I call myself a progressive woman with a modern outlook. I reject anything that does not make sense to me and is forced on me. I evaluate everything with the skills that my education, upbringing and experience have given me. My culture and faith is my strength, because I can question it, and accept it or reject it after due diligence.
Having given you this background about myself, you can now share my shock and disbelief when my American colleague, sometime earlier this year, walked into my office and said I should really consider myself lucky that my parents had chosen to educate me and that I had chosen to work in the West. After all, in my own country I would be lucky if I wasn’t molested, raped or married off to an unknown man at the age of 15. To be fair, my colleague was only showing genuine concern and meant well. She had been reading newspapers and this is the picture of India she had been exposed to.
This was right after the gruesome gang rape of a young physiotherapist in Delhi hit the headlines across the world.
India was called ‘Nation of Rapists’ and ‘Culture of Misogyny’. The Indian media finally took notice of violence against women after the Delhi gang-rape incident, when women decided enough was enough and descended on the roads demanding better security, tougher laws and stringent punishment to offenders. The international media took a cue from the Indian media and most major news portals carried damning news and statistics of violence against women in India.
Violence against women is nothing new and all of us have known that it exists at multiple levels and manifests itself in all strata of our society. However, it is only in the last year that the media spotlight has been consistent on these cases and heart-rending stories have emerged.
A few days ago, CNN carried a blog of a young American student who was on an exchange programme to India and suffered much sexual harassment during her entire stay.
This account went viral and was followed by another account of sexual harassment suffered by another exchange student.
There have been other cases of women tourists being molested and sexually assaulted. In March this year, the United Kingdom issued a travel advisory to India, warning British women against sexual attacks. Now this latest gang rape of a young photojournalist in Mumbai, otherwise considered safe for women, has only cemented the perception that India is unsafe for women.
While the headline generators will always look for sensation to grab more eyeballs, it is important to look beyond the headlines and understand the real problem we have at hand.
Are women unsafe in our country today as compared with their western counterparts? Most definitely they are. Is there a deep inherent bias against women? Absolutely there is.
Are we obfuscating this burning issue by vacillating and making the whole issue so abstract that we end up giving a free pass to the government responsible for the safety of all citizens including women? Yes, we are.
Our op-ed columnists have spent disproportionate amount of space blaming our 5,000-year-old history rather than focusing on real solutions. Our past can be decoded, but it is our present that needs fixing. Police reforms have been in the pipeline for a long time, but the present UPA government has shown no inclination in pressing for it. Similarly, judicial reforms need to be looked at immediately for swift dispensation of justice, yet those remain distant too.
The much-touted Justice Verma Committee report came in haste after the Delhi gang-rape incident and is inadequate in tackling the malaise we have at hand. The political will that is required to implement laws is missing.
The time to debate and discuss is long past us. It is time to implement laws and act decisively. The perception in the West that India is unsafe for women seems stuck at the moment and we all know how difficult it is to change perceptions.
(The writer is argumentative and a news junkie, for whom writing is both a passion and catharsis. She is community editor for “Centre Right India” and can be reached on twitter at @sunandavashisht)