According to a recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) up to 50 million girls and women are missing in India’s population as a result of systematic sex-murder discrimination.
Source: Harini Calamur | DNA INDIA
A recent poll suggested that India was the fourth-most dangerous place in the world for women. Afghanistan and Congo, in the grips of a civil war, were first and second, Pakistan was third. The poll was conducted amongst 213 experts on gender across the world.
On the face of it, it seems unfair. The president of India, Pratibha Patil, is a woman. India’s ruling party (Congress) is led by a woman, Sonia Gandhi, while the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha (and hailing from the country’s second largest party) is a woman, Sushma Swaraj.
Women head states: Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Sheila Dikshit in Delhi, Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. Reservation in local self-government has ensured that more women are involved in decision-making than ever before. Women lead key businesses: Chanda Kochhar, Lalita Gupte, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Anu Aga, Ekta Kapoor, Simone Tata, to name a few. If you look at television and film, visuals of the modern Indian woman dominate: Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai — women who balance their femininity with successful careers.
So, despite all this, why do gender experts think that India is dangerous for women?
At the first level, it is because Indians kill women in large numbers. Currently, the gender ratio in India is 915 girls to 1,000 boys (in the below 6 age group). In 1991, that figure was 947 girls to 1,000 boys; in 2001, it was 927 girls to 1,000 boys. What should be the gender ratio? Ideally, it should be 950 to 975 girls per 1,000 boys. But statistics like 915 per 1,000 boys doesn’t give us the real picture. In 1991, there were 4.1 million missing girls; by 2001 that had risen to six million; and as per the current census, there are 7.1 million missing girls. In 1991, Nobel Prize winner Amatya Sen put the figure of missing girls at 100 million. The number has gone up by 2011.
There are more missing girls in prosperous, educated areas than in poverty-stricken zones. Missing is the euphemism for murdered. Unlike other parameters — such as education and health that have improved with time and development — the attitude towards the girl child has become worse with development.Who all are involved in these murders? The answer: parents, families, doctors, and lab technicians. For every girl that is selectively murdered, there are at least seven to 10 other people who are complicit in the murder. Most of the times, it is covered up.
There is another facet to this figure. It doesn’t include the deaths that have been declared as ‘natural’. There are reports of newborn girls being swathed in cold towels and left in the open. The girls fall ill — usually with pneumonia — and are taken to primary health centres where the doctors give medicines. The medicines are thrown away, the girls get worse, and die. The doctors report this as death by natural causes. Different methods adopted in different parts of the country — feeding the girl rice husk so that she chokes and dies, feeding her poison mixed with castor oil, leaving her out in the sun to die of sunstroke… Different methods with one end: murder.
The second major area where girls and women are at risk is trafficking. Trafficking is the euphemism for slavery — primarily sex slavery, although, many are used as bonded labour as well. Figures are fuzzy — it is estimated between 20 and 65 million girls and women are victims of trafficking.
Figures are fuzzy because there is no way, currently, to track people in India. While the UID or Aadhar may change that — to give us better estimates — it is in no way going to reduce the problem. Trafficking happens because parents sell their daughters into slavery. The most recent case was that of a 14-year-old girl in Kerala sold by her father to over a 100 men. Then there are dowry deaths, malnutrition, honour killings… and all this is within the family and society.
One can justify the danger posed to women in countries like Afghanistan, Congo, and Pakistan: there the State has broken down and anarchy prevails. In India, the situation is different. The State has laws to ensure the equality of women. It has laws that penalise people who murder and traffic women. Yet, people violate these laws. They commit murder, sell their daughters into slavery, and their families and communities cover up for this lawlessness.
Maybe this explains why we elect the corrupt. They cover up for our misdeeds, and we ignore theirs.
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