When Thomson Reuters Foundation declared India as the most dangerous country after conducting a survey- there was an outcry from both the government officials and some women rights campaigners. They raised the question that how could Afghanistan-Syria –Somalia and Saudi Arabia is safer for women than India. They argue that Indian women enjoy much more rights compare to women in Saudi Arabia or in Afghanistan. This survey and its findings sparked debate and discussion on the status of women.
The India’s National Commission for Women rejected it outright, saying that countries where women could not speak out had done better. They also pointed out that rape, harassment and other forms of violence against women appear to have risen in India because more cases are being reported, driven by public outrage.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development said in a statement that using “an opinion poll to peg India as the most dangerous country for women is clearly an effort to malign the nation and draw attention away from real improvements seen in recent years”.
As far as official circles in India is concerned – they are not ready to accept the simple fact that crimes against women has been on the rise in recent years. One case of brutal gang rape after the other has come to limelight. The way police is dealing with the protesting female students also shows that how well women are treated in India. The police in many cities dragged the female protestors on the roads- brutally beaten them up- male police sexually harass them and tore up their clothes.
The female foreign tourists have complains of harassment and intimidation. All the surveys of foreign female tourists visited India in last few years complained about sexual harassment. Especially lone travellers face the worst kind of harassment and intimidation.
There is no doubt that Indian women enjoys many legal- political-democratic and economic rights but it is also an established fact women consider inferior and faces all kind of discrimination. The urban middle class women enjoy more rights compare to rural women. And working class women face more problems than the middle class women. Domestic and sexual violence is common in India.
The survey took into account six issues regarding women- healthcare-discrimination-cultural traditions-sexual and non-sexual violence and human trafficking. The survey based its findings on the expert opinions of 548 experts. They were first asked to name the five most dangerous countries from the list of 193 United Nations member states. And then they were asked to name the worst country in each of the above categories. India topped three – cultural traditions, sexual violence and human trafficking. A similar poll seven years ago had ranked India fourth, with Afghanistan top of the list.
The survey relies completely on the opinion and verdict of the 548 experts. They include academics, policymakers, journalists and those working in healthcare or other development sectors.
The foundation’s head, Monique Villa, told the BBC that 41 of the experts were Indian. However there is no clarity about the nationality of the other experts and how widely other countries were represented. Furthermore, the report states that of 759 experts contacted, only 548 replied – no other information about them is available. Some experts raised questions on the transparency and methodology of this survey. But some welcomed it despite having reservations.
One female expert said “I am not unhappy about this report and its findings – it is enough to make us sit up. A better methodology, rooted in intensive data and empirical work, could have been used of course, but if more than 500 gender specialists view it like this, it has to be taken seriously. These aren’t perceptions from people on the street – these are well-informed experts.”
The government has been quick to question the Reuters survey, but India has no reason to gloat – a look at the official crime statistics of last three years-2016-17-18 shows a woman was raped every 13 minutes; six women were gang-raped every day; a bride was murdered for dowry every 69 minutes; and 19 women were attacked with acid every month.
The number of cases registered under the ‘crime against women’ category in 2018 was 378,277, up from 359,849 in 2017 and 338,954 in 2016. The number of rape cases, as defined in IPC section 376, was 33,356 in 2018. The crimes against women have been on the rise in every category. Add to that thousands of reported cases of sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism and domestic violence. And thousands of rape- sexual harassment and abuse cases go unreported every year.
So does this ranking matter? Actually, it does – because it shows India has lost the battle of perceptions. And sometimes, perceptions do matter. So instead of rejecting the survey, India should do some soul-searching to see how it can improve things for its women, convince the world that it’s not hostile territory for the female gender and get off lists like these.
Afghanistan and Syria, which have been ravaged by war, come second and third, Somalia is fourth, while Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been ranked fifth and sixth.
The United States, surprisingly, has been ranked 10th – and it’s ranked third for sexual violence.
It’s not about the ranking. Our society is ruled by misogyny and patriarchy,” Zakia Soman, a women’s rights activist who was also one of the experts surveyed, told the BBC. “We need to take this survey in the correct spirit. We should look at it in a reflective way – where have we gone wrong as a society?” She added that no-one expects women to have an easy life in countries such as Somalia or Saudi Arabia. But they do expect something more from a democracy like India.
How can one deny the fact that hundreds and thousands of women forced to undergo an abortion because families refused to have baby girls. The unsafe methods of abortions take many lives of women every year. The denial of birth of a baby girl is the biggest discrimination.
Lot needs to improve as far as status of women in India is concerned. The perception does matter. Sometimes perception becomes stronger than the reality. The rising crimes against the women and the incidents of brutal gang rapes developed this perception that India is not safe for women. The perception is not completely cut off from the reality. The Indian capital Delhi has made a bad name for rapes and sexual harassment internationally.
Indian government is not doing enough to change the perception. The government is blaming the others for defaming the India but not ready to accept the responsibility and improve the social and economic conditions of Indian women.
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