How India treats its women

An Indian schoolgirl holds a placard during a prayer ceremony to mourn the death of a 23-year-old gang rape victim, at a school in Ahmadabad, India, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012.

People have called her Braveheart, Fearless and India's Daughter, among other things, and sent up a billion prayers for a speedy recovery.

When the unidentified woman died in a Singapore hospital early on Saturday, the victim of a savage rape on a moving bus in the capital, Delhi, it was time again, many said, to ask: why does India treat its women so badly?

Female foetuses are aborted and baby girls killed after birth, leading to an appallingly skewed sex ratio. Many of those who survive face discrimination, prejudice, violence and neglect all their lives, as single or married women.

TrustLaw, a news service run by Thomson Reuters, has ranked India as the worst G20 country in which to be a woman. This in the country where the leader of the ruling party, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, at least three chief ministers, and a number of sports and business icons are women. It is also a country where a generation of newly empowered young women are going out to work in larger numbers than ever before.

But crimes against women are rising too.

With more than 24,000 reported cases in 2011, rape registered a 9.2% rise over the previous year. More than half (54.7%) of the victims were aged between 18 and 30. Most disturbingly, according to police records, the offenders were known to their victims in more than 94% of the cases. Neighbours accounted for a third of the offenders, while parents and other relatives were also involved. Delhi accounted for over 17% of the total number of rape cases in the country.

And it is not rape alone. Police records from 2011 show kidnappings and abductions of women were up 19.4%, women being killed in disputes over dowry payments by 2.7%, torture by 5.4%, molestation by 5.8% and trafficking by an alarming 122% over the previous year.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has estimated that more than 100m women are "missing" worldwide - women who would have been around had they received similar healthcare, medicine and nutrition as men.

New research by economists Siwan Anderson and Debraj Ray estimates that in India, more than 2m women are missing in a given year.

The economists found that roughly 12% of the missing women disappear at birth, 25% die in childhood, 18% at the reproductive ages, and 45% at older ages.

They found that women died more from "injuries" in a given year than while giving birth - injuries, they say, "appear to be indicator of violence against women".

Deaths from fire-related incidents, they say, is a major cause - each year more than 100,000 women are killed by fires in India. The researchers say many cases could be linked to demands over a dowry leading to women being set on fire. Research also found a large number of women died of heart diseases.

These findings point to life-long neglect of women in India. It also proves that a strong preference for sons over daughters - leading to sex selective abortions - is just part of the story.

Clearly, many Indian women face threats to life at every stage - violence, inadequate healthcare, inequality, neglect, bad diet, lack of attention to personal health and well-being.

Analysts say deep-rooted changes in social attitudes are needed to make India's women more accepted and secure. There is deeply entrenched patriarchy and widespread misogyny in vast swathes of the country, especially in the north. And the state has been found wanting in its protection of women.

Angry citizens believe that politicians, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, are being disingenuous when they promise to toughen laws and speed up the prosecution of rapists and perpetrators of crime against women.

How else, they ask, can political parties in the last five years have fielded candidates for state elections that included 27 candidates who declared they had been charged with rape?

How, they say, can politicians be believed when there are six elected state legislators who have charges of rape against them?

But the renewed protests in Delhi after the woman's death hold out some hope. Has her death come as an inflexion point in India's history, which will force the government to enact tougher laws and people to begin seriously thinking about the neglect of women?

It's early days yet, but one hopes these are the first stirrings of change.

Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • Comment number 934.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 933.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 932.

    I am sometimes ashamed to be a typical man. I'd like to consider myself to be open minded, but I still portray too much arrogance in my beliefs.
    If we can agree to disagree in conversation without arrogance, the world would be a much safer place.
    Teach people manners before education.

  • Comment number 931.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 930.

    As long as religion is still taken so seriously these kind of horrendous events will continue.

    Most religions place men above women and teach us that women exist to serve men.

    As Britain has become less religious it has become more morale. I'd say you would find it difficult to find a man in Britain today that thinks this attitude to women is even remotely acceptable.

  • Comment number 929.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 927.

    The average Brit is blissfully unaware how women are perceived by India's patriarchy&puzzled that the world's 'largest democracy' allows male-dominated institutions to marginalise women to the extent they fail to protect the key member in India's 'family compact'.Even more so are they mystified women like Gandhi& Dikshit in top power positions have little influence enforcing India's existing laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 926.


    Just because I am saddened by the attitude of some of my fellow Brits does not mean I am not horrified by the events covered by this article. As a parent I cannot begin to describe how much this has distressed me.

    And that is kind of my point, lets keep this relevant and respectful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 925.

    @924 Aman
    so what! Everybody who is in your gov't past/ present/ future is named Gandhi.

    @920 Craig 'saddened at attitudes of some posters.'
    Really....Most of us are horrified with the appalling treatment of women in India and the latest victim was buried today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 924.

    You people forget the leader of India is Sonia Gandhi who is a woman

  • Comment number 923.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 922.

    My thoughts lie with the surviving male friend.What is being done to help him through their ordeal?He is more of a victim now than anyone else & will forever carry his scars.My call is to the women of India to support him & his family, ensure he is medically treated to the same standard as Nirbhaya & protected from the inevitable fall-out which will follow him the rest of his days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 921.

    As for threats about 2017 (and whatever is going to happen then) I think maybe it should be considered that most of the world is going forward to treating all humanely. Those that are doing that tend to be more advanced with higher technology. Who are these powerful misogenists who are going to crush the Americas, China, Europe and Russia? Surely more likely the backwards will be ostracised?

  • rate this

    Comment number 920.


    You misunderstand, of course people are entitled to voice their opinions, but I am saddened at the attitudes of some posters and the sweeping generalisations delivered with more than a pinch of arrogance and bias.

    That is my opinion. ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 919.

    Taking the article at face value it appears that this is not a one off crime, but badly treating their women seems to be endemic in their society. So I think we should be content that we don't have to put up with that in the UK. Hopefully with the world's attention on India they will be able take proper steps to sort this out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 918.

    There is no "superiority complex" here. As somebody who was once going to go around India with an Indian friend and as a vegetarian I am perfectly aware India CAN be very civillised, and ahead of the west. It says something about you that you think for some reason you have to have complete knowledge of the culture before you can remark on the awfulness of the misogeny. You can criticise wrong!

  • rate this

    Comment number 917.

    As deeply sad and shameful as the events in India are, I am ashamed of the 'superiority complex' some of my fellow Brits seem to have in posting here.

    Horrendous crimes have occurred (and will continue to occur) in the uk/west. For example: slavery, opium trade, financial scandals etc.

    It is how the country and its people grow in response to that act that define its greatness or lack of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 916.


    As unfortunately we can't change attitudes in India from here, what can be learnt from this still?

    My suggestion: Lets not tolerate any similar attitudes here in Europe, no "positive" or negative discrimmination against anyone as stated in the UN human rights act.

    We can't change things in India but we can be examples and expect those who come here to live by these standards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 915.

    Why exactly should we refrain from making comments about India's cultural/religious/political values? It is pretty obvious that India is very backwards on some civilised areas and particularly so in the treatment of women. I exert my right to free speech on it, and if you say I shouldn't say it I expect you show me reason why I'm wrong, not to simply try to ignore the argument like apoxy dictator.


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