India may have a female foreign minister: Sushma Swaraj. It also had a female prime minister (Indira Gandhi) more than four decades ago but this is not reflective of the true state of the plight of women in India.
Let us deal with Indira Gandhi’s case first. Her own bodyguards shot and killed her. This was not because of the fact that she was a woman; her real crime was attacking the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Sikhs’ holiest of holy places. Thousands of Sikhs were massacred in the military operation in June 1984. The Sikhs vowed to avenge this sacrilegious act resulting in her murder in October 1984.
Lest people think that India respects women because some have made it to the top, they should think again. Hinduism, the predominant religion in India, is extremely intolerant of women. Sati, the horrific practice of a widow burning herself on the funeral pyre of her dead husband is still practiced in some parts of India although it has subsided somewhat under intense international pressure and opprobrium.
Discrimination is inbuilt into Hinduism’s Caste system whereby people are divided into socio-economic classes at birth. People belonging to the “upper” castes discriminate against those of the lower castes. The very notion of upper and lower castes is an assault on human dignity and honor. There is no escape from the straitjacket the caste system imposes.
Dalits or Untouchables, people in Hinduism’s lowest caste, are treated worse than animals. There are more than 200 million Indian Dalits, who are condemned to a life of extreme degradation and cruelty.
The cow is worshipped and considered the Hindus’ mother — how strange can they get? — and, therefore, holy; yet human beings are so terribly abused.
Given that women are badly mistreated, most people prefer to have sons rather than daughters. Unfortunately modern science has also provided a helping hand whereby ultrasound tests determine the gender of the fetus. Female fetuses are aborted resulting in skewing the population balance. For every 1,000 men, there are only 933 women in India according to the 2011 census. The trend has continued to worsen since.
With a total population of 1.2 billion, there is a huge shortage of girls in the country. The skewed gender inequality has led to an alarming rise in rape cases in India.
Hinduism itself promotes promiscuity. This is apparent in the images and statues one finds in temples all across India. Statues of busty women in suggestive poses are a common sight in temples. Coupled with sexual abuse of women and girls of lower castes, one can begin to draw a picture of the horrific reality of women in India.
A cursory glance at statistics indicates that rape cases have steadily increased. Further, that the overwhelming majority of those accused of rape crimes is between the ages of 18–25 is indicative of the fact that gender imbalance in society is a strong factor in rising rape cases.
This is apparent from rape statistics between the years 2004–2010:
2004 . . . . . . . . . . . . 18,233
2005 . . . . . . . . . . . . 18,359
2006 . . . . . . . . . . . . 19,348
2007 . . . . . . . . . . . . 20,737
2008 . . . . . . . . . . . . 21,467
2009 . . . . . . . . . . . . 21,397
2010 . . . . . . . . . . . . 22,172
Despite the toughening of laws against rape crimes following the horrific gang rape of the physiotherapist student, Nirbaya, in December 2012 on a Delhi bus, the upward trend has continued. If in 2012, there were 24,923 cases of rape, by 2015, these had climbed to 34,210 and in 2016, these rose to 38,947 cases. It is important to bear in mind that these figures refer to reported cases.
Often, women do not report rape for two primary reasons: stigma attached to victims, and the police themselves are notorious for assaulting and raping victims that report the crime. Both act as strong deterrents to reporting.
The 2016 reported rape cases (38,947) translate to more than 106 rapes per day or nearly 4.5 rapes each hour, according to The Times of India (December 1, 2017). This means a woman or girl is raped every 14 minutes somewhere in India.
Equally horrifying is the fact that at least 2,116 victims of rape were girls in the age groups of 1–12 years. And in 94.6% of the cases, offenders included neighbours, family members, relatives, husband/live-in partner, employer/co-worker, etc.
The former minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, said that there was an increase in the number of sexual offences against children in the country. The number of cases of rape of children had increased from 8,541 in 2012 to 12,363 in 2013 and 13,766 in 2014 (The Times of India, August 08, 2015).
The overall figures for crimes against women — such as physical violence including acid attacks, or mental abuse — are similarly alarming. There were a total of 338,954 crimes against women registered in 2016. Most of the victims were subjected to “cruelty by husband or relatives” (32.6% of cases), followed by “assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty” (25%), “kidnapping and abduction of women” (19%) and rape (11.5%).
Kidnapping of women/girls to force them to marry is also widespread. In 2016, there were 33,796 women/girls that were kidnapped/ abducted with the view to force them to marry.
According to India’s National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data, 260,304 cases of crimes against women were sent for trial in 2016. This resulted in 23,094 convictions or a less-than-10% conviction rate. This hardly evokes much confidence in police competence or the legal system.
Where there are a record number of rapes, there is the sexually transmitted disease, AIDS. India is one of the leaders in spreading the deadly disease because of lack of safe sex and lack of medical facilities. Truck drivers also spread the disease. They ply tens of thousands of miles of roads across India and indulge in sex with multiple women along the route. It could be called AIDS on wheels.
And then there is India’s Red Ribbon Express, a special train ostensibly to increase awareness about AIDS. The train touches 50,000 villages. The special train is reserved for AIDS victims with the view to preventing the spread of disease to non-AIDS affected victims.
Whether the Red Ribbon Express train has helped increase awareness about AIDS is debatable; what it has shown is that in India, AIDS is a huge problem. It is spreading rapidly because of loose social mores and the increasing cases of rapes across the country.