High Timewomen Safety Became An Electoral Issue

‘Women Safety Hasn’t Improved, But Worsened Under Yogi’

Raveena Nijjar, a 26-year-old employee with a software group in Noida (Uttar Pradesh), says it is high timewomen safety became an electoral issue

I have been catcalled, molested and harassed at public places, not once but multiple times. This is not just my story but the story of every woman out there in India. But this story becomes more horrible for women when it comes to Uttar Pradesh.

I am a 26-year-old girl, who works in a software company in Noida and consider myself strong and independent. I think I am brave and project myself as one. Despite this outward self-assurance, there’s deep down a constant fear of being harmed — molested, kidnapped, raped — when I am alone out there on the road.

I have seen BJP electoral campaign which speaks about women feeling safe in the state under Yogi Adityanath rule. I beg to differ. Instead of improving, the situation has only deteriorated in the past few years. There’s been continuous rise of crime against women and the intensity of the crime has been increasing each passing day.

You open the newspaper and you see horrible stories of crime against women splashed all over — raped for protesting against sexual advances, burnt alive for dowry, acid poured for refusing proposal… the list goes on. If you further focus at the place of the news, you’ll see the state of Uttar Pradesh where a majority of such incidents are happening.

On top of this, the saddest part is the attitude of political parties towards our safety. It’s bizarre and outrageous to make such claims that the incumbent government in Uttar Pradesh has addressed the issue of women safety in the state.

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Though the recent claim by the current government that UP women can go out at night without fear is not even close to the truth, this can be a point that women should not let go. If a political leader has talked about it, women should come together, rally around this and press for it in this election in Uttar Pradesh. We don’t need such lip service; we need real safety.

Our political leaders are far from reality on the ground. I believe that it’s time for women in Uttar Pradesh to hold political parties accountable and demand safety for themselves. We should make it an election issue now. High time.

This country is talking about increasing the participation of women in the workforce. But this participation will only increase when the government addresses the core issue of women safety. I work at night shifts and the shift ends at an odd hour, when the entire road is deserted. It’s every day’s fear for me and other girls to reach home safely.

I have spent some time in other states like Karnataka (in Bengaluru) and Maharashtra (in Mumbai). As a woman, I have felt safer travelling around there. But, when you land in Uttar Pradesh (in Noida), you suddenly feel many pair of eyes chasing you. However, the situation is better in cities compared to the hinterland of the state, where the horror stories of crime and injustices against women can send shivers down your spine.

As told to Md. Tausif Alam

Economist and Women’s Rights Activist

‘Marriage Cannot Be Treated As A Licence To Rape Spouse’

Dr Shruti Kapoor, an economist and women’s rights activist, considers marriage a union of equals, and says consent is the key in any relationship

Marital rape by definition is an act of non-consensual sex or unwanted sexual acts with one’s spouse. If you consult our law books, the Section 375 of Indian Penal Code defines rape as “non-consensual sexual intercourse with a woman”. However, the law then exempts the husband from any penal consequences if he forces intercourse on his wife without her consent, given that his wife is above the age of 15 years.

Clearly, there is a discrepancy in our law which avoids marital rape from ambit of conviction. Marital rape is still not considered as a crime in India for a host of reasons including cultural stigma and shame around marital rape. We feel okay for a husband to demand sex, not take consent into consideration. In our society the institution of marriage translates to ownership of a woman’s body.

Take a look at the global scenario in this context. There are 150 countries around the world which have criminalised marital rape. Still, in many countries, forced sex in a marriage remains outside the criminal law. India is one of the 36 countries which are yet to consider it a crime in law books. Indeed, we are in a minority here.

A marriage is a union of equals, and consent is the key in any relationship. Marriages should not be a license to rape and why would any woman want to remain married to a man who rapes her or abuses he?

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It is deplorable that our judicial system is hesitating to challenge the status quo. In August this year, the Chhattisgarh High Court observed that sexual intercourse, or for that matter any sexual act, by a husband with his spouse would not constitute rape even if it was forcible or against the consent of a legally wedded wife. The Kerala High Court reflected a similar sentiment in more guarded words. “In a married life, sex is reflection of the intimacy of the spouse,” said the High Court.

However, we beg to differ. In my view, forced sex even within marriage is gross violation of a woman’s human rights. Rape is a rape, whether in a marriage or outside. Just because one is married, it does not gives one the right to force oneself on a non-consenting partner.

Critics often argue that bringing a law against marital rape will spark a litany of fake allegations of and many women will misuse its provisions. My argument here is that fake allegations and misuse of law can occur in any criminal act. Fear of misuse of a law cannot be used as an excuse against millions of woman who are raped under the institution of marriage. In any case, the percentage of fake allegations would only be a negligible fraction to the number of woman who are raped daily in their marriages.

Dr Shruti Kapoor is also founder of Sayfty, an initiative to educate and empower women against all forms of violence

‘I Lit My Mom’s Pyre Because It Was Only Fair To Do So’

When Ajmer-based Deepika Sharma lost her mother to a heart attack in 2016, she along with her younger sisters Jyotsana and Purnima performed her last rites, a role traditionally reserved for male members. Sharma empathises with actress Mandira Bedi who was recently trolled for performing the last rites of her husband

I felt both surprised and sad to see that even today amid so much awareness about gender equality, a celebrity like Mandira Bedi was trolled for performing the last rites of her late husband Raj Kaushal and her choice of clothes during cremation. Do these troll have any idea what it means to have lost a loved one.

In December 2016, I lost my mother to an unexpected heart attack. We are three sisters and when the time came to bid a final goodbye to my mother, not once did my father or any of us sisters think that we needed a male member or relative to perform the last rites.

I am proud to say that our extended family also stood by us, supported us and shared our grief during the emotional turmoil we were going through at that time. We know that traditionally women are not approved of lighting the funeral pyre of the deceased in families; in some cases they are not even allowed to enter the cremation spot. My question is: why?

The fiesty Sharma sisters: (L to R) Deepika, Jyotsana and Purnima

Why should women be not allowed to participate in the last rites of a family member? Who has prescribed that these ritual are the responsibility of only male members? Why can’t women perform the funeral rites and light the pyre when it is them who are the caretakers of the family, often sacrificing their career and ambitions? Women have achieved parity with men in all the fields. Why should performing last rites be any exception then?

Come to think of it, are we doing the right thing by not letting a daughter or wife witness the last rites of her lost family members? Is it fair that a male member or a distant relative is roped in to light the pyre instead of the deceased’s own daughter or wife?

When we decided to take that step, we didn’t see it as breaking the stereotype. For us, this was the only fair thing to do: that is how our beloved mother’s last journey had to be. Our mother shared with us how she had been subjected to taunts for not begetting a male child. But she never made us feel any less and made sure that each one of us became able and independent. 

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We owe it to our mother. She was a woman of strong grit and determination. During her time, when working women were a rarity, my mother fought against all odds to take up a job. I must mention here that my father was a big pillar of strength in the family. If one’s partner stands by your side, there is nothing one cannot achieve. She could never be bogged down for not bearing a male heir because of my father’s love and support.

I am glad to see that the times are changing, slowly but certainly. There have been many cases that we get to read about and see around us where women too lit the funeral pyre of their parents and performed funeral rites breaking the stereotype.

I do not find anything wrong in following and believing traditions that are being passed on to us from our ancestors but when it comes to this particular one, I strongly feel  every woman be it a daughter or a wife deserves to be present during the funeral of her parents/ husband if she wishes to.

As Told To Mamta Sharma