Friday, Jan 18, 2019 | Last Update : 12:23 AM IST
It should be obvious on the evidence of the last few years that merely passing new laws, or including harsher punishments for old ones, is not enough.
“The most beautiful flower is the rose
With triangular thorns on every stem
A reminder that beauty’s tempting pose
Has painful traps attached — beware of them”
From The Dillitante
Some years ago the United Nations, or some branch of it, published a survey on the happiest nations in the world. The result was brought to the attention of a circle of friends at a literary conference.
I can’t recall which country was declared the happiest in the world. Perhaps it was Sweden, where socialism makes people happy, or North Korea, where the people who were surveyed give “happy” answers (and where the dogs are nervous!).
What makes me remember the survey’s results was that it named the second-happiest country in the world. No, gentle reader, not the US before Donald Trump or Saudi Arabia where women used to be driven — but Bangladesh!
The group I was sitting with were astounded. Some of us had been to Bangladesh and most of us knew its history. The question was of course, what criteria had the survey on happiness used? It seemed a curious conclusion. The surveyors offered no operative statistical justification.
I have since been to Bangladesh several times but haven’t wandered very far from Dhaka, so am no qualified observer of the country. I am aware that it is now a substantial supplier of stitched clothing to the West; runs thousands of sweatshops whose fire regulations or lack of their enforcement have resulted in the deaths of poorly-paid workers; has crises of climate such as hurricanes and floods and in recent months carries the burden of a vast refugee crisis of Rohingyas fleeing terror from Myanmar.
It’s possible that there are circumstances and satisfactions of which I know nothing which qualify as happy-making. One of the petty details that gave me pause for thought on the streets of Dhaka was that when cars stopped at the traffic lights, street vendors approached them, selling pirated copies of Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Grey, several other popular tiles and — wait for it — Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf! This wasn’t an isolated occurrence. The book was being sold on most of the days I was there on very many street corners. Did it make the population happy? It was not a Bengali translation and, though sold with Harry Potter, was perhaps not as popular — but which made the readers happier?
In the statistical game, criteria is all!
This week, relying on the findings of 550 “experts on women’s issues” the Thomson Reuters Foundation issued a table of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. This survey chooses and points to its criteria.
They are: sexual violence, female slave labour, trafficking for sexual slavery, acid attacks, child marriage and physical abuse in the home.
India, my brothers and sisters, is top of the list. It’s the most dangerous country in the world for women.
Apart from hanging our heads in the most acute shame, we ought as a nation to call a stop. Yes, I was aware before reading this report that the government had passed laws increasing penalties for sexual assault, rape, abuse and violence against women. We are aware that the law against demanding and giving dowries was passed in the 1960s. Ha ha!
There has been an outcry against the traditional (it shames the very word) treatment of women in our very diverse and yet uniform Indian social groupings, rural and urban, northern and southern, one religious community and the other. The abuse is uniform — a dreadful national unifying factor.
Of course there are voices raised, ideologically laudable organisations dedicated to fighting this national disease. Their efforts are undeniably praiseworthy but the incidence of rape and abuse has statistically, dramatically increased.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of our Congress Opposition, has tweeted some attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue. This tweety Trumpishness, Rahulji, is pathetic! Seize the time. Your response should be to immediately appoint a female commission of your party to produce, with a deadline of a week, the premier commitment of any future manifesto to address this universal question. Women on the ground will know better, but the manifesto should promise to recruit a new police force with a million women recruits, equipped with the latest surveillance, anti-crime equipment and powers to fight every aspect that this international report pinpoints?
Not just proposed legislation but practical draconian steps are needed to empower women and to involve the state in the education, propaganda, policing and prosecutions of what the world now sees as India’s degradation.
India can boast the fastest growing economy and begin to take its place in space technology but if within our own population we have a violent and criminal gender gap we are going nowhere.
Perhaps Narendrabhai has seen the report and has come to the conclusion that his party must make the commitment to eradicate the shame of being the most dangerous country in the world for women. If so, he should announce the steps his government will immediately take and let the population, the half a billion women of the country in particular, assess their potential efficacy.
It should be obvious on the evidence of the last few years that merely passing new laws, or including harsher punishments for old ones, is not enough. The political party that urgently formulates a practical initiative which convinces the women of India that it will work — as well as any government initiative can — in the short, medium and long term, will command the votes of more than 50 per cent of the voting population.
Such a programme should go beyond the cities, villages, streets and homes of the country — it should genetically modify the DNA of the nation’s traditions and practices.
It is a priority beyond roti, kapda, makaan, development or religious reassertion. It should even be a prescription and part of the latter. A country that protects its cows should urgently turn to protecting its women.