“I am not a boy, I am a girl,” wrote Jyoti, a 21 year old woman in Delhi, who was studying at a medical college to be a physiotherapist.
This was in a text message sent in December 2010 to a twenty-six-year-old man who had initially taken Jyoti to be a man. They met, and what began as a casual communication became a close friendship. Two years later, on December 16, 2012, returning from an evening movie, Jyoti was gang-raped with extreme brutality, and the man was severely beaten as he tried to protect her. They had been tricked into boarding a bus that seemed to be going their way. It was a closed bus with darkened windows in which five determined rapists were waiting for their prey, with their impatience allegedly heightened by the drugs they had taken. The tortured bodies of the abused pair were dropped off on an empty street, and by the time Jyoti received medical attention, she was on her way to death, despite receiving specialized medical care in Delhi, and later, in Singapore.
The gang rape, including the violence accompanying it, not only got headlines in every serious Indian newspaper, it also received continuous coverage around the clock on radio, television, and cable channels. It also led to large-scale public protests and demonstrations that continued for many days in Delhi as well as in other Indian cities, with agitated crowds of both men and women, much larger than any protests of this kind seen before. The insecurity of women, including their vulnerability to rape and abuse, reached national headlines overnight in a way it had never been before.
How frequent is rape in India? If there are pages and pages of reports of rapes from across the country in newspapers, the number of incidences such as these surely must be high. There are, in fact, reasons to believe that the majority of rapes go unreported in India, and the actual number of incidences of rape may be much higher. Based on the news coverage of rape across India, it has been argued, with plausibility, that India has an extraordinarily high frequency of rape.
“However much a mother may love her children, it is all but impossible for her to provide high-quality child care if she herself is poor and oppressed, illiterate and uniformed, anaemic and unhealthy, has five or six other children, lives in a slum or shanty, has neither clean water nor safe sanitation, and if she is without the necessary support either from health services, or from her society, or from the father of her children”. These words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru reflect the prevailing conditions of women in India. Today, when we look back at the changing horizons of the role and status of women in Indian society, we can tell that despite having done much towards empowerment, majority of women’s lives are still a dismal picture.
From pastoral society to contemporary information and global society, the role of women has changed drastically. The role of a typical Grihani (housewife) who catered to all the requirements of the households, including the rearing and upbringing of children and fulfilling various sub-roles of daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, mother, aunt etc. has been played quite efficiently. The continuity of changes in socio-economic and psycho-cultural aspects of human living has influenced the role of women. With the process of industrialization, modernization and globalization showing its deep impact on the human society all over the world, the role and responsibilities of women has attained new definitions and perspectives. Furthermore, this has also led to the addition of responsibilities and expanded the role of women who also now share financial responsibilities, yet the social stature of women in India still remains that of below men.
India has elaborate laws to protect the rights of women, including the Prevention of Immoral Traffic, The Sati (widow burning) Act, and the Dowry Prevention Act. Women and children have figured prominently in the government’s agenda of social reforms and initiatives. However, the government is often unable to enforce these laws, especially in rural areas where traditions are deeply rooted. Dowry, female bondage and forced prostitution are widespread in some parts of India. Common forms of violence against Indian women include female feticide (selective abortion based on the fetus gender or sex selection of child), domestic violence, dowry death or harassment, mental and physical torture, sexual trafficking, and public humiliation. Many obstacles to the realization of women’s human rights in India are social and cultural in nature, as they are deeply rooted in the traditions of its communities.
For the modernizing India, education has been considered imperative for progress, both intellectually and socially. In the case of women, one of their major achievements has been the growing climate in support of women education. Over the course of time, the attitude towards women’s education has gone from being deemed unnecessary to be valued, not merely in terms of enhancing their familial role, but also as a good lever for getting employment. Education has brought about a change in women’s status in India. There has been a significant growth in female employment and female enrollment in schools.
A range of government programs have also been launched to increase opportunities for women and some others that address the cultural and traditional discrimination against women. We have now seen that globalization, liberalization and other economic forces have given some empowerment to a still largely lacking female population. It is not just women empowerment, but a change in the mindset of people that would move India towards equality and equity. It is the need of the hour to place women on an equal foothold with men in order to rebuild the society and take the nation on a path of greater development.