Woman who is protected in her adolescence by the father, in her youth by her husband, and in her old-age by her son, deserves no freedom at any time”. (Manusmriti 9:3)Thousands of years after the Manusmriti prescribed a very restrictive code of conduct for women, Indian society is refusing to look beyond it. Every time one thinks that the condition of women has improved, there is a Guwahati or a Bhagpat – a minor girl is molested and stripped by a mob in public or a khap panchayat issues a fatwa that women can’t use cell phones and dare not go out without covering their faces. One is forced to rethink.
Even worse are the statements of those who are mandated by the law to protect the rights of women. National Commission for Women chairperson Mamta Sharma’s statement after the Guwahati incident that 'Women should be careful in dressing themselves' is highly insensitive and outrageous, to say the least. It also exposes the limitations of the system that always appoints people with political backgrounds to such posts, perhaps fearing an independent person might embarrass the political establishment.
When the Indian constitution came into force on January 26, 1950, we opted for universal adult franchise at a time when women did not have voting rights in many of the western countries, including Switzerland.
Today, we have a woman president, a woman speaker, a woman chairperson of the ruling coalition and several successful women in various fields.
Notwithstanding these achievements, 65 years after independence, the condition of women in general is deteriorating. What is also disturbing is the fact that they are unsafe even in the so-called educated urban set-up.
A woman is harassed and discriminated against throughout her life (see life-stages). Obviously, the Manusmriti’s advice isn’t working.
According to a study by the South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring, a woman is molested every 26 minutes. One woman is raped every 34 minutes. Nearly five lakh girls are killed every year even before birth. One-fourth of the 15 million girls born every year don’t get to celebrate their 15th birthday. Around 1,000 honour killings (mostly girls) take place every year.
According to "UN Human Development Report 2011”, India ranks a low 134 among 187 countries in terms of the human development index (HDI), thanks to the gender inequality practised in the country.
Fifteen years after the Supreme Court laid down guidelines to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace, India is still struggling to have a proper law to deal with the issue. It’s taken 12 years for the government to consider the Law Commission’s 172nd Report on Review of Rape Laws and propose changes in the Indian Penal Code. God knows how much more time it will take to translate the Bill approved by the Cabinet on July 19 into a proper law.
Enough is enough. The time for talk is over. Here’s how things stack up — and the reasons why action needs to be taken. As of yesterday.