Discrimination against women and girls has been a long-running and widespread phenomenon that characterises Indian society at every level.
Over the past few decades, the feminist movement has progressed rapidly. However, equality is still a distant dream despite several people having advocated for change and working towards a more inclusive society.
Looking back at 2020, some incidents have highlighted the gender disparity in the country where gender issues faced by both men and women are yet to be addressed.
Though with the COVID-19 outbreak, most countries were focused on fighting the public health crisis, it also gave rise to shadowed violence. The lockdown has had completely different implications on women than men.
The National Commission for Women (NCW) has reported that it received more than 13,410 complaints of violence across the country since March to September 18 this year, out of which 4,350 are registered under ‘Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005’.
Based on data from the National Bureau of Economic Research, domestic violence and cybercrime against women have increased by 131 percent and 184 percent respectively, while instances of rape and sexual assault decreased by 119 percent during the month of May in India’s red zones.
The latest survey by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) states that over 30 percent of women suffered sexual and physical violence by their spouses in five out of 20 surveyed states and union territories in the country — the five states being Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Mizoram, and Telangana.
Talking about the violence against women, we cannot forget the Harthas rape incident that took the country by storm. In September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped and brutally assaulted in Hathras district, Uttar Pradesh by four upper caste men. The victim, after fighting for her life for two weeks, died in a Delhi hospital.
The gaping wound of the Hathras incident in Uttar Pradesh threw light on the harsh and inhuman realities of gender and caste-based atrocities that our country faces.
The incident highlighted the plight of people from lower castes, with many associations of savarna castes supporting the accused. Initially, the police and other officials had even tried to deny that the rape had even happened.
To worsen the scenario, the police also cremated the body without her family’s permission at night, reflecting how they are denied the right to dignity even after death.
Moreover, it is statistically evident that Dalit women are more vulnerable to sexual violence than savarna women. On average, 10 Dalit women were raped every day in India last year, according to official figures, and Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of cases of violence against women of any state.
However, it was not just the incident that was disturbing but also the reactions and statements of the event.
"Sex is a natural urge in men. It is sometimes said that after food, the next requirement is sex", posted Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju on social media soon after the Harthas event.
He faced backlash after his statement for perpetuating rape culture. Furthermore, he was slammed for shifting the blame from the rapists to economic problems, and reducing women to objects for sexual gratification.
After a few months, noted actor Mukesh Khanna received criticism for his comments on working women. In an interview, he stated, “Men and women are different. Both of them are different in terms of their creation. Women’s domain is to take care of household chores. The issue of MeToo began when women started working outside the house. Today, women talk about working shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts.”
Also read: How Rape Culture Silences Its Victims
The victimisation of women or putting the blame on them is not, however, an uncommon practice in India. A popular example is that of actor Anushka Sharma who always gets dragged into news whenever her husband and Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli fails to perform well on the ground.
Very recently, she was criticised when Virat decided to take paternity leave from playing in Australia to be present during the birth of their child. There were reactions from the public where he was asked to even cancel the leave.
There had been many such incidents reported in the past where the blame for the weak performance of cricketers and athletes fell on the women and girls related to them.
For instance, after the defeat of Chennai Super Kings in a match with Kolkata Knight Riders in the thirteenth edition of IPL, the trolls bombarded Mahendra Singh Dhoni with abuses. A user even issued rape threats against his five-year-old daughter Ziva Dhoni on social media.
Later, it was found that the user was a 16-year-old boy from Gujarat. He was arrested by the Gujarat Police and then sent to Ranchi for further interrogation. The minor confessed to having posted the threats due to the defeat of Dhoni’s team in IPL 2020.
A minor threatening a five-year-old with rape to let his frustration out speaks volumes about the misogynistic mindsets of the men and boys in the country.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)