression.
The Constitution of India provides to all her citizens protection of life and personal security. The legal laws are not implemented with iron will and conviction. The victimisers go scot-free and the victims bear the pain for life and continue to struggle for their survival. Women often live in fear of rape and violence; mortally scared to be alone in homes; apprehensive to travel or walk alone at late evenings, and hesitate to approach the police. Many rape cases of the minorities, the dalits, and the poor go unnoticed. People demonstrate, express their anger and solidarity with the victims, raise their opinions in various forums, and continue to struggle and fight for justice. The laws are unfavourable to women in their practice. Even if crimes against women are registered, they take staggering years to obtain legal justice. The reality is that legal redressal remains as a distant dream. For a short time, the struggle goes on for an event but when other incident crops up, the previous one is conveniently brushed under the carpet. Such theatrics continue and people are helpless as the leaders of our nation, who hold power and live regally, are unmindful to the cry of the people. They sprout during elections to make empty promises. The innocent people support them (at times, they are forced to do so!) for their survival. The leaders remember their electorate again after five years! The political class often lack values such as, truth, honesty, social justice, and love for the nation.
Moreover, the fundamentalists often blame western culture for atrocities against women. They claim that women, especially the young, slavishly imitate western dress code, celebrations, behavioural patterns and socialization methods. This, they claim, dents Indian culture. Men fail to acknowledge their evil power of domination over women for their own self-interest. It is important that men realise the value of human life and dignity in general and women in particular, which they have lost due to the objectification of women. Men consider women as sex objects, label them as ‘weaker sex’, treat them in an inhuman way and take them for granted.
All citizens of India need to grow to the stature of upholding dignity of every person, which is fundamental and foundational of being human. This attitudinal change in the society is needed if women are to live in freedom and without fear on the Indian soil. India needs to be awakened from the dread and narrow walls of hatred and disrespect to women and make India a safe place for all to live. Indian people, and especially women, need to develop their self-confidence and in unison fight against social evils. Women also must help themselves and each other in their fight against violence. The mutual support and inter-networking, in my opinion, has greater power to address the issues that concerns Indian women. To such a freedom, India, my country must awake.
Read more about Sister Dona: www.mwi-aachen.org/en/scholarship-holders/our-alumni/sr-dona/