ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
I often question myself, “When women are victims of constant gender based violence, why have we as a society not equipped them with the essential skills needed to safeguard their physical/mental wellbeing?”, Is it a natural disposition or societal conditioning that makes the female sorority bear all the atrocities committed on them. In India, we address women as Durga, Kali and Shakti which are the embodiments of strength and valour. This clearly implies that women have the inner strength that is lying DORMANT. This needs to become DOMINANT and has to be exercised. In this piece, I’m focusing on two of the many inhumane acts (besides rape which is a universal problem) that is rampant in the nation.
As early as the fifteenth century, Guru Nanak, a progressive champion of gender equality, said “from women, man is born….from her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born, without women, there would be no one at all”. Unfortunately, more than 500 years later, Guru Nanak’s dream for a world with gender equality remains the same, a dream.
The worst form of violence against women begins from the time of conception itself in the form of female feticide. This is a harsh reminder that the women continue to be the target of cultural stereotypes. Women are subjected to violence at the fetal stage, irrespective of caste, creed, religion and time frame. This grassroots problem has to be addressed and arrested, if we are to maintain gender balance. Within the WOMB or outside of it, are women destined to DOOM?
Dowry and family lineage
The two reasons for female feticide can be classified into dowry and family lineage. Dowry is the form of monetary demand made by the groom’s family from the bride’s parents. It remains prevalent in India, despite the passing of the Dowry prohibition Act in 1961. Particularly for poor families, dowries are a heavy economic burden. Further, if the dowry demand is not fulfilled by the girl’s family, the bride is done to death by the husband’s family through various horrendous acts. It our parents give no DOWRY, you make our lives so GORY!
The other reason is family lineage. When a woman is pregnant, the elders in the family bless her with a boy baby. The woman, along with her husband, visits temples for begetting a boy child. Surprisingly, the woman herself is an accomplice to this age-old superstition. Parents prefer to have a male child as he is going to the caretaker, when they grow old, as daughters will be married and will seldom have time to look after them.
‘Vamsha Vriddhi’ (family lineage) can be achieved only if it is a boy. Despite the prenatal diagnostic techniques (prohibition of sex selection) Act, 1994, this heinous crime continues. Sex determination tests continue to be a booming business. Most of us have a misconstrued notion that it is in the rural areas that female feticide is more rampant than in urban areas. But it has come to light that even educated families – doctors, professors, and other professionals – are involved in this female feticide scandal. The demand for the sex determination ultra sound machinery has increased in hospitals and has become a commercial racket at the cost of innocent fetuses. It is heart-breaking that society is a mute spectator to this heinous act.
India’s missing women
Let us now take a quick glance at the sex ratio. For every 1000 males, India has approximately 930 females. Amartya Sen calls this India’s missing women. This may seem very less for a thousand, but when we compute the mismatch for the entire population of India which is 1.2 billion, we have 70 million missing women. This is equivalent to the entire population of France.
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution promises the right to equality for every citizen and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution protects the right to life. Isn’t it a glaring reality that sex determination is a violation of these two acts? Is the fetus not considered a citizen because it is still in the mother’s womb? If fetuses are to be saved and protected, the Article should include the following—right to be born as a girl and a right to live a life with dignity and equality. Ironically, laws are enacted, passed and amended at the LOSS of innocent lives.
Solutions and hope
Despite these shortcomings, there are many stories of hope which gives one the confidence that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG5) which aims at gender equality and women empowerment can be achieved. It is indeed heartening to see the change in Indian villages too. The UNFPA’S online video channel ‘embrace girls’ documents the story of a pregnant woman in a village in Western India, who refuses to abort her girl baby and boldly joins a local group of spirited women to stop the atrocity of female feticide. Not to forget the Gulabi Gang, a group of women in Northern India, who fight for women’s rights and do not tolerate any form of violence against them. The sex ratio of Nawansahr in Julha Majra village in Punjab is EQUAL. This clearly shows that deep-rooted cultural change is possible. Each one of us could take a page from these women who are from a rural background.
Laws should be stringent and implemented effectively for the benefit of the victim. To cite an example, if a medical practitioner is caught in a sex determination act, he should be dealt with an iron hand, including the cancellation of his medical license. Parents are accomplices in this crime, and should be punished. These strong deterrents will make doctors and parents think twice before committing these barbaric acts.
Besides, governing bodies, NGOs, awareness groups, health groups and women’s welfare groups should work hand in hand to bring about the necessary change needed to eliminate this violence against fetuses.
Even though I have not addressed the issue of personal safety, I would like to share a few words about the same with parents and teachers. The culture of this topic is so stigmatized that we are reluctant to have conversations like any other topic. So it is time that schools and parents initiate a dialogue with children as young as even five through different medium of art and simple conversations. This will go a long way in providing the skills required in responding aptly in any unforeseen circumstance.
Let’s on this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and constantly also remind ourselves to strive towards the dream of creating a safe environment for women/girls into a reality!
The author Sujatha As the past President of the Bangalore chapter of Soroptimist International, a global service organisation of women whose core vision is to ” Educate, Empower, Enable, I have been involved in various projects that focus on the above objectives and spearhead the below projects, one on educating and the other on empowering.
The author Sujatha Balakrishnan is a teacher/counselor and a theatre actor based in Bangalore who is the founder of Theatre for Change that helps address and senstitize us and more importantly our children to social issues and ISMs in a theartrical format.
As the past President of the Bangalore chapter of Soroptimist International, a global service organisation of women whose core vision is to “Educate, Empower, Enable, She has been involved in various projects that focus on the above objectives and spearheads, “Stars of Tomorrow”, a communicative English teaching program at the government school in Bangalore North
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wonder Women World.