A Thomas Reuters Foundation survey of about 550 global experts on women’s issues has ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country in a global perception poll, followed by war-torn Afghanistan and Syria. Health care, access to economic resources/ discrimination, cultural/tribal/religious or customary practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking were the six areas which were considered to arrive at this conclusion. While the National Commission for Women has rejected the report, claiming that a small sample size cannot be considered as a representation for a population of 1.3 billion, I am convinced, we’re headed there for sure. If the categories considered for the poll are studied carefully, we will come across authentic data to back up the grim reality of the state of women in our country. We won’t need perceptions over hard facts that point out the obvious. So this one time let’s not feel bad for losing the chance of rejoicing at having done better than Pakistan and instead acknowledge the problem. Congratulations to us on becoming the most unsafe country for half of our population. We beat everyone in misogyny and violence against women!
In the Global Gender Gap report 2014, which benchmarks gender gaps in 142 countries in economic, political, education and health-based criteria; India ranked 141 above only Armenia. National Family Health survey indicates that 35.6 per cent of women are chronically undernourished with body mass index (BMI) lesser than the cut-off point of 18.5. India accounts for the maximum number of maternal deaths in the world, it also accounts for the highest number of deaths due to breast cancer in the world. Geography, socio-economic standing and culture contribute to the subsequent health of our female population. Illiteracy, poor sanitation, poor hygiene and nutrition, poor access to healthcare facilities, early age of marriage and forced marriage further contribute to the poor quality of health for women and girls. This is a clear indication of indifference from the concerned authorities and policymakers while dealing with women’s health issues. The women keep losing the battle with their own bodies as the society keeps on blatantly demanding domestic subservience while stripping them of their basic civil rights.
Crime against women has increased by 83 % between 2007 and 2016 according to government data and reports. More than five hundred rape cases have occurred in Delhi alone in 2018, and the overall crimes against women are on a rise compared to previous year. Sexual and sex-based brutality has outshined India on the global front. As a country, we are incredibly tolerant of the violence against women which is in fact backed up by the rapid increase in the numbers of gender-based violence cases every year. We have a plethora of crimes against women starting from sex-specific abortions resulting in declining sex-ratio to murders, dowry deaths, honour killings, female infanticide and foeticide, sexual violence, human trafficking, domestic violence, marital rape, forced and child marriage, acid-throwing, and abductions. Hence, the survey pointing out that, women are at a high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labour in this country is not far from the truth.
The women are expected to navigate through workplaces, homes, streets at their own risk. They are supposed to be wary of the men about to assault them and remain unruffled by the indifference of the bystanders. Are we lamenting the loss of exclusion of half the race from public life, power at home like we had in the olden days, the gradual replacement of hierarchical society with an egalitarian one? This is the only viable explanation as to why some of us are bent on removing women from public-professional domains by forever posing a threat to their safety and well being. Only consistency seen in the general attitude of perpetrators picking up the victims is their gender and it hardly matters if the victim is a three-year-old, a twenty-three old or an eighty-three-year-old woman. Women who speak up are often ridiculed, threatened, discredited and ostracized by the society and hence, most of them remain silent, losing their voice in the familiar dissonance of victim blaming. Women are, therefore, led to believe that silently removing ourselves from situations where we are actually victims is the only way out. But, we can no longer delude ourselves; we need to fight for our right to safe access to every place and at all times.
Diagnosis is the first step towards a cure and eventual recovery. Are we just focusing on the symptom instead of the cause of the disease? There’s more to the violence and misogyny towards women than the individuals who perpetrate such crimes who are held accountable and punished sometimes. We need to stop treating these assailants as outsiders and recognize them as the products of our society, a part of our community. It is easy to shift the blame on anyone or anywhere other than ourselves but what are we doing to control this pandemic?
What is wrong with our culture that keeps on producing rapists, entitled men who believe that it’s their right to assert control over a woman’s body? What is wrong with our society that keeps on perpetuating the tolerance around violence against women, which is spreading like an epidemic and all of us are allowing it to flourish? Our history, culture, society, politics have been unfair to women; it has not only been successful in marginalising and invisibilizing us, it has also cheated women out of their desired lives. I am in a serious dearth of scapegoats to burden with the responsibility of checking on this culture/society which is bent on eliminating women and their right to a full life as free citizens. I am blaming the internalised instructions for women to accommodate male pleasure, approval, comfort and their selfish demands and internalised misogyny for men to feel no discomfort in dehumanizing women. I am blaming the culture that has forever silenced the rest of us while the men watched in silence.
Is this not a real problem, a crisis that needs immediate attention? We are headed somewhere as a country, a place where no one can truly belong. Our consciences tucked away and our empathies lost long ago. Will this bring us on streets to agitate? Or are we past that too? Will this make it to the prime-hour debate with a panel of experts in newsrooms? This isn’t a lone case that media will cry hoarse about, this is not an anomaly, don’t let anyone fool you. This is the grim reality of our everyday existence at least the women’s and it has been here since forever and it’s not going away anytime soon. Let’s start with blaming the system that is lax at maintaining the safety of women in public spaces, despite what happened in December 2012 in Delhi, which was one time when we were angry and took to streets, demanding human rights for our girls and women. We made it to international headlines for our outrage for the ghastly gang rape. Let’s not forget it wasn’t the only gang rape or rape that happened that year. Let’s not forget despite the measures taken by the government the violence against women has increased. Let’s not forget the women who aren’t privileged enough to have a crime against them acknowledged, much less dream of justice, as they flounder through the intersections only to slip into the interstices the society loves to hide their minorities in. Bottom line is that the system is not doing enough to protect its non-male population. The presence of laws does not guarantee justice if the authorities fail to execute the laws effectively.
With the advent of social media and its indispensable presence in our lives in recent years, we have encountered, yet another way patriarchy has invented to harass women into silence. The hatred for women and the spaces they occupy has reached the comments sections and inboxes – reminding us we do not belong here, making us feel unsafe. Hate online includes everything from snubbing and insulting, mocking to unsolicited pictures of male genitalia, rape and death threats. With our faces glued to the screens; we see women speak up and share their experiences, we believe them too but we let them disappear, just another story to scroll down. Hence, succeeding in trivializing women’s experiences offline and online. A black background profile on Facebook isn’t enough; we all know it will disappear just like our anger. About time we stopped treating or rather choosing a single case of violence against women as an aberration and give it all our outrage and feel satisfied to get back to our lives.
I want to conclude this by asking women to break their silence and demand their right to safety and forever keep fighting the patriarchy which will always keep finding faults with its women. Support each other, listen to each other and stand up against those who threaten and discredit our experiences and tell us how we ought to learn to live with it. The success of #MeToo lies in the collective courage of all the women who decided to break the silence around the abuse they faced in the hands of powerful men, who thought they could forever exploit their vulnerabilities. We all need to learn from this powerful movement. I say make a scene; every time you see someone being harassed help the victim instead of the perpetrator hence, make a ruckus! Why is the dire state of women’s safety not bringing us to the streets demanding civil rights for women? Why is this not treated as a cause for national concern?