Empowerment of women in India is a bundle of paradoxes. On one hand, we see women reaching the highest echelons in almost all the fields of life, while on the other hand, there are women who continue to face many problems. And in between them are several women struggling to make their lives better.
To begin with, the capital of the nation, New Delhi witnessed several women wielding power. From Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to President Pratibha Devi Patil, and chief minister Sheila Dixit, there were numerous women who could play role models. Yet, these women could not transform their power to earn respect for their fellow women in Delhi. The brutal murder and rape of Jyothi Singh in December 2012 shows the glaring presence of a paradox in women empowerment.
According to a report compiled by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) along with Nathan Associates, the working conditions for women in Delhi are the worst in the country. Women face verbal and sexual harassment. The number of rapes reported each year in Delhi has more than tripled over the last five years, registering an increase of 277% from 572 in 2011 to 2,155 in 2016, according to data released recently by the Delhi Police.
The next example comes from Telangana. The state government has introduced 100 SHE teams to protect women from any harassment within the city of Hyderabad. These teams are working under the direct supervision of Smt. Swati Lakra IPS, Addl. Commissioner of Police, Crimes & SIT. In spite of such measures taken up by the government, Sandhya Rani, a 23-year-old woman was set afire by a jilted lover in broad daylight in December 2017.
The next paradox comes from further south, the Salem district of Tamil Nadu. This district was once famous for the practice of female infanticide. Later, the Chief Minister Ms Jayalalitha started the “Cradle Baby Scheme” in 1992, which encouraged people to leave the newborn in the cradle outside government homes or hospitals instead of killing them. Later, reports revealed new techniques being used to kill the unwanted girl child in Salem. One of them includes wrapping a newborn child in cold, wet towel to induce pneumonia and later get a legal death certificate without being punished for female infanticide.
The problem of female infanticide continues, though on a lesser scale. Today these districts of Salem and Madurai are sending their daughter to become the first woman defence minister after Indira Gandhi. Ms Nirmala Sitaraman was born in Madurai and has lineages from Salem too.
The case from Haryana is totally different. On the one hand, it represents the victory of the six Phogat sisters in the male-dominated wrestling. On the other, the government of Haryana issues a magazine with a front cover showing a woman clad in veil with a caption “Ghoonghat ki aan baan, more Haryana ki Pehachaan” meaning veil is the pride and identity of Haryana. In spite of several reactions against this the government failed to reciprocate.
These are very few examples of paradoxes of women empowerment in India. Each of it has its own lessons to teach. Delhi sets an example of lack of transfer of political power into women empowerment, while the example from Telangana shows that people are not utilizing the facilities being provided by the government. Sandhya Rani could have been protected, if she had approached the police about the problem she was facing.
Further Tamil Nadu sets an example that shows us that government intervention is absolutely necessary to resolve certain social issues that women face. The case of Haryana represents a great anomaly of women empowerment in India, where the government and the people who hold it are rooted in the social ills that hinder women empowerment. What the Phogat sisters achieved is absolutely their own personal endeavour encouraged by their father against all the odds in the society and the government.
Finally, it is absolutely necessary that stringent steps must be taken up by the governments, well supported by the society and zeal from the women folk themselves. Then alone, women empowerment shall become a reality for every woman in India.