I started blogging on International Women’s Day last year and much has changed for the Indian woman since then. Some changes have been good and some bad. I list 10 of them.
1. Violence against women has finally been acknowledged
For ages, rape, dowry deaths, domestic abuse were treated as isolated incidents that just happen sporadically in certain communities and to certain people. After the Delhi rape case it has been finally acknowledged by the Indian government that each and every woman out there risks being abused any time and something needs to be done about it. This awakening is a positive one.
2. Helplines and apps
Special helplines and apps have come up for women which they can use in times of need. At least there is an effort to ensure safety for women. Something that was non-existent before.
3. Women have found a united voice
For the first time in recent history so many women came together to fight against abuse. Women came out on the roads in Delhi and braved the December cold for days to protest against violence against women. The protests quickly spread to different parts of India giving all those sufferers a united voice. This has been followed up by the 1 Billion Rising movement that is expected to bring change for women the world over.
4. Men are supporting the movement
Be it through Facebook, through blogs, through physical presence at protest marches men have also lent their voice and support. This has strengthened the women’s movement. I remember just after the Delhi rape case a policewoman on her way to work was being heckled on a Delhi public bus. Some men came to her rescue and took the culprit to the police station. This is indeed positive change.
5. Police has been forced to register cases
After the furore caused by the Delhi rape case, no police station is likely to ever dare not register a complaint. I was reading that day a seven-year-old girl, living in a slum, was molested by her 17-year-old uncle. Her mother complained to the police and he was arrested. Earlier the mother would have definitely found it difficult to register her complaint considering her social status and nature of the complaint.
6. Rape has become a hot topic of discussion
I was in Kolkata last month and an elderly uncle said, “These days there is so much talk about this ‘rape shape’.” (Aajkal ei rape shape niye khub lafalafi hocchey.) Rape was an issue that people rarely discussed in drawing room conversations. Now any such conversation is incomplete without it. But in this discussion there are usually people who are truly concerned and there are also people who think unnecessarily too much importance is being given to the issue and there are also people to whom this is another amusing topic apart from Bollywood and Indian politics. Also I have noticed people of all age groups are comfortably discussing rape, something unimaginable in our Indian culture only a couple of years back.
7. More rape cases are being reported
Either there is an increase in the number of rapes committed or now more cases are being registered and reported. But in the last three months, sadly, there are more reported cases of rape on minor girls (one as young as three years) than I have ever heard of in recent times. This makes me think that is so much talk about rape and no consequent punishment and safety network egging some people to explore the violent crime even more? Most of the minors have been raped or molested by people they know. This is a dangerous development.
8. There is more fear among women
I was talking to a friend of mine in Kolkata and she said that after the Delhi case women feel more fear. “Whenever I take a cab I feel scared if there is a helper with him. If he suggests an alternative route or wants to take the less populated EM bypass I start panicking thinking he has some other plans. And then if I am not home at a decent time my mother starts panicking and keeps calling me to check if I am safe.” Many women are asked by their parents, guardians and husbands to get home early to avoid any “uncalled for situation”. A friend in Delhi said, “Women’s safety was always an issue here and I worried and fretted if my wife got late. But what has happened now is that the thought of rape is constantly at the top of our minds. What if… it’s a scary thought.”
9. Indian women are perceived as the most abused by the international media
Never imagined Wall Street Journal would be interested in a small town in West Bengal called Barasat. But now they are. They have even written about how women wear long nails and pink nail polish not for beautification but to fight their abusers.
What they have written in the article is true but what is most interesting is the recent focus of the international media on violence against women in India. All top foreign media like The Washington Post, New York Times and The Guardian have been writing about women’s issues in India. That’s fine. But most often the tone is like India is the worst place for women. That’s unfair. If you look up statistics in Wikipedia you will see rape is probably more rampant in the US and UK than in India. Following is an example from Wikipedia.
According to a news report on BBC One presented in November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in the UK in the previous year, equating to about 230 cases every day. The 2006-07 British Crime Survey reports that 1 in every 200 women suffered from rape in that period. It also showed that only 800 people were convicted of rape crimes that same year, meaning that less than 1 in every 100 rape survivors were able to convict their attacker. According to a study in 2009 by the NSPCC 250,000 teenage girls are suffering from abuse at any one time.
10. Marital rape is officially not a sexual offence in India
Although women’s organizations have criticized the decision to not make marital rape a punishable offence in India I look at it this way that there are laws for dealing with domestic violence in India. Section 498A gives a woman the power to put her husband and in-laws behind the bar first and then proceed with the case. If marital rape is considered a part of domestic violence there is already a punishment in place.