It would not be wrong to say that if there was anything that matched the excitement and buzz that surrounded US President Barack Obama’s presence at the 66th Republic Day celebration on Monday, it was the NDA government’s smart decision to field lady officers in three critical ceremonial functions during the significant presidential visit.
The first was when Wing Commander Pooja Thakur became the first lady officer to lead the Inter-Service Guard of Honour, which was inspected by Mr Obama at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday. Two other instances happened during the resplendent Republic Day parade on Monday: Again, for the first time, a lady army officer — Lt Haobam Bella Devi from Manipur — unfurled the national flag and an all-women’s contingent drawn from the three services marched on Rajpath.
All three instances were proud moments indeed, considering that women more often than not have been at the receiving end of things in this country, and the success of these women can infuse a ‘can do’ spirit in many young people.
That there is a long way to go to when it comes to achieving gender equality was underlined once again by President Pranab Mukherjee during his speech on the eve of Republic Day on Sunday. He said that it pains him “to see Mother India is not respected by her own children when it comes to the safety of women”.
Adding that the nation must try to find out where it has “failed as parents, teachers and leaders” and that every Indian must take a pledge to protect women, Mr Mukherjee, quoting Benjamin Franklin, said: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” While India has wowed the world with its display of military might on January 26, the Republic indeed has a long way to go when it comes to some core issues: Take, for example, the sex ratio in the country.
While it has improved from 2001 to 2011 (933 in 2001 to 943 in 2011), the country’s child sex ratio has declined in the same period (927 in 2001 to 919 in 2011), which means many girls are either being aborted or dying after birth. The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that crimes against women have increased 8% over five years, from 203,804 in 2009 to 309,546 in 2013.
The government has taken a bold step by launching the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, but finally it will, as always, boil down to proper implementation of such programmes. When it comes to crimes against women, there is a lot of work left to do to ensure that they feel safe within and outside their homes. Optics at high-profile events is important, but we need to move beyond them to achieve gender parity.