As India celebrates its 66th Independence day today, on the 15th of August, us women are still struggling for our basic Rights promised to all citizens on the eve of this day, back in 1947 by our most trusted Constitution.
Although the Preamble is not an integral part of the Indian Constitution, it is a brief introductory statement that sets the guidelines of the legal document.
For a country that is itself referred in feminine grammatical gender, its women are unsafe, unhappy, unrecognized and underpaid. “In India, women and girls continue to be sold as chattels, married off as young as 10, burned alive as a result of dowry-related disputes and young girls exploited and abused as domestic slave labour,” says Gulshun Rehman, health program development adviser at Save the UK, told Reuters during a recent poll conducted by TrustLaw, a legal news service by Thomson Reuters Foundation in which India leads the pack of G20 as the worst country for women to live.
This survey was based on Countries with policies that promote safe health care, freedom of violence, women in politics, workplace opportunities, access to resources like education and poverty rights, and ending human trafficking and slavery. India was chosen as the worst based on issues of infanticide, child marriage and slavery identified by a poll of 370 gender specialists worldwide.
We all know those aren’t the only issues that cripples our nation as far as gender equality and women empowerment is concerned.
The word ‘Socialist‘ was added to our Preamble in the 42nd Amendment and it implies social and economic equality i.e. the absence of discrimination on the grounds only of caste, colour, creed, sex, religion, or language; Under social equality, everyone has equal status and opportunities. In paper though, it sounds ideal, has it really happened?
· Female feticide, infanticide, child marriage, domestic violence, sexual violence, and sexual harassment at the work place to the treatment meted out to elderly women makes any thinking person to wonder at the nature of the society. Participation of women in the decision-making bodies be they within the home, workplace or community is marginal, never reaching even 25% of the total population of women in India.
· Women are forced to change their jobs or seek transfers on account of Sexual Harassment.
· Most of the women’s work, inside the house goes unnoticed and unremunerated. Even outside the family they remain underpaid.
· In terms of horizontal segregation, women are concentrated in low –paying positions such as secretary, typist, beautician, nurse, caregiver and assembly – line worker. “Equal work but unequal pay” is still a common practice in India’s private sector.
· According to statistics from the United Nations “Women constitute 50% of the World population, do two third of the work, get 10% of the total income and own 1% of the total assets”. While this is a global fact, the picture is much more pathetic in India.
· Children living in this environment and witnessing the differential role pattern of the man and the woman learn the lessons of gender inequality right from their childhood and the pattern is bound to continue generation after generation.
· Women constitute a significant part of the workforce in India but they lag behind men in terms of work participation and quality of employment. According to Government sources, out of 407 million total workforce, 90 million are women workers, largely employed (about 87 percent) in the agricultural sector as labourers and cultivators. In urban areas, the employment of women in the organised sector in March 2000 constituted 17.6 percent of the total organised sector.
· The existence of discriminatory laws, the fact that the laws fail to take account of rural women’s special situation, and the adherence to paternalistic and male-oriented customs which hinder the implementation of, or fill the gaps in, non-discriminatory legislation, have helped to keep rural women in a subordinate position. www.legalservicesindia.com
Nothing could be lower than the lowest that our women go through in this country, this section of women called the ‘Valmikis‘ or the manual scavengers of dry feces that clean out public toilets. In spite of modernization, major part of India still uses traditional dry, non-flush toilets that expose these manual scavengers to many bio-hazards such as “the most virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections which affect their skin, eyes, limbs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. TB (tuberculosis) is rife among the community,” states the UN report.
Armed only with a tin plate and broom as proper equipment to protect them from illness is not provided to them, these women pile human feces into baskets and carry on their heads for distances up to 2 miles. Often the contents drip into their hair, faces, and bodies.
The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine Act of 1993 states that, “No person shall engage in or employ for or permit to be engaged in or employed by any other person for manually carrying human excreta; or to construct or maintain a dry latrine.
In spite of its being “illegal” the practice and use of manual scavengers continues in many low-income urban and rural parts of India today. Legal loopholes and non-enforcement of the law on manual scavenging continues in many parts of India, even as organizations protecting the rights of manual scavengers present detailed reports.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of this nation himself stated back in 1921, “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex (not the weaker sex).”
- 45% of Indian girls are married before the age of 18, according to the International Centre for Research on Women (2010).
- 56,000 maternal deaths were recorded in 2010 (UN Population Fund).
- Research from UNICEF in 2012 found that 52% of adolescent girls (and 57% of adolescent boys) think it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife.
- According to the National Crime Records Bureau in India, there was a 7.1% hike in recorded crimes against women between 2010 and 2011.
- The biggest leap was in cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act (up 27.7%), of kidnapping and abduction (up 19.4% year on year) and rape (up 9.2%).
- A preference for sons and fear of having to pay a dowry has resulted in 12 million girls being aborted over the past three decades, according to a 2011 study by the Lancet.
These polls, numbers and statistics may highlight the grave situation in India, but even these cannot voice the hurt, pain, desolation, humiliation that women in our country go through everyday, to varying extent. There is a need to secure our women, give them opportunities to shine, let their voices be heard.
We do not agree to being the “weaker sex”. We do not want your charity, your pity or your security. All we need is your recognition, acceptance and respect so we can come out of the dark and live up to our full potential.
66 years down the line, we are still fighting for independence in hopes that one day it shall be ours.
Happy Independence Day to those that glide free for ours is yet to come.