(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
To the images of the charred remains of a young woman, raped and murdered, countless Indians woke up this morning with a sense of having failed their nation, and no less their popular prime minister Narendra Modi.
Dr Priyanka Reddy was out on her work as a vet in the outskirts of Hyderabad when her motorbike went bust and she fell prey to evil eyes of men around her with no route of escape left for her modesty and life. All of India’s gains on women in recent years, personally for me, were put to flames.
Four years ago, Modi had launched a scheme for girls, appropriately in northern state of Haryana which suffers from a skewed gender ratio and where women must largely look after home and hearth and little else. “The prime minister of this country has come to you like a beggar, begging for the lives of our daughters,” Modi had implored.
India and its wonder women
Flip through the newspages of last six years and you would have countless tales of Indian women world champions, two of them—Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza—from the very city of Hyderabad which today hangs its head in shame. You would find women who scaled Mt. Everest on one leg; the youngest ever to swim to record in icy Antarctic waters; grandmasters in chess; squash unbeatables; reigning amateur world boxing champion for six years; authors who are internationally acclaimed; women scientists who are today the backbone of India’s space research programme, the envy of the world.
The same pages have stories of horrendous rapes and experts pontificating on lesser numbers, lesser jobs, lesser education, less convictions, open defecation, female feticide etc as reasons for such violations. You have television debates, possibly a candlelight marches with sombre faces on Capital’s brightest thoroughfares, with the best expressions saved for news cameras which, given the luck, could place you in morning’s edition. None of them seek or reflect to a basic question which Modi asks his citizens: “How could you possibly ask for an educated daughter-in-law when you snatch books from the hands of your own young daughters?”
Best examples of such a belief are apparently lost on a society where women are not only seen as an object of sex but also one for power and dominance. Modi’s cabinet has six women ministers, women as capable as Ms Nirmala Sitharaman who could be a defence minister one day and a finance minister the next. The present Indian parliament has 78 women MPs, the highest-ever since independence. An inspirational movie crafted on Indian women wrestlers had the world swooning, like in China where it logged US $191 million on box office. Yet tales of savagery and barbarism against the fairer sex abound in India.
The evidence is out there, every living minute of your daily existence. You ride a bus and see women being groped with abandon, wolf whistles accompanying your daughter long after they have turned the corner, lewd remarks in cafes etc. The sanctity to such obnoxious behaviour could come from men in the highest echelon of the society: Like a former Defence Minister who cautioned young girls against revealing dresses for “boys, after all are boys.”
A tale of two Indias living side by side
Today, there are two Indias living side by side. One has the horrid face of centuries where women are mere extension of a man’s needs, managing kids and kitchen only, and dare they think about selves. Other India has women reaching out to the skies, as strong in mind and body as men, egged by their progressive families and lauded in the neighbourhood.
Then there are some like me who fall in between. Father of two educated but unmarried daughters, I once damned my luck with the words: “Man, I feel raped.” My two lovelies gave me a look I would never forget. They felt belittled and humiliated—and made sure I did too.
An average Indian family has always preferred baby-boys to girls. For a long time, policy-makers ignored this mindset. Such an India needs open debate, a sustained dialogue so as the two Indias could live in harmony and safely. Skewed gender ratio leaves the society with more men and fewer women, a recipe for violence and domestic instability.
India could probably learn from China which culturally has a similar preference for baby-boys yet the other extreme is rare. Punishment is a suitable deterrent. India perhaps needs to look at its laws and the speed at which justice is arrived at for the offenders.
(This is was first published in rt.com).