Since ancient times, women have held a high place of respect in society. Volumes have been written about the status of our women and their heroic deeds since Vedic times. However, as social, political and economic changes set in society, women lost their status and were relegated to the background.
Many evil customs and traditions stepped in enslaving women and incarcerating them within the boundaries of the house. Today, measures and endeavours to address the gender gap fall short in changing ground reality. Official statistics show a decline in child sex-ratio, health status, literacy rate, work participation rate and political participation among women. The spread of social evils like dowry deaths, child marriage, domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and exploitation of women are rampant in many parts of India.
According to a report by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a crime against women is recorded every 1.7 minutes in India. Every 16 minutes a rape case is recorded in this country and every 4.4 minutes a girl is subjected to domestic violence.1 In 2015, Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of crimes against women with 35,527 cases reported followed by West Bengal with the number of cases reported at 33,218 as per the National Crime Records Bureau.2
Crimes against women are committed not just by strangers and outsiders but in most cases they are committed by people known to the victims. Cruelty by husbands and relatives under section 498‐A of the Indian Penal Code is a major crime committed against women across the country, with 2.24 million cases reported over the last 10 years, or 26 every hour.3 Assault on women with intent to outrage their modesty is the second-most-reported crime against women over the last decade. Some of the most common crimes against women include dowry deaths, honour killings, witchcraft related murders (accusing the women to be a witch) and rapes. It is even more astonishing to find that the 21st century women are gladly accepting atrocities against them without raising any voice themselves.
Apart from these crimes, another very common and prevalent practice in India is that of female foeticide. There are gender selection clinics all over India, from small villages and towns to major cities. If one goes through any village in India one can find messages like, “Spend 5000 today and save 500000 tomorrow”, scribbled over the walls promoting gender selection. “Save 500000 tomorrow” refers to the dowry money the parents can supposedly ‘save’ if they terminate the foetus of the girl child. It is imperative to help people understand that it is not the girl child which is a liability, but in fact, the horrible practice of dowry, which needs to be eliminated from our society. The practice of female foeticide and infanticide has led to a highly skewed child sex ratio. In some states like Haryana and Rajasthan, decades of sex selective abortions have meant that there are no brides available, which has led to another social ill of human-trafficking.
The patriarchal social structure is one of the main reasons for crimes against women.
The fact that women are not self-dependent leaves them vulnerable. Dowry violence is one of the main manifestations of the patriarchal society among many others. Another factor responsible for this violence is that most of the crimes of domestic violence are not reported. It happens because more often than not it is the women who are considered to be at fault for the domestic abuse taking place and if there are children involved, then it becomes even more difficult for the mother to take legal action against the family of the bridegroom.
It is of vital importance to acknowledge that crimes and violence against women and girls is a direct manifestation of a morally decadent society where the education of children has truly done away with inculcation of spiritual values hence leading to the creation of habits of thought and behavior that are so demeaning to the nobility of human nature.
Prominent media personalities and the celebrities need to raise a strong voice protesting crimes against women. The media, which is considered to be the fourth estate, is a very powerful tool in today’s society and needs to take initiative so that crime against women are prevented and gradually come to an end altogether. Government should provide free self-defense programs for girls and women and it should also be made compulsory in schools. Films and television serials that portray women as objects of beauty and enjoyment also need to be stopped, as they have a very bad influence on the minds that witness it.
Legal reforms can ensure the enactment of more stringent laws with regard to crimes against women. The enforcement machinery of the government needs to adhere to the law and ensure that it is enforced. Support groups should be formed for the victims of violence and they should be given proper counselling and helped to come out of the trauma. The government should make such provisions so as to empower the women and make them independent. It is also very necessary to break the cultural stereotypes that compel women to be at home and take care of the children. Women are in no way inferior to men and they have proved it time and again.
In order to fight this curse of violence against women, it is very important that schools play a proactive role. The duty of all schools in the modern times is not just to provide academic education but also to teach and inculcate strong moral values in children. Schools have to act as lighthouses of society and should be concerned with the affairs of the age. Promoting gender equality should be in the main agenda of every school. Sensitizing youngsters and making them gender sensitive is very important so that they grow up respecting women and realizing their contribution to society. Let us remember that it is our children and youth who are the protagonists of gender equality. By focusing on their empowerment, we can with confidence pave the way for the creation of a transformed social milieu where men and women will work together, shoulder to shoulder, to enable all human beings to soar to the heights of prosperity and true happiness.