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Being a woman in India is damn tough

August 23, 2013 17:57 IST

India is today in the grip of conservatism. This shows up in the way we treat our women, or murder those who question our beliefs. Or in the way women are getting raped with little fear of the law or society, says Amberish K Diwanji.

Women at a bus stopLess than a year after a young woman was gang raped and killed in Delhi, comes the horrendous report of a young woman photographer, who was gang-raped in Mumbai.

The photographer was on a shooting assignment at an abandoned mill along with a male colleague, but clearly a solitary male is no deterrence. Even in Delhi, the young woman had a male companion. It is dangerously evident that when it comes to gang rape, the presence of a lone male is no hurdle at all for the would-be rapists.

As is to be expected, there is an outcry. The Mumbai police, clearly aware of the potential fallout, have moved real fast and have apparently arrested the five accused. Politicians have made the appropriate noises, playing to the gallery and to their own constituencies, all of which only takes away from the severity of the crime.

It is a double shame for Maharashtra. The gang rape occurs just days after a well-known rationalist, Narendra Dabholkar, was gunned down in Pune. His killers are yet to be caught. The Mumbai gang rape occurred at dusk, Dabholkar’s murder after dawn. It reveals the mindset of criminals who now don’t hesitate to commit their crimes in daylight. The gang rape took place near a crowded railway station

The grievous crimes in two of India’s biggest cities only highlight how dangerous India is for women today. On August 18, Michaela Cross, a student at ChicagoUniversity studying South Asia, posted her horrifying experience of travelling in India.

In her words, India is a ‘traveler’s heaven, woman’s hell’. In three days, her blog, under the name RoseChasm, racked up 800,000 page views, and with many sympathising with her while a few pointed out that such problems are universal. That may be so, but it is a churlish way to avoid facing the fact that being a woman in India is damn tough.

India faces two problems in dealing with crimes against women. The first is administrative. There are just too few policemen on the streets of Indian cities and towns. India is one of the world’s most under-policed countries with about 130 policemen per 100,000 people. Even Pakistan has more at 207. USA has 256, UK over 300.

India needs to double its police population. This lack of policemen is the gaping loophole that lets criminals get away. Incidentally, as some security analysts have pointed out, more policemen on the streets is a stronger preventive measure against terrorism that response teams like Force One or the NSG. 

One reason why India doesn’t have more policemen is that most Indian states are broke, including Maharashtra, the richest state of India. Law and order are matters under the state government, and after welfare schemes and cash-guzzling projects (like the irrigation projects in Maharashtra that have consumed Rs 70,000 crores in 10 years with little progress), there is no money for more policemen.

As it is, policemen on the rolls are a demotivated lot, living in pathetic houses, overworked, and underpaid, and treated like personal property by the political class. A demoralised force doesn’t really care what happens to others; no wonder then that the thugs of Mumbai and Pune just don’t fear the cops.

The other problem is cultural. It is a cliché but the fact is that in India, women are treated badly. Female foeticide continues unabated, women stepping out to work face daily harassment and our laws for women remain ancient.

But the problem isn’t that women are stepping out but that Indian men (and families) are unable to cope with it. No one doubts that changing cultural attitudes is very difficult. What makes it even more difficult is that no one appears to be trying anymore. Instead, society as a whole has ganged up to push the conservative agenda.

Thus, our religious leaders and politicians, instead of promising to ensure women’s safety, talk about keeping girls indoors, not ‘painting’ them, not wearing revealing clothes, and so forth.

Popular media has over the year played to the gallery instead of questioning such beliefs and attitude. Till a few years ago, women in western wear or those who stepped out of their homes were supposed to be ‘loose’, those in saris or in the kitchen were ‘good’.

Tragically, even serials produced by women beam the same message. No wonder then that so many Indian men hold such warped views.

India is today in the grip of conservatism. This shows up in the way we treat our women, or murder those who question our beliefs. Or in the way the economy looks increasingly like it did under Indira Gandhi. Or in the way women are getting raped with little fear of the law or society.

Image: Women protect themselves from heavy rain at a bus stop in Ahmedabad. Photo for representational purpose only.

Photo: Amit Dave/Reuters

Amberish K Diwanji