Book Excerpt from Bhaskar Parichha’s new book
The Tragedy of Itishrees
Babina, Itishree, Nirbhayas-the list is lengthy. As 2013 fades away into history, the struggle that women face are enormous, and cases of gender inequality are monumental. Despite positive progress and legal guarantee, women continue to experience injustice, brutality, and unfairness in their homes and at the workplace. The devaluation of women and social domination of the male continues to worry sociologists and planners alike. Women in India are viewed as a shade lesser than men, the weaker gender, and this entrenched perception has led to their social and economic dispossession.
The key factor driving gender inequality is the preference for boys. Boys are deemed to be more useful than girls. They are given exclusive rights to inherit the family name and property. Bias also comes in the shape of religious practices making sons more attractive. What is more, the saddle of dowry discourages parents from having daughters. Thus, a combination of factors has shaped the imbalanced view of sexes in India.
The number of girls born and surviving in India is yet another worrisome factor because female fetuses are being aborted and baby girls deliberately neglected and left to die. Gender selection and selective abortion were banned in India under the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostics Technique Act, in 1994 but the use of ultrasound scanning for gender selection continues unabated.
In 1961, the Government of India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act, making the dowry demands in wedding illegal. However, many cases of dowry-related domestic violence, suicides, and murders are still reported. At least a dozen die each day in ‘kitchen fires’. Of course, amongst the urban educated dowry abuse has reduced dramatically. But rural women continue to be victims of dowry torture. Issues affecting Indian women are numerous. But it is domestic violence that impacts women the most. True, there are laws to protect them. Yet, they are defenseless and laws ultimately turn out to be mere pieces of paper.
In 1997, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court took a strong stand against sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The Court laid down detailed guidelines for the prevention and redressing of grievances. The National Commission for Women subsequently elaborated these guidelines into a Code of Conduct for employers.
Whether it is self-employment, domestic work, or even government jobs the discrimination of women more glaring. Equal pay laws may have been enacted, but women are still paid less than men across states and sectors. As if that isn’t enough, they are prohibited from working in the same industries as men. Several studies have linked the gender pay gap with women’s caring responsibilities- a responsibility which comes to women not on their own volition but according to their physique.
Talk about justice to women, the broad issue is one of empowerment. Even though there have been steep increases in women’s representation in parliament, state assemblies, and the Panchayati Raj institutions, there exists a case for more women in politics and public life. The horrendous crime perpetrated on Indian women says volumes about their vulnerability. The individual lives, the catastrophes, and the abuse that are the daily lots of millions of India’s women reveal poignant stories of bravery and struggle.
While there is a growing incidence of violence, many women shrink away from reporting crimes due to social stigma and weak justice systems. The costs and practical difficulties of seeking justice too are prohibitive — from travel to a distant court to paying for expensive legal advice. The result is high dropout rates where women fail to seek redress on gender-based violence. The phenomenon of honor killings is another variety of violence girls in India where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issuing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village.
Though gradually rising, the female literacy rate in India is lower than the male literacy rate. Compared to boys, far fewer girls are enrolled in schools, and many of them drop out. According to various reports, the chief barriers to female education in India are inadequate school facilities such as sanitary, shortage of female teachers, and gender bias in curriculum. India has witnessed substantial improvements in female literacy and enrolment rate since the 1990s, but the quality of education for females remains to be heavily compromised.
Women in India suffer from yet another advantage. They are not allowed to have combat roles in the armed forces. According to a study female officers are excluded from induction in close combat arms, where chances of physical contact with the enemy are high. Even a permanent commission has not been granted to female officers.
Gender Inequality Index (GII) is a new index for the measurement of gender disparity that was introduced in the 2010 Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). According to the Gender Gap Index 2011 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India was ranked 113 out of 135 countries polled. This represents a poor distribution of resources and opportunities amongst the male and female.
Since independence, many laws have been promulgated to protect women’s rights. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on several grounds including sex and recognises the principle of equality for all before the law and of opportunity in matters relating to employment. Women’s empowerment in India is a challenging task because gender-based discrimination is deep-rooted social malice. This sexual discrimination can be erased only through awareness of the ‘problem’ at all levels in society.
Acknowledging the presence of a problem will lead to solutions sooner or later. While the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women has to be the goal, what is important is a fundamental change in the misogynistic attitudes that exist in our society.
(This was excerpted from the book ‘No strings Attached: Writings on Odisha’ by Bhaskar Parichha. Click here to buy)
About the Book: No Strings Attached : Writings on Odisha
The past twenty years have been action-packed in Odisha’s millennial history – political bluntness, natural adversity, economic deceleration, community resilience and so forth. All these are part of the narrative of this book. Every single piece in the collection is the upshot of an occurrence. There are profiles, there is politics, and there are controversies and issues that have been part of the larger political process. The book is an Eldorado.
About the Author: Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are solely of those of the author.