As someone born and brought up in India I am all too aware of the problem faced by women in public spaces throughout the country. The constant discomfort endured by all the women in my circle of acquaintance; friends, relatives, neighbours, or classmates in school and college; the lewd remarks, the constant brushing up of male bodies in crowded buses or trains, seemingly by accident, but too frequent and widespread to be ignored as accidental; all these made work and travel a constant trial for women in all parts of the country.
The recent headline reports about the rape and murder of a young woman in a Delhi public bus has prompted a spate of disclosures about similar cases in Delhi and all other parts of the country. But these cases are only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg itself is the relentless accumulation of discriminatory behaviour embodied in societal attitudes to women that leads to something much worse than death by a thousand cuts, or death by a thousand slights.
However, life in India is not completely hopeless for women. There are rays of hope everywhere. One has only to look at the number of successful women in public life or in industry, or in rural affairs to find powerful symbols of hope and positive role models. Respect for women is also extolled as a high virtue in classical Hindu mythology and epics. For a nuanced view of the status of women in different parts of the country, with particular reference to the unique matrilineal societies of parts of Kerala and Meghalaya states, see Nita’s blog at
Nita is a professional journalist and her blog is a good source of news and views about India, from India. Also see the link below for a revealing description of reactions of (middle class) people after her second daughter was born.
Although violent crimes against women make most of the headlines, the true long-term risk to Indian society stems from the tragically skewed ratios of male to female births in most parts of India. This is not a battle to be fought in legislatures or law courts, or with more policing and sterner punishments; this is rather a battle for the hearts and minds of an entire populace; a battle against the pull of long-held cultural attitudes, religiously motivated beliefs (whoever decided that God is a HE!). These attitudes and beliefs have been held for so long that people are plain blind to their inherent evil. How else to explain the number of doctors willing to determine the sex of unborn children and then perform the abortion if the foetus happens to be the “wrong” sex? How else to explain the numbers of affluent parents-to-be who demand this service of their physicians and are willing to pay for it, in the full knowledge that it is against the law?
This is a battle that can be won only if fought by all citizens, every day, in every possible way.