Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani’s address at the United Nations on Thursday on women empowerment has left Twitter baffled, as it comes at a time when there is massive outrage over the death and forced cremation of of a 19-year-old woman in Hathras.
“The government of India took a series of measures for ensuring safety, security and wellbeing of women during the coronavirus pandemic,” she said at the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women. “India remains ready to work with all international partners to build a more just and equal post-Covid world for us and our daughters.”
She also said that today, India is attaching the highest priority to ensuring gender parity in all spheres of life and elimination of all forms of gender-based discrimination. “Several of our legislations in India such as those pertaining to sexual harassment of women at workplace, protection of women from domestic violence, protection of children from sexual offences, and our criminal laws’ amendments have been strong enablers of women empowerment and protection of children especially girls, over the past six years.”
Irani’s statement comes just a few days after the body of the 19-year-old Hathras was allegedly forcibly cremated by the Uttar Pradesh police without her family’s permission. The case has sparked protests in several parts of the country with the opposition demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and imposition of President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh.
The woman was allegedly raped by four men from the dominant caste and died on Tuesday at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital.
A senior police officer in Lucknow said on Thursday that the forensic examination on the woman did not indicate rape. ADG (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said the cause of her death is an injury to the neck and trauma resulting due to it, citing a forensic science laboratory (FSL) report.
“Even the woman in her statement to police did not mention about rape but talked about marpeet (beating) only,” he was quoted as saying by PTI.
However, several reports had earlier pointed out that in her statement to the police on 22 September, the woman had said that four men raped her on 14 September. The accused were arrested and charged with attempt to murder, which was changed to murder after her death and the charges of gang-rape were added after the woman’s statement (see reports here, here and here).
The role of the Uttar Pradesh police is also being questioned, with the National Commission for Women (NCW) seeking an explanation from the police on the urgency to cremate the woman’s body.
The woman’s father has said he was being pressured by government officials and demanded a CBI probe into the matter, according to PTI.
Several other cases of crimes against women have also been reported just over the past few days. A 22-year-old Dalit woman died on Tuesday after allegedly being raped by two men in Uttar Pradesh’s Balrampur district. Police said that the accused have been arrested. Here’s an incomplete list of crimes against women reported from just Uttar Pradesh since March.
Congress had slammed Irani over the case with spokesperson Supriya Shrinate asking her to break her “conspicuous silence” on the issue. “I expect her to break her conspicuous silence and speak on these issues. You are not just an MP from UP, you are also the Child and Development Minister. It is your moral responsibility to come out in the open and talk about these issues, because silence makes you complicit with crimes like these.”
In an interview to The Economic Times on Thursday, Irani said she spoke to the UP Chief Minister and Home Ministry officials regarding this case. “I reached out because I wanted to ensure speedy justice. An SIT has been announced. The CM has assured us that the accused will get the harshest punishment, which I hope is hanging them until death.”
“In my constitutional position I have reached out to everyone possible to ensure the girl and the family justice....I feel assured by the CM that a fast track court will ensure a speedy trial.. but as a woman, can I get her back? I am sure a speedy trial will be done, but I hope they hang, and they hang soon.”
Several people on Twitter criticised Irani after her speech at the UN.
(With PTI inputs)