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Mainstream, VOL L, No 50, December 1, 2012

Pitiable Plight of Women

Monday 3 December 2012, by Kuldip Nayar

Even as Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old activist who advocated girls’ education, recovers from the bullet shots by the Taliban at Swat in Pakistan, there is no let up in atrocities against women in the subcontinent. Haryana in India witnessed another rape of a Dalit girl and yet another honour killing by the parents of their daughter in the northern part of Pakistan. In Delhi, the national Capital, a married girl committed suicide with her daughter, because her in-laws had not stopped demanding dowry even after five years of marriage.

These incidents are distance-wise removed from one another and they even differ in the gory details. Still they are similar in intent: a woman cannot claim any right, much less equality, in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. I am sure that women in the West too undergo indignities but their advanced societies have sophisticated ways to humiliate the female.

In this part of the world, a girl is generally considered a curse or burden from birth. While a boy is regarded as a bread-winner, a girl is a dampner on the ambitions of a family. The economic factor only aggravates the social factor and it would be wrong to assume that the earning potential of a girl is the real reason.

But the real tragedy is that the women themselves, mothers or mothers-in-law, are the perpetrators of crimes. They are behind the dowry tragedy or honour killing. A feeble protest is seen in a few brutal cases but it is forgotten the following day. Then it is business as usual. I thought that the attack on Malala would unite Pakistan in pain and it would rise as one nation to intensify the operations in Waziristan and Swat to crush the Taliban.

No doubt, anger is there but it cannot be channellised without any concerted effort or action. Religious fanatics appear to come in the way and they are the ones who call the shots. All statements emanating from the Army suggest that it will give no quarter to the terrorists, meaning thereby the Taliban, but the operation against them lacks determination. This may be partly true because the Taliban are said to have penetrated the Army ranks too.

In India, the most developed nation in the region, the voice against the atrocities on women is probably the loudest. There are many political and social women leaders—the all-powerful Sonia Gandhi included. Even then they have not been able to do much, for example, they have not been able to secure the 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament. The Bill, after having been in limbo for many years, has only made it to the Rajya Sabha. The prospects of its approval by this House of Parliament are almost nil.

Male chauvinists, particularly among the Dalits and backward classes, are vehemently opposed to reservations for women on the ground that the concessions would be cornered by the educated urbanite. This fear is without any basis because the election of women heads in half of the panchayats shows that at the ground level their confidence is immense. At least the representatives of Dalits and Other Backward Classes have no face to talk about the elite among women getting the advantage of reservations because they themselves constitute a creamy layer which has not allowed the second or third rung to benefit.

TITLED Men and Women 2012, an official report indicates a marginal participation of women in the sectors of governance and economy. Even the health, education, finance and crime indicators are causes for worry. Under the judiciary, there are two women out of 26 judges in the Supreme Court and only 54 women out of 634 judges in High Courts. This lopsided participation is reflected in other echelons too. Women only occupied 10 per cent of the total Central jobs in 2009. In institutions such as scheduled commercial banks, the scenario was slightly better: from 15.9 per cent in 2009 to 16.6 per cent in 2010.

Even if placement of women is ratified some day, they would still face many handicaps to come up the ladder. Religious traditions also come in the way of their claim to equality. Manu, a great Hindu pundit, has advocated inferior status for women and has proposed inhuman punishments for them if they challenge men to give them an equal status. Even today the entry of women to a few temples remains banned and the treatment meted out to them has come to have religious sanctions.

As for the Muslim women, the restrictions are even wider. That they cannot enter most religious places is common. The shrine at Nizamuddin at Delhi is closed for them. The custodians of the Haji Ali Dargah at Mumbai has issued a fiat a few days ago to disallow women from entering their premises. This was done for the first time since the shrine’s foundation hundreds of years ago. In contrast, Islam is progressive enough not to have any stigma against widow remarriage.

It is really the man’s insensitivity to the feelings of the woman that is behind the pitiable plight of the woman. He neither understands nor appreciates what his wanton attitude does to her individuality. Violence shows only part of his assumption to be superior. The reason why women are the first target for rape in riots is not so much avarice as the humiliation sought to be heaped upon them. Unfortunately, the government treats rape as just one of the crimes. In fact, it is the collective murder of a female. Punishment should be meted out not only to those who commit it but also to all those who silently watch the happening. They are as guilty just as the members of khap, the panchayats in Haryana who sentence young girls for wearing clothes they like or wanting to marry the persons they like.

A movement is needed—in all the three countries of the subcontinent—to raise strong protests and make the public aware of the atrocities committed against women. The purpose is how to give women their rightful place in society and make them feel that they are inferior to none in any field, political, economic or social. The development of a country has no meaning if the society does little against discrimination and denial to women is perpetrated for centuries.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

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