In the language of history, monuments speak for themselves. The ramparts of the Red Fort is where the word stream of India’s past and future meet every Independence Day, when successive prime ministers spell out their vision for a new and progressive India—for the coming year and thereafter. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will deliver his fourth address, adding to the 67 speeches delivered earlier by 12 Prime Ministers so far. Each one of them communicated their idea of India and a future road map to achieve their vision with or without a clearly defined mission.
All 13 prime ministers, including Modi, have expounded on policy decisions, social and economic schemes and other measures to make India more affluent and a better place to live in. Repetition is the bane of political declarations; promises keep re-appearing in successive Independence Day speeches, revealing the sad truth that the majority of vows remain unfulfilled though most of the promise-makers themselves have passed on. Even after 70 years, the dream of providing electricity to every village and a roof for every Indian remains barren. Of all the economic, social and diplomatic maladies that blight the nation, the abominable plight of our women has been dominating a large portion of 71 prime ministerial addresses.
Over seven decades, India’s prime ministers have been assuring a safe India for women from the safe heights of Shah Jahan’s imposing edifice. However, Narendra Modi gave gender trauma a new dimension by questioning the moral and social partiality prevalent in society on women’s safety. In his maiden, hour-long Independence Day speech on August 15, 2014, he questioned the conduct of boys. “Have we asked our sons as to what he is doing and where is he going?” was his question.
The Prime Minister demanded that all parents should impose the same restrictions they would like to place on their daughters, on their sons as well. Unfortunately, three years later when he ascends the stairs of the Red Fort, he would be carrying the realisation that his advice has been largely ignored by India’s male-dominated society.
For the past few weeks, newspapers and news channels are aflame with frightening news on the growing incidents of stalking, assault and rape of young girls and teenagers from Chandigarh to Thiruvananthapuram. The son of a BJP leader and his friend were arrested for chasing the daughter of an IAS officer in Chandigarh last week. In a cow belt state, two girls were burnt alive while they were sleeping under a mosquito net. In a southern state, a film star was kidnapped by well-connected villains.
In the past three years, Modi has given fresh ideas and directions to the nation. He has laid down plans to convert filth-ridden India into Swachh Bharat, He has spoken about the digital revolution and the need for a healthy India. He has shaken up every section and sector of society and the economy through disruptive interventions and innumerable innovations. However, he has been badly let down by the establishment in the states and the Centre in ensuring a safer India for women. In his own words, "Mind is never a problem. Mindset is”; summing up the malaise plaguing the Indian psyche today.
Despite stringent laws, crimes against women have risen by almost 100 per cent in the past decade according to government data. In the last three years alone, cases of violence registered against women have gone up by almost 40 percent. Around 30 such cases are reported every hour across India. It’s worrisome that inspite of a successful nationwide protest seeking speedy justice in the Nirbhaya rape and murder case, the number of rapes and other serious offences against women has shown a sharp increase in India’s capital city. Rape cases in Delhi went up from 706 in 2012 to 2,199 in 2016; cases of assault with the intention to abduct increased from 727 to 4,165 during the same period.
It’s not youth with criminal mindsets who pose the biggest threat to the safety of India’s women. Despite growing literacy and prosperity, they are physically abused the most by family members. In the past decade, over a million cases of cruelty by husbands and relatives (12 per hour) have been registered all across the country. Surprisingly, the relatively richer and more literate states such as Andhra Pradesh and Kerala top this dismal list.
Social scientists, political leaders and public figures blame the judiciary and the police for not stopping the threat. Since the conviction rate in criminal cases of crimes against women is less than 25 per cent in the country, sex criminals are emboldened to unleash their lust and murderous rage on helpless women and girls. With support from the political establishment, they get away because its men who control the justice delivery system. In a country of 1.25 billion, there are only three women chief ministers; less than 5 per cent of judges in the country are female.
Even in the Supreme Court, the count of female judges has been dwindling over the past decade. The number of women District Magistrates, senior cops, Home Secretaries, home ministers and even jail superintendents is abysmally low. Of the 7,000-strong IAS fraternity, hardly 300 women officers occupy important postings.
No political party, which swears by women’s reservation in legislatures, has fought for the passage of the Women Reservation Bill, which has been pending in Parliament for over a decade. Moreover, not even 5 per cent of the office bearers of all political parties put together are women. It is strange that while women are traditionally trusted with household budgets, none of them is the treasurer of a party.
Since one of Modi’s icons is Swami Vivekananda, he may well recall the sage’s advice on how to treat women. “Can you better the condition of your women? Then there will be hope for your wellbeing. Otherwise you will remain as backward as you are now,” Vivekananda wrote to his mentor 134 years ago from Chicago where the Americans had given him a rousing welcome. Modi would be well advised to consolidate his hold over his massive political female following by enunciating his resolve in his Independence Day speech to create a safe and positive environment for women to make them productive partners in his New India endeavour.
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