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 Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

Why so many Indians flock to gurus

As long as belief in magic and miracle survives and times remain uncertain, India's gurus are assured a place in the sun, writes Soutik Biswas.

Read full article

More on This Story

Rape scandal

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +100

    Comment number 2.

    If you raise little boys to believe that they are special, that they are more important than girls, why then all the wailing and anguish when they grow into unstable young men who believe they can take whatever they want from women? If you create the conditions for this sort of widespread personality disorder, don't be surprised when a little 'harmless' 'Eve Teasing' (Serously?) goes psychotic.

  • rate this
    +95

    Comment number 13.

    I am a female Indian and have 1 brother. My gran always used to treat us differently. He was superior, important. When he would come in, she would cover her head in respect. If i was eating something, she would take it away and hand it to him. Thank God we escaped the country. But if public acceptance of equal rights for women is to be hoped for, it will still take another 3 generations to die.

  • rate this
    +84

    Comment number 6.

    12/16, 23-year-old assaulted by GROUP of men. She died. Wed. 18-year-old girl (gang-raped) killed herself when pressured her to drop her case & MARRY ONE ATTACKER.
    Reforms mandatory to make convictions possible & sentencing severe. Leaders like Sonia Gandhi (Congress Party) must speak out. Situation demands change - child brides, acid attacks...India should be ashamed to call itself a democracy.

  • rate this
    +70

    Comment number 16.

    How long must women be subject to such atrocities. What an horrific attack, how helpless and fearful she must havebeen. How can it be that no one helped her. Indian men shame on you all if you do not fight for equality for ALL women in your country. India hang your head in shame, then raise it and educate, educate, educate. My deepest sympathy to her family and to all the other unknown victims.

  • rate this
    +60

    Comment number 14.

    I am ashamed of being an Indian and a male for the first time in my life.. What a disgrace to our nation.

 

Comments 5 of 934

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.