International Women's Day: Why India cannot keep its promises

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day observed today appears to have been coined with India in mind: “A promise is a promise — time for action to end violence against women.”

It's public knowledge across the world that India is a horrible place for women, with some even saying that it's the fourth worst; but the pain, outrage and the simmering anger that followed the Delhi gangrape almost entirely turned the world’s gender-spotlight on the violence that women face in India.

No other incident in the recent past brought so much notoriety to the country.

There were no two opinions on the fact that the Delhi gangrape victim was a symbol of India’s inability to protect its women, and the country’s poor gender equality index, which is even worse than that of Pakistan and Bangladesh. No other single incident had enraged people, particularly the youth in Delhi and across the country, so much.

Unsurprisingly, our politicians — men and women — shed crocodile tears and made promises.


“A promise is a promise” said the UN, but did India keep its promise? Or will it keep its promise? Reuters

“A promise is a promise” said the UN, but did India keep its promise? Or will it keep its promise?

Hardly. It neither has the intent or the ability because it truly doesn't care for its women.

If it had, in roughly about a month after the gangrape, Delhi wouldn't have witnessed roughly two rapes a day and the figures of the National Crime Records Bureau would have shown at least a temporary blip.

Nothing of that sort happened. Rapes, particularly that of minors, continued to make headlines from literally every part of the country even as the central and state governments continued its promises and announcements of law-and-order fixes. The country also witnessed other forms of gender-based violence such as acid attacks, which claimed the lives of two young, educated girls in Tamil Nadu.

There will be so much fanfare and customary banalities to mark the Day today — but India will not be able to be truthful to the theme of a promise because there is something fundamentally wrong with this country.

Last week, union law minister Ashwani Kumar said that 24,000 cases of rapes and sexual harassment are pending in the countries’ courts — both the Supreme Court and the High Courts of various states.

The numbers plainly betray two horrors — one, a huge number of our women and girls suffer rapes and sexual violence, and that our judicial system is unable to get them justice.

Extrapolate these numbers with the fact that for every rape reported, at least three others go unreported for reasons of stigma and shame, fear of further violence and other social reasons. And of all the reported cases, only a very few go to court. If we have 24,000 cases still pending, how many rapes and instances of violence would have happened?

Of the numbers Ashwani Kumar gave, 335 are pending in the SC and about more than a third in a single state — Uttar Pradesh, the republic of people like Raja Bhaiya. The next big number is in Madhya Pradesh (3758) followed by Punjab and Haryana (2717).

Here is how other states fare: Chhattisgarh (1,533), Odisha (1,080), Rajasthan (1,164), Bombay HC (1,009) and the Delhi HC (924).

Going strictly by statistics, these figures are not necessarily an indication of the reported cases. Madhya Pradesh, which accounts for 14 percent of rape cases in the country according to the National Crime Records Bureau, is India’s rape state, which in fact comes second in the list in terms of justice.

UP has the second highest number of rapes, but comes on top in not delivering justice. West Bengal comes third in terms of the number of reported rapes, but there are only 27 cases pending in the Calcutta High Court - either the state has an exemplary Court or there is hardly any law and order or justice system that is useful to women.

A further break-up of the figures highlights the worst kept secret—- India’s lawless and poor states, which pull down the country’s development indicators, are the worst for women, when it comes of justice for the violence they suffer. It’s certainly a BIMARU-trend in sexual violence and rape as well and it shows a coorelation between poor human development and status of women. It’s nothing new — development economists been saying this for ever.

This will be our problem in making a promise and keeping it as the UN and the rest of the world want us to do on the Women’s Day because our backyard is littered with inequalities, contradictions and vested interests. And we don’t have the political will or intent to clean it up.

WHO notes that “ideologies of male sexual entitlement” and “the unequal position of women relative to men and the normative use of violence to resolve conflict” are associated with violence against women. In layman terms, it means men have this irrational notion of power over women.

India also has this culture of masculine-control. Our dismal data on women shows it too: it has a poor sex ratio (more men than women and a son-bias), very poor gender inequality index and shameful indices for women’s economic opportunity, literacy and income.

India is a signatory to CEDAW - Convention of Elimination of All forms of violence against Women. The convention demands that we

• incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in our legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;

• establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and

• ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

Doesn’t this sound like a joke? They are very simple, but we cannot handle it. If the central government says they do, let’s throw the figures and the contradiction (actual figures Vs the number of cases in the courts, for example, in West Bengal) back at them.

Where do we start?

We have to start with our men — in politics, in popular culture, in community and at home. There is an increasing acknowledgement of the role of men and boys in reducing violence against men. Studies show that boys who grow up watching gender-based violence, whether at home or in society, tend to be violent against women.

The men who exercise dominance over women, whether in parliament, khap panchayats, public places or in movies, set the norms for other men to exercise power in a similar way. Kids who grow up watching this tend to be like them.

These role-models have a pathological problem, whether they are our politicians or film-stars.

The countries that have ratified CEDAW are legally bound to implement its provisions into practice. And they have to submit reports on measures that they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.

It will be interesting to read India’s CEDAW report of tall claims.

How about including this in the report as a big achievement:

“On the eve of the World Women’s Day, a church in Kerala has asked the Suryanelli rape victim not to come to the church until her case is settled.”

The girl, as a minor, was abducted, trafficked and raped by 42 men in roughly as many days 17 years ago and has since been shunned by everybody. She and her family are still fighting for justice justice and even after so many years, the church also wants to ostracise her. Even recently, the opposition leader of the state visited her and promised whatever helps she needs.

“A promise is a promise”.

Updated Date: Mar 08, 2013 11:58 AM