I recently came across Barkha Dutt's viral interview clip in which she lambasts a foreign reporter who describes India as unsafe for girls. Like many others, my initial reaction was to feel pride in my childhood idol. But as her response slowly started sinking in, I started to feel uneasy. My gut did not agree with her. Though her arguments sounded reasonable, I knew that her facts were part of an incomplete story. So to appease my restless mind, I decided to investigate and dig out the complete truth about the plight of India's women.
Let's talk figures: 60 million. This number is about the size of the entire populations of Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Portugal put together. This is also the approximate number of women "missing" in India today. However, calling them "missing" is slightly misleading. In fact, "eradicated" is a more apt term. About 60 million women have either been aborted before birth, killed once born, died of neglect, rape or violence, trafficked, murdered by their in-laws for dowry or lost their lives due to early and unregulated childbirth.
Way back in 1986, Noble Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen first used his research to draw attention to the vast divergence in India's natural gender ratio. Where the average male to female ratio in most human populations (where both sexes receive equal care) is about 100:105, Sen, using assessments from the census data, estimated that India was "missing" about 37 million women. They should have been in the population but could not be accounted for. By 2005, almost 20 years since Sen's first alarm, the International Herald Tribune reported that 50 million women were "missing" from India's population. If we extrapolate the census data to create an ideal scenario of gender equity in today's time, India needs to account for 60-70 million missing women. The figure doesn't stand for anything less than genocide.
"About 60 million women have either been aborted before birth, killed once born, died of neglect, rape or violence, trafficked, murdered by their in-laws for dowry or lost their lives due to early and unregulated childbirth."
Let's try to break these statistics down further for a clearer understanding of the issue. As per research done by gender activist Rita Banerjee, the number one means of elimination of the girl child is sex selective foetal abortions in India. An estimated 1 million female foetuses are killed in the womb each year.
Despite gender determination being banned from medical practice under the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act, many illegal clinics operated by unethical medical professionals prevent the numbers from dwindling. Foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion has ballooned into a Rs 1000 crore industry, spanning from posh metropolitan localities to remote villages. In the five-star clinics of south Delhi, it may cost Rs 10,000-plus, in the remote peripheries of the state's border, it only costs a few hundred. Every other day, we read in the papers that foetuses have been recovered in plastic bags from toilets, trash bins, wells and river banks. Social discrimination based on the thought that a girl is nothing but paraya dhan -- a burden of dowry --keeps this racket flourishing, unchecked.
In the case that the gender of the baby goes undetected until birth, newborn girls are often smothered, drowned or strangled to death In her gendercide report, Rita Banerjee also states, "so far there has been no national average estimated for female infanticide, largely because the deed is difficult to track down with there being no administrative compulsion for citizens to register births. Nevertheless, existent data gives an indication of the scale of the practice. According to the 2011 census, India loses more than 3 million girls in infanticide every year."
Even in the case that 1 out of 6 girls survives the early discrimination and negligence in her life to turn 14, she lives in constant fear of violence, rape, acid attacks, trafficking and early marriage. As reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 309,546 cases of crimes against women were reported in 2013 out of which 118,866 constituted domestic violence, 70,739 molestation, 51,881 kidnappings and 33,707 rapes.
"India doesn't need to wait for the remorseless proclamations of another cold-blooded murderer to jolt out of its lethargic conscience."
Domestic violence has been the most reported violent crime against women in the country for the past 10 years. Much of the violence can be attributed to the key challenge of dowry. Despite having laws in place to ban this evil tradition, according to the NCRB in 2013, dowry deaths constituted 3.4% of all crimes against women. In other words, an average 22 women were burnt alive or killed per day because they could not give the groom and his family what they wanted. The NCRB statistics also indicate that an Indian woman is most unsafe in her marital home with 43.6% of all crimes against women being "cruelty" inflicted by her husband and relatives. Too add on, these numbers do not include cases of marital rape since that is not considered as an offence in India. This also translates into the fact the children in India grow up in families where brutal violence against women in the norm.
But the numbers don't tell the complete truth. The rising statistics of rape and assault cases do not necessarily indicate that crime is on the rise. It basically illustrates that women are now reporting the injustice more. Still, the number of women not reporting the crimes is a far bigger statistic, especially in rural areas and villages, where social stigma forces women to stay silent about crimes perpetrated against them.
Crimes apart, India accounts for maximum number of maternal deaths in the world -- nearly 17%. Early age of marriage among women, early age of pregnancy and less spacing between deliveries are some factors contributing to this appalling statistic. In addition, a recent study by Princeton University has revealed that 42% pregnant Indian women are gravely underweight and malnourished. The figure in underdeveloped sub-Saharan Africa is only 16.5%.
In a nutshell, India remains one of worst performers in the Gender Inequality Index (GII) of the UN. The GII captures the loss in achievement within a country due to gender inequality and is based on measures of health, labour force participation and empowerment. In the Human Development Report, 2013, India is ranked 136th out of 186 countries.
To reflect on these global indicators, we must first learn to accept the truth. Denying it won't make it go away. Women don't feel equal or protected in India. This issue needs to be treated like a house on fire. It needs to be a relentless, ruthless fight to the finish, even if it takes decades. Girls need to be educated, illegal rackets must be busted, laws need to be enforced and justice needs to be served faster for effective deterrence. India doesn't need to wait for the remorseless proclamations of another cold-blooded murderer to jolt out of its lethargic conscience.