India’s urban women have long risked harm just by walking down the street. Now there are signs of progress, in burgeoning programs to make spaces safer and increase penalties for assailants. This feature explores the steps taken by local Indian women to lessen horrific crimes and keep them safe.
(This appears in The November issue of Nat Geo Magazine, which kicks off the magazine’s yearlong celebration of women who fearlessly push boundaries and inspire the next generation of changemakers. This is the first ever issue written and photographed exclusively by women)
My mother, one of India’s first women cops, often tells me, “You are lucky. Things were harder when we were young.”
I am not sure if I am lucky at all. At best, I find myself hanging in the middle of nowhere. My mother’s generation at least had the hope of a change. And I am supposed to be the change. But am I?
So much has changed in India since my mother stepped out to work. But two things have remained unchanged — women’s lives and empowerment, and how the men control it.
In her time, it was controlled by her male relatives. In my time, it’s controlled by random males.
“My brother and sister are very small. My grandmother is old and ill. If I don’t help my mother, she will not be able to manage especially during harvest season when she goes to the fields at 4 am to help my father,” Neha tells me.
It will be a decade in August since the Indian Parliament passed the Act. In 2010, when the act was implemented, TIME asked: “School is a Right, But Will Indian Girls Be Able to Go?” The skepticism was hidden in the question. The skepticism is now a fact, backed by statistics.
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India recently topped a Thomson-Reuters poll to emerge as the most dangerous country for women. Seven years back it had been number four on the same list. The 2018 report has hurt ‘national pride’ and led to widespread criticism on social media. The women’s ministry and the government – led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party – rushed to reject the findings of the report as inaccurate.Congress president Rahul Gandhi was trolled severely for tweeting the results of the poll. Never mind that the BJP and its supporters had gleefully taunted the then UPA government in 2011 with results of the same poll. In 2018, India being the fourth most dangerous country for women was shameful. But the same report in 2018 is “flaky.”
What has changed between 2011 and 2018? Nothing and everything.
The ground situation for women has not changed. Women are still routinely abused, killed and raped. But our reactions have changed. Earlier, we used to outrage at the findings of reports. Now we outrage at the reports.
The unpaved road leads to a haphazard colony of mostly makeshift and a few pucca houses in Mauranipur, in Jhansi district in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region. The lanes are narrow, the sewers are blocked with fallen leaves and sludgy water. Cows masticate nonchalantly on a sliver of ground visible from between two houses.
The daughters-in-law of Mishraji, the owner of a mom-and-pop store, are slaving over a mud oven, getting dinner ready, rolling out perfect round rotis and roasting them directly over the coal fire. Sangeeta and Bipan wipe off beads of sweat from their faces with the ends of their saris. The heat of the burning coals had hiked the temperature in the courtyard in the centre of their home. Sangeeta’s little daughter wanders in, smiling shyly at me.
“Do you go to school?” I ask her. “No,” she sulks.
Why are Indian men feeling unsafe? Nilanjana Bhowmick reacts to the ‘unease’ expressed by Indian men in today’s #MeToo era.
In 2013, a coalition government led by the Indian National Congress, the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA), had approved a draft Communal Violence Bill. The bill made communal violence, including hate propaganda, punishable by law and also allowed for prevention and control of communal violence, speedy investigation and trials, and rehabilitation of victims. It also held public servants accountable for any acts of commission and omission while handling communal violence.