Nazrana Darvesh evaluates the plight of women in India during the long journey of 75 years since Independence, finds that the situation on the ground has not improved despite the availability of various laws and schemes to this effect, and concludes that there is hope to see a better India for women if the mentality of men is developed on the bases of moral principles.

Women’s question came to be a subject of discussion during the colonial rule and continued during the second quarter of freedom struggle. It also continued to be in the constitutional discussions of post-Independence period. And now even after 75 years of Independence the question still persists and there exists a wide gulf between the policies articulated for women and the ground realities in their assessment and implementation.

Whenever the policies are framed to strengthen the woman, on first hand it fails to recognise the real problem, its cause, and its aftermaths and hence drastically fails to bring an unending concrete solution to their problems. Secondly, these policies are many times dangerously agenda based. On top the intensely patriarchal reactionary forces play identity politics to make all the women related laws, constitutional rights, grants, reservations, and liberation and empowerment solutions, extremely vulnerable for her by moulding them for their own benefit. Under the pretence of women empowerment new laws are enacted and women are appealed emotionally by declaring them as ‘Historic Announcements’, which take women on cloud nine. But the reality is different.

Since Independence there are a number of laws enacted for improving the condition of women. We have The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 and The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act – 2013, The Immoral Traffick (Prevention) Act – 1956, The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act – 2006, The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act – 2015, The Right to Education Act 2009, the Equal Remuneration Act – 1976, etc. Also, there are various schemes undertaken for Welfare of women like Mahila Shakti Kendra, Working Women Hostels, STEP scheme, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, etc.

These are meant to be in the interest of women. But the question to ponder upon is: are women really benefiting from all these laws? And if they are, why is there an increase in number of crimes against women each year as reported by NCRB?

Regarding human trafficking, a data released by the NCRB reveals that 28% of all rape victims were under the age of 18 and out of the total number of children that went missing in 2018 70% were girls. Such girls are mostly taken into prostitution and now that the Supreme Court in a recent judgment has decriminalised prostitution, it has granted an open licence to play with the life of girls and women.

Regarding Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme, the Committee on the Empowerment of Women chaired by Maharashtra MP Heena Gavit tabled a report revealing its poor performance with 80% of the funds being used for advertising and not on sectoral interventions.

As regards plight of working women, the Indian Women’s Health Report 2021 revealed that 90 per cent of working women face a conflict of interest and health problems while balancing familial, personal and professional obligations.

Women’s Hotels and ashrams have been trade centres for illegal activities against women as found in the case of December 2017 Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalay ashram where hundreds of girls and women were drugged and raped for years.

Population control policies place double burden on women, subjecting them to more health hazards due to contraceptive methods and abortions which they have to adopt to follow the suit, some even have to lose their jobs in the fight between career and family, like the case of a woman village pradhan in Rajasthan in 1995, who lost her job due to this two-child policy, when she failed to suppress the birth of her third child. While factually the reason for lack of resources is attributable to accumulation of wealth by a few, population explosion is always a reason given for such flawed understanding of population and human capital. No wonder if in future this flawed analysis comes to limelight and we realise the importance of natural course of flourishing of population, as is realised by many other countries including China, the onus of raising the population will again be borne by women in manifolds to compensate for the loss all the years.

In political sector, according to Global Gender Gap Report 2021, India has declined on the political empowerment index by 13.5 percentage points, and a decline in the number of women ministers, from 23.1 per cent in 2019 to 9.1 per cent in 2021. Even though 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments reserved the seats for women in sarpanch (village council leader) positions in the gram panchayats, it is found that the real acting body in the position is either the husband or a close relative of the woman, whereas the woman only occupies the seat. Women reservation bill on the percentage of women representatives in the Parliament is also pending for approval since 1996.

Women have shown excellence in sports in the past few years; for instance, Saina Nehwal, Mary Com, Mithali Raj, PV. Sidhu, Nikhat Zareen, etc. But the irony is that most of the women Sports personalities have to face hard struggle, harassment, molestation and dress code issues in the field they have opted for.  Rising use of nubile young girls as cheerleaders at international rugby and cricket events speaks volumes about how women are commodified on and off the field. Their personal lives were also not spared when Award winners like Sania Mirza opted to marry the man of her choice in 2010.

The sorry state of Women Journalists can be understood from recent stories of Tanushree Pande, who had to face a hefty price costing her privacy for reporting in Hathras gang rape of Dalit women and exposing the duplicity of police burning the body of victim to get rid of evidence. Also, Masrat Zahra was booked under UAPA for her Freelance Photo journalism in Kashmir. Furthermore, not to forget how Gauri Lankesh was shot in 2017 for her secularist and fearless journalism.

Women activists like Hidme Markam, a 28-year-old former school cook who struggled to stop a government owned iron ore from being run by the Adani group languishes in jail. She was struggling to free Adivasi prisoners. Markam’s arrest is the latest episode in a long running conflict in Chhattisgarh involving the state, a four-decade-long Maoist insurgency, and local Adivasi communities.  In February 2021, Dalit labour rights activist, farmers’ protest organiser and an industrial labourer herself, Nodeep Kaur, was granted bail after being imprisoned on trumped up charges related to the farmers’ protest in Delhi. She was allegedly physically assaulted as well as sexually abused whilst in prison.

Payal Tadvi, an aspiring gynaecologist, and Fathima Latheef, who was pursuing her post-graduation in IIT Madras, were victims of Caste discrimination, which is still prevalent even after 75 years of Independence.

The recent announcement of the Union Cabinet to increase the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21, which is drafted without the consent of ones for whom it has been proposed, making it controversial and interference in the personal lives and freedom of choice in marriages for girls.

September 2018 Ruling of the Supreme Court that Adultery with married woman will be unpunishable has further opened more doors for crimes against women with clean chit to men who can malign the case to adultery even in case of forced rape, thus weakening women’s stand.

Only grants, policies and laws will not solve the age-old issue of injustice to women but the rot in the society needs thorough cleansing. A society deprived of morality cannot work on well-being of anyone. And morality is developed on the basis of humanity, honesty, loyalty, pure intention, right attitude, selfless work, and strong belief in accountability of deeds in the court of divine law. If the mentality of men is developed based of these moral principles, there is hope to see a better India for women in the years to come.

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