Women’s ‘Empowerment’?

The Modi Government has pointedly ignored most of the major demands of the women’s movement. As was pointed out in the Budget feature of the August issue of Liberation, the Government has actually cut back on spending on crucial areas relating to women’s safety. The recommendations made by the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), including repeal of AFSPA and an end to criminalization of marital rape, as well as setting up of functional rape crisis centres, are yet to be implemented. India’s response was quite shameful. The Indian Government representative, presenting its report to the CEDAW, claimed “Respect for women and their rights flow from the ancient traditions of the Indian civilization and are now enshrined into the Constitution and laws of modern India.” One wonders which ‘ancient traditions’ he was talking about – child marriage, sati, the caste system, or perhaps the Manusmriti? The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, hd remarked that “Violence against women in India is systematic and occurs in the public and private spheres,” and that “the physical, sexual and psychological abuse of women in the private sphere is widely tolerated by the State and the community.” The Indian Government, in its written response on June 6 before the UN Human Rights Council, declared that “Such a sweeping remark smacks of a highly prejudiced state of mind.”

Of course, violence against women in systematic in every country, and India need not be singled out on that count. But how the Indian Government deny the very existence, in our country, of systematic, wide-spread gender violence that is tolerated by State and society? Are Indian women also ‘highly prejudiced’ when they protest against gender discrimination and violence?

Matters are made worse when people in responsible, elected positions, or the police force, trivialize rape or blame women for rape. The Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently said, in a public speech, “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism.” So, in the eyes of the Finance Minister, rape is ‘small’, media coverage of rape is ‘advertisement’; rape’s ‘cost’ can be counted only in terms of its loss of ‘crores’ of tourism revenue, not in terms of its loss to women’s rights. Jaitley did not even regret his remark, he only regretted that others had ‘misconstrued’ his remark.

Modi never loses an opportunity to boast of his ‘Gujarat model’ which he promises to implement in India. The Gujarat police, in Porbander, are speaking the voice of the khaps. They issued a poster on ‘Women’s Empowerment’, advising girls not to wear jeans and T-shirts, and likewise advising parents to monitor their daughters’ cell phones. One wonders if the Gujarat police’s interest in snooping on women’s cell phones stems from their experience of snooping for ‘Saheb’. The PM’s silence and tacit approval for these measures proves that in his Independence Day speech, he was not opposing but in fact rationalizing restrictions on girls.

In order to cover up the shameful state of affairs on the front of women’s rights and safety, the Modi Government is now pushing to roll back rights of children. It is proposing changes in the Juvenile Justice Act, in the name of severe punishment for juvenile rapists, that will in fact promote crime in society, rather than deter it.

In the name of ‘empowering’ women, the Modi Government is also moving to make changes in labour laws to allow night shifts for women. This ‘gift horse’ also needs to be looked at carefully before blindly accepting it.

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