Making India Safe for Women

Big names tumbling out of the closet and into disgrace and shame. Every morning and every evening, additions to MeToo.

But workplace sexual harassment is only one part of what women in India have to face. The fundamental issue is ‘Is India safe for women?’

And the answer sadly is ‘No’. It is highly unsafe and becoming increasingly so. What we euphemistically used to call ‘eve teasing’ has been with us for ages. My friends from Kerala recall with horror their college days and how afraid they were to walk alone, to even raise their eyes from the ground or stay late in college. In Delhi of course, it gets more physical with groping hands and lewd gestures.

But now, there are horror stories which one has never heard before. For instance, how many incidents of acid throwing are reported every month? And in most cases, it is because the girl has rejected the boy’s advances.

Mind-shattering reports of abuse of children. Why just children, even infants! Of incest and abuse by fathers and uncles and brothers. Were these always there or is something sick in us growing out of control?

Cell phone camera photos and video clips of girls taken with or without their knowledge or consent are another potent tool in the hands of miscreants. In an example of how technology can be misused, these are passed on through MMS or put up on the website. There are instances of young innocent schoolgirls who have been driven to the edge of insanity and suicide, thanks to some boys in their class taking photos and threatening to circulate them, and blackmailing them into all kinds of activities.

And of course, the classic Pre-natal Determination of Sex—scanning to ascertain the sex of a child, and killing the unwanted girl child. Do we need a better example of how India at once lives in several centuries—the atavistic boy child preference aided by high-tech? So what if such scanning is illegal?

The solution then is not to make an example of one rapist, to go after one high profile editor/film-maker/what have you who has tried to take advantage of girls working for him, or to bring in the moral police. Each incident looks like one deviant exception, but taken together, they form a frightening picture of a society where something is seriously wrong. Why is this happening? Where do we begin to set it right? Whose responsibility is it—the education system, the media, parents, the law makers, the law enforcers….? It is time to introspect and face unpleasant truths.

And then go on to act on the truths we discover.

Otherwise India will be unsafe for one half of its people.

–Meena

Women Who Inspire

‘It is necessary that no matter what section of society she belongs to, every woman has to know three things: one, she has to know her body, how it works, so that nobody can use it or tamper with it against her will. Two, every woman has to have a skill that can generate income for her. This is very important so that she is not dependent on anyone for her survival. And three, every woman should be broadly aware how the democratic structures and institutions of our country work—be it the gram panchayat, the state assembly, the national parliament, or our unions, cooperatives, federations and associations, so that she knows she belongs to them and can someday participate in them.’

mushroom farming

So says Ms. Ela Bhat, in her Introduction to Sudha Menon’s ‘Leading Ladies. Women Who Inspire India’. And when it comes from the wisdom, the gravitas and the experience of Ms. Bhat, we better take it seriously!

‘Leading Ladies’ is a compilation of the life stories of 15 eminent women-achievers. As the author herself says, many of them have been written about quite often—Amrita Patel, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Vinita Bali, etc. But every author and piece does throw some new light, does surface some new angle. And there are some lesser-written about heroines too. I was particularly taken with the stories of Lila Poonawala, Mallika Srinivasan and PT Usha. While the criteria of selection are not spelt out, I don’t think it is much of a point to quibble about–the women featured come from a variety of backgrounds—business, to non-profit work, to sports.

The author has been lucky enough to spend considerable time with each of the featured women, and hence, there is both detail and affection in the writing of the pieces.

Positive stories and stories of achievers are inspirational and important. Especially important are stories of women who fight the odds, break stereotypes, venture into new territories, and come out winners. The book is an easy read, in a story-telling kind of style.

Good weekend or in-flight reading. Read it yourself and gift it to young women you know. And especially, I wish colleges and educational institutions would buy this for their libraries.

–Meena

Leading Ladies. Women Who Inspire India. Sudha Menon. Fortytwo Bookz Galaxy. 2010.