India: A Dangerous Place To Be A Woman

Wednesday 26 June 2013, 09:56

Radha Bedi Radha Bedi Presenter

Being a girl can be tough. Let's face it! When I visited an all-girls orphanage in Patiala, in the northern state of India, Punjab, I realised how lucky I am.

I was there to film for the BBC Three documentary I’m presenting, India: A Dangerous Place To Be A Woman.

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The orphanage is one of hundreds across India

As a young British Indian and journalist, I wanted to go to India to uncover the reality of life for women there, six months after a young medical student was brutally gang-raped on board a bus in the Indian capital Delhi.

The story made international headlines and shocked the world.

I have visited India many times and spent time there. As my ancestral homeland, India is a fascinating place.

Full of rich culture and colour, its spiritual vibrancy can be seen everywhere and I feel a deep sense of belonging here.

Whilst filming for the documentary, I met many brave young girls and women willing to share their personal experiences of harassment and violence.

I met with a 15-year-old acid attack victim from Bihar and a 21-year-old woman who was severely molested and stripped of her clothes after attending a friend's birthday party.

At the orphanage I didn’t know what to expect. I walked in and was met with the most incredible young Indian girls.

Thirty or more, there were tiny baby girls to young teenagers. Some were bold - laughing and singing, others were coy, hiding and playing with their toys.

Full of heart and soul, I had never seen such warm smiles. I was truly taken aback.

Girls in this home have been abandoned by their parents for various reasons, be they economic or fear for their future and marriage prospects.

But all their stories boil down to one main reason: being a girl. There's a common mindset throughout India that a girl is a burden.

In a deep-rooted culture, sons are raised superior to daughters. Boys are seen as the ones that can only provide for the family and carry on the lineage.

Demands for dowry can translate into parents struggling to fulfill their final duty, their daughter's rite of passage at the time of marriage. It's no wonder then girls are abandoned.

Veena Veena: 'Most people think sons are better for them... People are scared to have girls'

Veena aunty, who runs the orphanage, raises each girl child as her own, educates them, inspires them and teaches them to stand on their own two feet. When coming of age, she can also find them a husband and a loving family - without demands for dowry.

As a proud parent, she gives each precious girl away in marriage as her own.

Whatever bitter personal story they all shared with me, the love oozing from every corner of this orphanage makes it a truly sweet, humble abode.

In Hindi there's a well-known phrase that a daughter is the goddess of her family and home - 'Ghar ki Lakshmi'. 

This place was a home to many Lakshmis. Beautiful and intelligent, respected and sacred.

Heena, one of the oldest in the orphanage, now 21, has been there for 17 years. Heena told me her mother gave her and her sister up to the orphanage, saying she could no longer raise them - but kept Heena's brother.

Heena and Radha Heena shares her story with Radha

I asked Heena if she would ever like to see her mother again.

She said No, this is my home. These girls are all my sisters. I have over 30 sisters! We shared a few tears, hugged and smiled together.

These wonderful individuals have proved being born a girl child in India is not a curse, she is not a burden or a weaker sex, from the day she is born to the last breath of her life.

I've shared their heartache, heard disturbing tales and witnessed a fighting spirit within them all. A burning desire to rise up, face every challenge, overcome it and stand tall.

Radha Bedi is the presenter of India: A Dangerous Place To Be A Woman.

India: A Dangerous Place To Be A Woman is on at 9pm on Thursday, 27 June on BBC Three. For further programme times, please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

If you, or someone you know, is affected by the issues raised in this programme, please see the information and support page for details of organisations which can help.

More on India: A Dangerous Place To Be A Woman
BBC Radio 4: Radha Bedi on Woman's Hour
Huffington Post: The blog: India: A Dangerous Place To Be A Woman

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I found this documentary extremely moving. I cannot believe the treatment of woman in India. Usually I watch documentaries and the news and try not to dwell too much on what I have seen or heard as it would consume all my thoughts and it is very depressing, however this really stuck with me and I can't stop thinking about the injustice these woman are suffering. After just finishing university, I would like to start donating to a charity and I was so touched by what these woman have gone through that I would like to make a contribution to Tubas treatment and to the orphanage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I agree with you that India is dangerous place to be a woman the government should made strict law to deal with this and people of india should work together to get rid of this bad name given by the world But you are living in uk and you don't know nothing about india and u went there to make a documentry on this subject so that you can make money by giving this story to media .
    what is happening here how many murders,burgarlaries,robberies and fights every nights in the clubs and on the road people are not even safe here

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Radha! Your programme is excellent! I am so glad that many others were touched by the shocking story of Tuba and want to help her to have new face as soon as possible. Please help us to help her!
    Do let us know as soon as someone has set up a fund raising programme. My wife and I already support a great orphanage in Tamil Nadu and I'm sure they would also be pleased to offer any help they could give. (In just 20 years they have grown fron an Acorn to a mighty oak!')
    Best wishes, Paul & Izzy .Cornwall

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I wish I could change the world but I can't. However I would love to help change Tuba's world as much as I can. How can I help? As St. Paul said ' when one suffers, we all suffer'.

    Father Glyn

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Excellent documentary Radha. Just shows how a combination of a lack of education and lack of morals and extreme poverty can result in so much criminal behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Hi Radha,
    Documentary well presented, and with a balanced view thank you. I am a single father of two daughters aged 12 and 20, my youngest is born in Canada, my oldest burning england, I was born Kenya we residents in Canada with dual citizenships ( British and Canadian ) but my parents originate from gujarat.
    we also have visited India but as a tourist.
    My oldest daughter kinisiology student is presently volunteering in dharamsala teaching English over the summer vacation ( also will be travelling and touring Rajasthan, Kenya and London UK).
    The children brought up in a western society for get the challenges made by parents and grand parents to provide a better quality of life. The documentary hits on the root values of girls and society in the eastern parts of the world. Change is inevitable over time, to improve the quality of girls, and documentary like this makes a big difference to both east and west. Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    i would like to help the girl with the acid attack aye hope some one can direct me 2 a pay pall account owere government could do this as some sort of P.R stunt or something i no the uk people would be happy to pay for her treatment here on the NHS its better than banker bail outs make the tory's look good 4 a change

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    First of all many thanks to you and to BBC for this true punch in the stomach.It was difficult to me as a woman [as a human being even] to witness trough your eyes the amount of violence and discrimination that Indian women are still facing nowadays. It was difficult for me... I cant imagine how it was for you.... I admire your courage and also your maturity.God bless your family! And Yes , we are lucky, lucky to have freedom to be able to grow up and be allowed to follow our heart and our dreams , to simply be who we are as individuals and as women.
    However shocking it was to watch it India is not the only country were women are not respected or even considered as human beings most of times , many other countries are still considering women the weak gender, private property , currency to be owned ,disposed and traded as their fathers, brothers or husbands want or need... this is shocking ...too much shocking to be true. But it is.UK is also being target by a generation that grew up with the same kind of mind set , passed on from generation to generation from father to son , from brother to brother . Just few days ago a gang was sentenced for grooming young girls in the UK...I will not comment about their member's nationalities , but it makes me sad to know that Asian countries and also African countries for example are still infected with the kind of thinking that had little or zero regard for human rights and especially for women's rights.We should all stand up against this monster called "ignorance" and educate our young generation and teach them that women and men have the same basic right: the right to treated as human beings and to be respected and protected. Why we have to set barriers according to gender, ethnicity, skin color... I hope that "mother" India { who is being rapped , murdered and insulted daily] can solve this challenge of changing what has been infecting the country for so long [this repugnant concept that men are superior then women]. Not only India but around the world. Sad to know that being a woman can actually kill you [kill you soul, your dreams, your innocence...] in some parts of the world.Shame on all of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Hi Radha, I came across this website: which seems to fund tuba's treatment, do you know if this is genuine? I would sincerely like to contribute.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    A tweet from Radha below- those who want to contribute to help will be able to find details on Radha's website:
    'thank you for your generous support. Please contact me on my website. will post details up shortly'

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    It was shocking to acknowledge how sexism is present to such a strong degree, and it is extremely hurtful to see how badly women are suffering, especially to the extent where they are being tortured, for being a woman. Is that right? Not at all.

    I also would like to help Tuba and the orphanage through fundraising so please provide details to enable this to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I guarantee that i won't shut up until Tuba has the medical help that she needs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I did not like the presentation of the program.
    When BBC showed the program on grooming of young girls in Rochdale then the title of the program was not "UK a dangerous place for girls", and yes, the title should not be so because entire UK is not dangerous, your title represents India wrong by calling the entire country "dangerous for women"

    You did pick out a few terrible incidents and we are all terribly sad about these things happening in the country. spoke about YOUR experience in the country and the plight you faced, and you cried much. maybe the correct title should have been it should have been "radha's experience in India" because we all do not feel that India is a dangerous place for women. I have lived in India for 24 years, now i live in England since 8 years. I lived in a slum in India and i have studied in a posh school so i have seen the poor and rich side of the Indian society, and i agree that there are problems but i still would not call the country dangerous, most women grow up fine and happy in the country.
    You were comparing the Indian society to the British society...this is a wrong way to deal with the issue. The moment you place a bar or you make up your mind that "something is right" then everything else seems wrong when compared to that, you cannot do research independently with an open mind because you have made up your mind on what is right and what is not,. Right and wrong are relative concepts.
    What are the reasons for these sort of crimes happening in India was not explained...It does not always boil down to "Girls not being treated as equals", it is a whole web of problems that are intertwined with each other.
    Overall, i would say, the program is shallow and lacks content, lacks critical analysis, lacks deeper thinking, very forceful in coming at conclusions, and represents India unfairly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    If there isn't a charity already to help girls like Tuba and the ones in the orphanage, how can one be set up?

    Can the BBC please give links to relevant charities?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Whilst I completely agree with whatever was shown in the documentary and was moved by many incidents, many of which I am aware of, I however feel that the documentary does not get into the core of the issue and does not offer any solutions. I dont know if Radha realised, but woman also encourage this patriarchal system. And if you had discovered further, this occurs in specific communities albeit high level of education. The problem seems to be historic and cultural and one of strong identity and unwillingness to learn from other indian subcultures. Unfortunately India is ancient and in the eye of its baffling diversity, it is hard to understand the ironies. Note, India has had woman in high political and buereacratic offices and very successful in business as well. What about highly acclaimed activists such as Mahasweta Devi, Vandana Shiva etc. - they are all woman. I think the solution lies in encouraging community specific leaders like the case of the doctor you showed. It does not lie in improving the justice system but in community education. Unfortunately, in the south Indian community I come from, even well educated women in high-tech jobs encourage Dowry and I struggle to change that mind set.

    On another note, recent increase in crime is due to random growth and urbanisation in recent times. Some of the problems also stem from economic inequality. However the prime reason I suppose is that metropolis's have developed so much that transport infrastructure has really not caught up.There isn't adequate safety for woman travelling at night. Better survelliance systems and awareness that such systems exist can reduce crime.

    However the above two tackle only two of the multiple factors. However fundamentally India seems to be caught between two worlds - the materialistic west and the spiritual east, a fundamentally patriarchal society, a highly powerful political class - utter chaotic mix.

    Radha, you consider yourself fortunate to be born in the UK. You are safe because of better infrastructure around you. Unforunately that is not the case in urban India.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Hi Radha

    The case of the acid attack victim was heart wrenching and very disturbing. If us the viewers are able to help Tuba, which many of us have offered to do, please let us know.

    For the rest of it, I am in agreement with sp12's comments. I must say I was quite shocked by what I consider a badly made documentary lacking in good journalistic research and acumen. I lived in India for 21 years and visit the country every year as a non resident, not a tourist. Hence, I am confident in my knowledge and understanding of where Indian women living in India stand in society.

    Your documentary makes sweeping and blatant generalisations about ALL women in India- you portray an image as if Indian women and young girls get raped, assaulted or harassed as soon as they step out of the door. You do realise (I hope) that India is a vast country and people's perception of women, crime rates against women, economic progression of women vary greatly between states, cities, villages and sub-cultures within India. Not for a second am I in denial that horrific crimes are committed against infant girls and women in India almost every day, that crime against women are on the rise on the whole and that certain parts of India are more prone to such incidents than others. I am a mother now of a daughter and although I've lived in India for a greater part I know I will not be confident to visit certain places in India alone with my little girl or allow her to do so unaccompanied when she is sufficiently old enough to travel on her own. I have first hand experienced the gropes, the ogles, the 'eve-teasing' and the 'nudges' you have highlighted and yes, they are disgusting and can be extremely frightening. Therefore, I'm not denying even for a moment that India can be a difficult place for a woman.

    In your piece, however, you seem to have gone down the path of picking up only those stories that have been of late in the media spotlight, albeit rightly so due to the nature of their barbaric consequences, but what would have made your case more worthy of viewership would have been to take a little trouble to also highlight other equally horrific cases against women and the girl child over the years that the Indian media have not cared to report either because in their eyes at the time these cases were not 'big news'. Thousands of Dalit women have faced unspeakable acts of crime but most go unreported because the Dalit belong to the lowest socio-economic strata of Indian society and are therefore not news worthy. Case in point, a Dalit woman in 2007 was stripped bare naked, thrashed, kicked and paraded by dozens of men in Assam, metres from the State Legislative Assembly, in full visibility of the public and media. Under pressure the government formed a special committee to investigate the matter but five years hence nothing has materialised and the incident has faded from the fleeting Indian memory. I was especially moved by the incident, being an Assamese myself, and the images of the woman running naked with terror in her eyes, have been etched in memory. I just wish your piece had also highlighted some of these forgotten cases, that did not catch the world's attention (including the BBC it appears) because it was not political or sensational enough.

    In parallel, there are millions of Indian women today who do not live in the 'grip of fear', who are not dictated by men or their in-laws, who live life on their own terms, who contribute financially to their families as much if not more than their male counterparts, and who enjoy equality in society as much as any other woman in the Western world. Yes, they are the other side that you chose completely not to report on- instead painted a most miserable picture with your blanket 'all women in India' statements. In fact, you very selectively interviewed people who made statements about how worthless life was in India for a woman! I come from a family of mostly girl children and each birth has been celebrated with utmost joy. I know of several other such families. Do these families fall into the minority when compared to the rest of India? Maybe, but we still run into the millions given India's population. So we are a 'large minority' and we have grown up with as much pride, opportunity and equality as your final clip where you catch a flight back to ponder over how lucky and privileged you are for your life in Britain.

    Both you and the director of the show are Indians. I'm surprised how little or no effort was made whatsoever to provide a more balanced picture of the status of women in India. You've clearly impacted a lot of viewers (reading their comments) into believing that life is a living hell for all women in India. Not a worthy documentary from the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Hello, I’m the executive producer of India: The Most Dangerous Place To Be A Woman. Thank you for all your comments on Radha’s post.

    The issues the film raised were genuinely harrowing and it’s been gratifying to see that they seem to have struck a powerful chord.

    In response to those of you who’ve asked to know more about Tuba’s story, you can find out more about the - India based - Stop Acid Attacks charity on their website

    And you can find out more about the UK-based charity, Acid Survivors Trust International, which coincidentally is the subject of Radio 4’s current appeal, via the BBC’s website

    I should point out, though, in answer to Neesh #49, that the BBC is not in a position to verify other charitable organisations on the web. While we can share the details of the charity which works with Tuba, as the BBC we are not responsible for external organisations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    I have lived in India almost 21 years and I can confidently say that I never had a bad experience while growing up as a girl… We are a developing nation and like any other country there will be good and bad…. And in my opinion it is so wrong to mention it as a dangerous place and saying Indian men are bad… There are people who respect women and treat women as Princess. Our lifestyle, education, culture are far better than many developing countries. There are so many incidents happening here in UK too against women and many more across world... In my opinion BBC always portrays India as a very bad country to live. It should be stopped!

    Radha, the documentary was really heart touching but you could have showed some positive side too.....really disappointed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    sp12, nomiuk and Rashmi, you have all said you are ladies and have no problem when living and visiting in India. Couldn't agree more. I have a daughter and two nieces. They are looked after as princesses too.

    I really want to ask Radha is she knows how many women in politics and science in uk ?? And I really wonder how many domestic abuses against women go unreported in UK (not just in the Asian community). So is all good for women in UK. If not visible, there is certainly subtle discrimination that to today hasn't stopped.

    Many women in India are certainly very independent and very active professionally. I wonder if Radha has heard about grassroots activist Sampat pal devi who formed the Gulabi Gang ( Sampat pal devi is one of the top 100 powerful women in the world who sits with 4 other high profile women from India in the league. Gulabi gang is a social rights vigilante group that fights abuse against women. And do you know about Unilever's project Shakti, empowering rural women in India.

    Dissapointed that you didnt show the other side of India at all. You just returned home in to your comfortable space talking your dog for a walk.. You did not offer any solutions either or did not show much about women who had solutions. Neither did you reflect on the complexities and ironies of India. There was too much on the failing justice system and policy dialogue with the UN lady, although i appreciate you showed one case of the doctor who is fighting abuse against women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    In addition to my previous post...
    Both your parents are of Indian origin and have not discriminated you being a women (as you said), so in the same way many Indian parents do not discriminate, just like your parents. So when you were generalising parents' treatment of their daughters, then were you including your parents in the same category? I use the word "many" it could be "most do not discriminate", as it is difficult to quantify.
    1 more observation....
    Many of my friends living in India are much more modern as compared to many British-Indians i have been introduced to who are born here. Many Indians over the years have changed with their environment, but many British-Indians hold onto the cultures brought by their parents or grandparents, and many British Indians who have not even visited the country think that India is the same as narrated by their grandparents or parents. Excuse my usage of the word "many" as i don't have numbers to give, but yes, unlike you i shall not say "All".
    One example.. I have married the person i chose, i married a European, my parents had no objection. Most of my friends (educated and non-educated) have not had arranged marriages, i have friends who live in the slum and are not educated as well, and they have also selected their own husbands. Indians date just like in UK. On the contrary i know of a few British-Indians whose parents and relatives are against them choosing their own husbands, and several bring brides/bridegrooms from India with a dowry. And, they think that all Indians have arranged marriages because this is what their parents and grandparents have told them. There are several British Indians locked up in the culture of India that prevailed there pre 1970s or earlier. What i am getting at is that countries and societies evolve and so has India, so if one hardly knows the current state of the country then one should refrain from making sweeping statements.

    And another thing...We all feel safe in our homes, i felt safe in my home as well in Kolkata (India) when i lived there. This is not location based. This program has offended.


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