In 2018, a survey conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation had ranked India as ‘the world's most dangerous country for women’, ahead of Afghanistan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The poll surveyed 548 experts, on six different indices for women issues; healthcare, discrimination, cultural and traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking.
India, among the six issues, was ranked as the most dangerous on three- the risks women face from sexual violence and harassment (acid attacks, rape), from cultural and traditional practices (child marriage, female genital mutilation) and from human trafficking which included forced labour, sex slavery and domestic servitude. It was ranked fourth in the same survey conducted in 2011, behind Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan.
The survey received a lot of backlash from people, with many questioning, “How could India perform worse than war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Syria, or monarchies like Saudi Arabia, where women enjoy far fewer rights?”
However, a look at some of the recent global gender and women security surveys show somewhat the same results.
Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in its 2nd edition of WPS Index in 2019 ranked India poorly at 133 out of 167 countries, based on women equality and well being, and is in the bottom rankings of the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report.
These poor rankings for India present us with some serious questions on the quality of life for women in India; Are the conditions really getting worse for the women in India? How have things changed in the recent past? And can we even answer all these questions conclusively?
Crimes against women in India
Each year, thousands of women become victims of gender violence in India – a look at the recent official crime statistics shows that an average of 87 rape cases are reported every day; every fourth victim is a minor; a bride is murdered for dowry every 69 minutes; a crime is committed against a woman every three minutes, and 19 women are attacked with acid every month. These with added thousands of reported cases of stalking, domestic violence and sexual harassment paint a grim yet realistic picture of the condition of women in the country.
The number of reported violent crimes in India, especially those against women are on an increase with each passing year. Cases of crime against women, including sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, and dowry deaths rose by nearly, 90 per cent to 405, 861 between 2010 and 2019. In which, cruelty by husband or his relatives (30.9%) followed by an assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty (21.8%) constituted the major share of the crime, according to the National Crime Records Bureau report.
But even these numbers are likely to underestimate the actual crisis women face in India, which has a unique dimension to it. Due to the social stigma associated with the reporting of cases, thousands of cases of domestic violence, honour killings and sexual assault go unreported each year.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data, 99% of sexual assaults in the country go unreported. Even if one excludes marital rape- which is ‘not recognised’ as a criminal offence in India, 85% of sexual assaults go unreported, and among the crimes that are reported, most perpetrators are known to the victims, the official numbers show.
In India, the basic right to life is denied to millions of girls even before they are born; female foeticide, which remains a widespread social phenomenon, because of an extreme and continuing preference for sons over daughters in the Indian society, resulted in India having the highest rate of excess female deaths at 13.5 per 1,000 female births and one in nine deaths of a girl child below the age of 5 due to the gender-based sex selection.
According to the State of the World Population 2020 report released by the United Nations Population Fund, one in three girls missing globally due to sex selection, both pre and post-natal, is from India, i.e. 46 million out of the global total of 142 million.
The sex-selective abortions and killing of the girl child, result in skewed sex ratio which further leads to trafficking and selling of women. India has been reported to be a top destination for human trafficking in 2019 wherein the nation reported a total of 6571 cases of human trafficking, with nearly 62% comprising of women and 27% were below 18 years old, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The common causes of human trafficking remain forced marriage and sexual exploitation which includes forced coercion into prostitution and sexual abuse, such as sex slavery.
Child marriage, another prevalent social practice, driven by poverty and gender inequality, continues to remain a big issue in India till date. According to UNICEF, one in three of the world’s child brides live in India. Out of the country’s 223 million child brides, 102 million were married before turning 15 and this, despite the fact that child marriage in India was officially outlawed in 2006.
A Culture of Violence against Women
After the massive public outcry eight years ago, when a student was brutally gang-raped in the national capital, one could have only expected improved conditions. However, women’s safety; an issue that has been debated over for years, despite widespread awareness and changes in the legal provisions, continues to haunt India at its core. These findings only confirm the uncomfortable truth, a truth that India denies to accept. The recent Hathras rape incident in Uttar Pradesh stands as an another example of how women in India continue to face extreme brutality and in this case in the form of caste-based oppression.
At the end it is not about the ranking or comparing India with other countries, but rather about taking these facts and perceptions in a correct, reflective manner and question ourselves, where have we gone wrong as a society?
Even if not the most dangerous country, India is certainly dangerous for its women and there is no doubt in the fact that women in India are far from feeling free and safe outdoors or even indoors.
Society in India is ruled by misogyny and patriarchy, and the way we perceive issues is what desperately needs to change. There’s a need to squash the deeply-ingrained traditions, attitudes and practices that prevail in the Indian society. What needs to be emphasized here is that the discourse should not end on making women ‘safe’ but rather on redefining the patriarchal notions of ‘safety’ and ‘freedom’ of women.
For danger is not always in the form of reported instance of sexual assault, but also the perceived threats and fear that dictate a women’s life choices. India’s daughters deserve way better, they deserve a life without fear.
By Chahat Susawat
Chahat Susawat is a second year student pursuing Political Science Honours from Hindu College and a member at The Symposium Society. Besides having a keen interest in Public Policy and global affairs, she loves to read and explore areas beyond her subject matter and is currently fascinated by astrophysical concepts (well, she’s still exploring).