Nirbhaya’s rape and murder on the 16th of December, 2012 shocked the entire nation with its audacity and brutality. The very graphic nature of this one act galvanized the entire country and brought women’s safety firmly into the forefront of our discourse.
Lakhs of citizens took their anger and frustration to the streets and impressed upon the police and political leaders that silence or excuses were no longer an acceptable response. They forced the Government to respond to the deteriorating safety of women in cities, and indeed, the entire country.
For years, many have been talking about gender violence, both within and outside the household, and now, finally political parties are taking notice. It is now up to all of us common citizens to carry this fight forward, and it is through the ballot box that we should make our voices and anger count.
With 48% of Indians being women, our male dominated (patriarchal) society has systematically marginalized the woman. Despite the outcry from Nirbhaya case, increase in reported cases of crimes against women continues, from rapes to domestic violence, from acid attacks to discrimination at work. While there seems to be no end to this, the time is not for us to passively sit and do nothing. There is a great injustice that has permeated our everyday lives that we must end, despite caste, class, religion or gender. Both men and women must change their attitudes towards gender relations and gender politics before we can make our society a better society.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, let us examine where we stand now on women’s rights in India.
Except for the last few decades, women have never been the subject nor the object of the many discourses of their marginalization. They have often served as sites on which larger debates of communal or national pride have been contested. The debate has always been about “saving” “our” women and keeping them from harm. Women become objects to be protected, and often blamed for being victims of abuse because they choose to be independent of the norms of our male-dominated society. Being 48.46% of the population, it is very important that women stand up and vote for leaders that can best represent them. An alarming statistic published by the Election Commission shows that only 41% of 18-19 year olds who have registered to vote are women as opposed to 58%. Overall, only 46% of those that are eligible, 18-19 year olds, have registered to vote.
Indeed, discussion on women’s rights ends at violence, although there is much more to women’s lives than this ever-present threat. Having said that, in 2014, a political party whose manifesto and candidates do not seriously talk about sexual and gender-based violence, is probably not worth considering seriously. Between 2011 and 2012, there has been a 6% increase in crimes reported against women (IPC cases). And 10% of all crimes reported under the IPC are against women. There has been a steady increase in the crimes reported against women as evidenced from data published by the National Crime Records Bureau between 2008 and 2012. In 2012, there were 24,923 cases of rape reported and over 1 lakh cases of cruelty by husbands or relatives. There was an increase of 3% and 7.5% respectively over the previous year. This shows that more women were facing abuse in 2012 than in 2011 or the previous years.
In the 15th Lok Sabha, only 11% of the elected representatives are women. And less than 10% of all MPs and MLAs are women. This is a gross under-representation of women, whose voice has constantly been stifled. By giving them representation in Parliament, women will be in a position to pass more gendered legislation. We must all unite to ensure that 33% of the seats are reserved for women.
That’s why women must come out and vote - vote responsibly to ensure that the best possible leaders serve as their representatives within the Parliament.
How do we tackle this?
1. Zero tolerance: The laws against violence and/or discrimination against women must be enforced. Creating a culture of deterrence through zero tolerance is first step to changing attitudes.
2. Education: Education and awareness are the only way forward. From violent rape to everyday forms of discrimination, the entire society must be sensitized to the reality of gender politics that exists all around us. Both boys and girls must be educated from an early age that there is a differentiation amongst the sexes and this reality is wrong and a major obstacle to the development of our country and society.
3. Sensitization of our police forces when dealing with cases of violence against women: The police in India must go through extensive courses on how to deal with victims of abuse. Often in India, the victim gets further discriminated against. We must focus on apprehending the perpetrators, rather than blaming the victim.
4. Political representation is the only way forward: With men controlling all the power, women will never be able to break the hold that patriarchy has over society. The Women’s Reservation Bill will be one step towards ensuring that women are equal partners in our society rather than second class citizens or objects of men.
5. Vote: Women must come out and vote to ensure that the best possible leaders serve as their representatives within the Parliament.