Women are taking the fight into their own hands, and India just might have to accept that she’s here to stay. It’s time to own up and arm up. Political parties please note: You simply cannot afford to ignore
With 2017 setting the tone for #MeToo, the bubble has burst, from hushed tones to headlines all over the Planet. Some spilling into countries long subjugated into silence and the politics of shame. Women have spoken boldly, loudly, with names of their perpetrators pulled out from secret shame diaries and buried skeletons. Making #MeToo a language of gender equality, at work and home spaces. No other hashtag continues to fascinate the world since then. However, hold it right there. Not enough done in our own home country which recently took No 1 spot on the Thompson Reuters Foundation survey, marking India as the world’s most dangerous country for women. I agree. Let not any political party or bhakt tell you otherwise. The monster has been at play in plain sight!
The #MeToo broke the internet in October 2017 – reaching across 85 countries spilling over 2.3 million tweets, exploding 12 million Facebook posts, and over 4.7 million people in a matter of days. Followed soon with #TimesUp, a campaign initiative against sexual harassment spearheaded by actor Reese Witherspoon and Writer-Producer, Shonda Rhimes. Black carpets and protest fashion by celebrities forced the US legislature to firm laws against discrimination and work harassment. But in India, we just kept quiet. We simply went back to work and caught our trains and buses, just like any other day. I was told by educated women that #MeToo was too bourgeois for India.“An urban woman’s fact of truth to live with,” as if it was a normal occurrence, like drinking a cup of tea. ‘Hota hai’! But, hello! #MeToo was never about urban or rural women. It is about women!
Statistics by the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, USA, states that “One in every four girls in our society, one in six boys, are sexually abused by someone they know by age 18. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point during their lives.” A shocking 72% of sexual assaults were reported by people who were either in intimate relationships with their perpetrators (33% of victims), or, counted the offender as an acquaintance (39% of victims). The Thompson Reuters Foundation survey ranked the US in the Top 3 spot in order of violence against its women, having brought attention to itself thanks to the #MeToo campaign.
India dares not own up to the truth
However, in India, the writing on the wall has been screaming in our faces. The world’s fastest growing economy in technology and retail, with a Bollywood obsessed population and a horrific, brutal, crime rate against women, despite refurbished laws on paper and cock-eyed implementation in court rooms and police stations. Any wonder that #MeToo saw a knee jerk response even from women editors across the country?
BBC News stated rural India and her women are the most vulnerable, reporting, “As we still have thousands of brides murdered for dowry, tens of thousands of women and girls raped, hundreds of thousands of incidents of domestic violence and female foetuses being aborted.” A 2016 Action Aid UK report stated that 73% of women in India have experienced some type of harassment or violence in public places. So, who are we kidding really?
India’s nightmare continues
Crime gets more grotesque, leading you to question if the focus has now shifted from abuse against adult women, to abuse and murder of children! “Government data,” suggests the Thompson Reuters Foundation survey, “shows reported cases of crimes against women rising by 83 per cent between 2007 and 2016, when there were four cases of rape reported every hour.” India has also been rated worst in healthcare, economic resources, cultural or traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking. While a political slug fest has erupted nationally on the survey’s ‘perception criteria of fact finding,’ thus concluding the survey erroneous, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has also jumped in to discredit the survey. In reality, the truth is far from false. It has been staring in our faces. Look what they did to eight-year-old Asifa? Modi had promised the electorate Achhe Din! We are still waiting.
As journalists in media rooms, we are always told statistics don’t lie. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2016 statistics slapped us straight on the face reporting an increase of 2.9% in crimes against women in 2016, as against recording a decrease of 3.1% in 2015 comparing it with data of crimes against women in 2014. NCRB 2016 has reported an increase of 12.4% on crimes against women from 34,651 cases in 2015 to 38,947 in 2016. With Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh registering highest incidence with 4,882 cases (12.5%) and 4,816 (12.4%), followed by Maharashtra 4,189 (10.7%) in 2016. Yes, children make up half of all human trafficking victims in India with 50% cases of human trafficking involving minors (2015), and pegging it at 58% below the age of 18 years in 2016.
Shamefully, even Goa made it to this dubious list ranking 18th on human trafficking. So, while political parties thump down the Thompson survey to avoid the reality that we suck at law keeping, and have no intention on safety enforcement for our female citizens, our country pushes all the sordid pillow talk and dirty linen as Chalo, yeh bhi hota hai. No, it does not!
Bindass Indian woman is rising
Do you blame us? It is about time women shed the ‘good girl’ image for the bindass. Saudi Arabia finally let their women take the steering wheel and nobody died. Meghan Markle married Prince Harry and made second marriage so cool and full of hope for all divorcees around the planet. Fashion ramps are bringing back the power shoulder, big hair, strong jackets, long coats and bright colours as “Survival clothes of the 80s to depict how women have been treated at work places. Women are going into battle now,” Vogue editor, Anna Wintour recently summed up.
In India, as the political environment heats up towards 2019 elections, many hard questions are being asked. Yes, by Indian women comprising 48.5% of the country’s total population (2012 census). We must find strength in numbers. Census reports that out of 150.18 million rural households, 16.67 million (11.1%) were female headed homes, while the urban sector stands at 4.85 million (10.9%) at a total of 56.97 million households. And yet, women earn 57% of what their male colleagues earn for performing the same work. The Census concludes that if India can increase women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points (68 million more women) by 2025, India could increase its GDP to 16%. At Q1 2018, we are still stuck at 7.7%. Great! So, how do we, women, take power into our hands? With the weapon of our vote!
At the 2014 parliamentary general elections, women turnout alone constituted 65.63% as compared to 67.09% turnout of men, putting the numbers at a staggering 260.6 million ballots. Poll analysis on voter gender ratio released by the Election Commission of India (post the March 2018 elections in UP), reported that six crore women exercised their right to vote in a State that sees the highest number of crimes against women. A similar voting trend visible in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Mizoram and Goa, telling a stark story that an increasing number of women are participating at electoral decisions to chose candidates and leaders. How then can any government, political party, aspiring candidate, local representative think that they can ignore the women of India and coerce us into their conspiracy of silence? Not anymore. As the government keeps giving us the shoddy end of the stick, women in India will begin to stand up individually, and collectively, with their anger, achievements and voices. Our time is now. Take power into your hands, because they will not give it to us by equal right. Enough is Enough.
(Ethel Da Costa is an award winning Lifestyle Journalist, media
professional-influencer, writer and published author)