15 August 2017, or India’s 71s Independence Day, punctuated a news cycle filled with horrific news of incidents of stalking, rape and sexual abuse of women. As India completes seventy years of Independence, what’s on the wish list of basic freedom for Indian women?
1. Freedom from Rape, Including Marital RapeOn 10 August, the Centre defended the exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which doesn’t penalise intercourse or sexual act by a man with his wife not below 15 as ‘rape.’ Why? Because the exception in the law is meant to ‘protect the institution of marriage.’
For every woman in India, the fear of being raped is an everyday possibility. And not just outside the home, or in the cities, but even at home. In Delhi, six rapes occur on an average everyday, according to Delhi Police. In 2015, 34,651 rape cases were reportedin India.
And what happens when a rape is reported? Either the red-tape bureaucracy compels a rape survivor towards a compromise, as happened in the case of a 14-year-old rape survivor who married her rapist after giving birth to his son. Or as in the case of Pallavi Purkayastha rape-and-murder case, where the convict Sajjad Mughal was sentenced to life imprisonment. But he has now jumped parole and is missing, while an appeal in the High Court is still pending hearing for two years.
2. Freedom from Stalking & Acid AttacksHow does an Indian woman say “no” without being attacked by acid or stalked by a spurned lover?
On 4 August 2017, at midnight, Varnika Kundu was stalked for over 6 km by two men, Vikas Barala and Ashish in Chandigarh. She was chased, bullied and harassed before the two finally stopped the car, banged on her window, and tried to open the door. But stalking incidents in India are not new — they are ingrained in our culture.
If not stalking, then acid attacks are the response to rejection. Nearly 85% of victims in acid attacks reported in India are women, and 41% of attacks reported from 2010 to 2013 are because of ‘spurned lovers.’
In July 2017, a gangrape and acid attack survivor was attacked again in Aliganj in Uttar Pradesh. This was the fifth attack on the woman, and less than four months ago, she was forced to drink acid by two men onboard the Allahabad-Lucknow Ganga Gomti Express at Charbagh Station in Lucknow.
Seventy years after India’s independence, acid attacks are used to silence women — whether rape survivors or filmmakers.
CPI(ML) activist and documentary filmmaker Divya Bharathi was threatened with “rape and acid attacks” after her film Kakkoos on manual scavenging was embroiled in controversy.
3. Right to Roam the StreetsTwo women were travelling in an autorickshaw in Hyderabad on 1 August, when three men stalked and harassed them. They were subsequently arrested. In May 2017, a Delhi woman wrote of the harassment she faced while she was travelling in Delhi Metro.
When will our cities be safe for women? Where’s an Indian woman’s right to roam the streets without fear?
Forget walking on the streets to go to work, an IndiaSpend survey shows that almost 80 percent of women said they had to seek permission from a family member to visit a health centre. The survey says, “out of these women, 80 percent said they needed permission from their husband, 79.89 percent from a senior male family member, and 79.94 percent from a senior female family member.”
4. Freedom to be BornIn 2011, for every 1,000 boys aged 0-6 years, there were 852 girls in Mumbai, 832 girls in Delhi, and 942 girls in Hyderabad. If girls are not allowed to be born, then what rights are we talking about?
In India, we have a law against female foeticide. The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 makes pre-natal sex determination illegal, and is used to prevent female foeticide. But the sex ratio (2011 figures) paints a different picture. Sex ratios in Indian cities were worse than those found in rural India, with an average child sex ratio of about 923 females per 1,000 males.
5. Freedom to Read, Write & StudyFemale literacy in India is at 68.4%, and according to the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, the national average of girls in the state who have completed more than 10 years of schooling is 35.7%. While schemes like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ are being implemented and getting positive results, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
6. Right to Work & Be Paid EquallyWhy do men and women get paid differently for the same work? The wage gap in India is almost 30%, for doing the same job and despite working longer hours. This, despite a 1976 law in India that makes discrimination on the basis of gender illegal.
But most women are not working. Female labour participation fell to 27% in 2013 from 34.8% in 1990 . According to a World Bank report, India had the lowest rate of women in employment after Pakistan in 2013 in South Asia.
In a survey conducted by Indian Bar Association on sexual harassment at the workplace, nearly 68.95 percent of participants said they did not complain to the internal complaint committee in the workplace, for ‘fear of retaliation’ or ‘subsequent repercussions.’
7. Right to Political RepresentationIn February 2017, Punjab conducted Assembly elections in the state, and out of the 1,145 candidates in the fray, only seven percent of the candidates were women. Political representation of women in government and among voters still leaves a lot to be desired. In July 2017, several women’s groups sent a memorandum to Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, demanding that the Women’s Reservation Bill be passed.