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Unsafe inside and outside womb

20 Feb


The skewed sex ratio may signal the end of romance, says Rajan Kashyap

Despite numerous odds, women in India today are visibly successful in many professions. Today’s art, literature, drama and films highlight the struggle of the Indian woman against traditional male dominance. Both the print and electronic media have created a new image of the Indian woman, especially the liberated, educated female in an urban milieu. Depicted here is a woman who is no longer timid, shy, withdrawn or subservient. For her “Man to command and woman to obey” is no longer an accepted dictum.

In the grind of a rigorous educational system and in a fiercely competitive environment, the working woman emerges as an achiever. She is convinced that “women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.” She is self-confident, bold and assertive, to the extent of being brash. She knows her mind and excels as a leader of men.

Many Indian women have advanced in life by sustained effort and skill. Be it politics, business, education, medicine or even law and the civil and military services, they shine in comparison with their peers. They are well respected in positions of power. Their performance speaks for itself.

Unfortunately, the instances of individual success and recognition among women are few. The spectacular success of the career women in various fields contrasts starkly with the poor status enjoyed by women as a whole. The majority of women in India still face great handicaps and oppression. From childhood they are subjugated to traditional male dominance at home. After marriage they are sometimes ill-treated by in-laws. Viewed often as mere objects of ownership, they are denied education and a role in selecting their life partner. Women who dare to seek a career or wish to marry by choice are frequently prevented from doing so.

In several states, especially Punjab and Haryana, marriage outside one’s community, or social or income group, is frowned upon. Rigid paternal controls are seen to operate even among Indians settled in foreign lands. In some rural areas, archaic social institutions such as khap panchayats routinely subject young women, and their husbands and lovers, who might infringe the local taboo, to heinous punishment, including death. Strangely, some democratically elected state legislators (MLAs and MPs) seem to have endorsed such extra-legal dictates of their lesser leaders.

Lamenting the discriminatory attitudes prevailing even abroad in the 20th century, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw had observed, “Home is the girl’s prison, and the woman’s workhouse.” Science now provides ready instruments that prevent the fair sex from even taking birth. Techniques such as amniocentesis (taking amniotic fluid around the embryo by piercing a needle at an early stage of pregnancy), and ultrasonography (the imaging of the foetus by use of an ultra sound machine) enable doctors to predict the sex of an unborn child, encouraging the abortion of the girl child at the stage of foetus.

This grisly practice of female foeticide has now taken root in many parts of India. It is justified by a spurious argument that abortion of a partially developed foetus is more humane than the gruesome act of female infanticide, which, in the past, sometimes visited the birth of unwelcome daughters. Perturbed at the practice, the Government of (then British) India had enacted a specific law to punish infanticide a hundred years ago. For those persons who might be squeamish about resorting to abortion, genetic research now provides a more palatable medical intervention to be carried out at the stage of very conception itself. The technique is called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a method that produces embryos through IVF (as for test tube babies) and implanting only those of the preferred gender into the womb.

In India, the enactment, tediously named the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, prohibits all such techniques. Sadly, the law has not been able to prevent desperate couples from establishing a criminal nexus with compliant doctors for testing and abortion, or from travelling abroad (Thailand is a convenient destination!) for undergoing the medical procedures. If technology is becoming sophisticated by the day, transgression of the law is cleverer still.

How ineffective the Act has been can be gauged from the findings of a Report of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare tabled in Parliament in September 2010. The report notes that during 2009-10 only 139 cases under the Act were registered in the entire country. The same official document shows that the female: male sex ratio in various states varies between 836 (Punjab) and 964(Kerala). An earlier media report (May 2007) had found that of the total number of 416 cases filed under the Act until 2007, only 15 had resulted in conviction. The report estimated that as many as 50 million female foetuses might have been aborted illegally. Numerous other authentic studies reaffirm that the practice of female foeticide is widespread all over India, the worst states being Punjab and Haryana. They also find that the law has been infringed with impunity.

In India’s ancient scriptures, Vedas, the Puranas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, the female was well respected, was celebrated as the font of creation (the janani) and as an equal half of her husband (ardhangini). Many Hindu deities are worshipped as proud and powerful goddesses (Durga, Kali etc.) The Sikh Gurus extolled the ideal of equality between the sexes. The Old Testament of the Bible is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims. It depicts the woman as equal to man, the “flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone.”

By law, oppression exploitation and violence are a crime. By religious belief such acts are regarded as sinful. Why do then these evils continue to pervade society? Answers can be found in the mores accepted by members of various strata of Indian society. A recent news report mentioned certain information on the wealth and property made public by members of the higher judiciary of India. In officially declaring her assets and liabilities, no less a personage than a sitting female Judge of the Supreme Court of India is shown to have included her daughters at the top of the list of her liabilities. The monetary value of gilt-edged securities and bank deposits etc with the Judge, shown in the assets column of her property return, would presumably have offset the burden borne by her in mothering girls.

Some obvious conclusions from this morbid news item: that a daughter is deemed a financial setback, if not a disaster for her parents; that if even a venerated Judge is powerless to stand up to vicious and regressive social attitudes, the middle and lower classes could hardly be expected to do so; and that in regard to gender equality any change in the mindset of the population at large is yet to occur.

It is universally accepted that females, constituting half the total population of a nation, are intrinsically as productive as males. They can contribute significantly to its economic development. If women in India are presently unable to perform productively and deliver to their true potential, it is for want of adequate social support in terms of facilities for education, health etc. It requires no special economic brilliance to understand the premise that the strength of such a huge section of population needs to be harnessed for a strong, vibrant nation.

Despite the government’s lofty announcements for ending gender discrimination and consequential legal enactments, the sex ratio in the country continues to plunge. In a recent publication Empower Women (2010), Leena Chawla Rajan brings out some startling conclusions from an analysis of data of UN studies and the Census of India. Analysing the UN data, the author observes that among the world’s ten most populated countries, India’s sex ratio (at 936) is the second lowest after China (927). The figures for other countries are Russia (1164), Japan (1053) Brazil (1031), USA (1027), Indonesia (1003), Nigeria (995) and Bangladesh (978). Even Pakistan, at 942, ranks above India.

From the Census data, Ms Rajan finds that the child sex ratio (age group 0-6 years) has steadily declined from 976 in 1961 to 927 in 2001. The last Census report of 2001 shows that sex selection is more prevalent in urban areas than in rural areas, that educated families are aborting babies at a faster rate than illiterate families and that sex selection occurs across all religions. If these figures are depressing, the Census 2011, currently under progress, could soon give further cause for alarm.

As the number of females in proportion to males recedes, the physically weaker sex is likely to be treated as a scarce commodity, the physical acquisition of which could be fuelled in future by baser passions and a jungle law. The implications of the trends can be horrendous — for us as individuals today, for our children and their children to come and for the social fabric as a whole. We can foresee gender-related crime growing; the traditional family structure disturbed; the proliferation of homosexuality and prostitution and crimes against women as well as acceleration in the growth of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

In short a decadent society, where respect for the woman begins to vanish. Perhaps the gloomy scenario has already begun to unfold. Nobel-winning novelist William Faulkner feared that a hedonistic world would be led by the glands instead of by the heart.

The vibrancy and strength of a civilisation is often measured by its aesthetic sensibility, which inspires art and literature. Creativity springs from fine human emotion, usually occasioned by romantic love. “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet”, wrote philosopher Plato in an age when the Greek civilisation was at its zenith. (It is sometimes thought that the Greek empire declined as its moral fabric degraded). For English poet Wordsworth, the ideal was: “A perfect woman, nobly planned, /To warn, to comfort and command”.

Jai Shankar Prasad, the doyen of Hindi poetry, found woman to be the epitome of devotion. “Nari tum kewal shraddha ho!” he wrote. Our literature abounds in stories of romantic love, a passion that elevates, even as it sometimes ends in tragedy. The playfulness and delicate irony of Ghalib’s poetry presents the woman in many moods .Many ghazals in Urdu are addressed equally to the beloved and the Almighty God. Khayal gayaki in Indian classical music expresses the yearnings of absent lovers. Woman is frequently the inspiration of great art.

A skewed sex ratio could violently disrupt the man-woman relationship, signalling the end of romance. Sentiment could well be replaced by cynicism, leading to a decline of noble cultural traditions. It is not too late to strive to protect the nation’s spirit from dehumanisation.n

The writer is a former Chief Secretary and Chief Information Commissioner, Punjab



The declining sex ratio

20 Feb

Missing social agenda in Haryana politics

THE data released recently by the Director General Health Services, Haryana, paints a grim picture. An unfathomable ignominy is reflected by the figures. Of the 6.5 lakh registered pregnancies in the state in 2009, only 5.39 lakh delivered baby. In the prevailing social environment, surely, a logical contemplation would imply that a large number of missing pregnancies may have been terminated for the desire to have a male child.

The consequences are perceptible, 17 out of 21 districts in the state (till October 2010) experienced substantial decline in sex ratio at the time of birth in comparison to 2009 figures. This parameter of gender discrimination has shown an alarming declining trend during the last two years.During the current year, there were 838 girls born in comparison to 1000 boys. A cursory look at the worst performing districts — Rewari, Ambala, Kurukshetra, Faridabad and Jhajjar — would suffice to conclude that female foeticide and gender discrimination continue to be rampant all across geographical and cultural precincts in the state.

The statistics provided by National family Health Survey – III also clearly show that the ill-effects of gender discrimination are gripping the state. It reveals that in Haryana 42 per cent (0-3 age group) children are under weight, 27 per cent women have body mass index below normal and 56.5 per cent ever married women are anaemic.

A recent survey conducted by the state government under the Indira Bal Sawasthya Yojana revealed that about 64 per cent (6-11 age group) children are anaemic. Worse, the magnitude of the indicators of poor health of women and children has swollen over the period of time.

The state also does not provide a safe and secure living space to women either. The Tata Strategic Management Group based on the data on gender ratio and crime against women (National Crime Bureau, 2006 and 2007) has computed female security index (FSI) for all districts in the country. Not surprisingly, 17 out of 21 districts in Haryana have been rated among the worst FSI districts of India.Among the other districts, three fell in the category of bad and only one district provided average security to women.

The social security for women has also thinned down substantially in the wake of increasing incidence of gruesome murders of young women and men in the name of family or clan ‘honour’. The women, who dared not to follow the socially acceptable behaviour, perceived to have lost their chastity or displayed courage to choose their life partners in contravention of the reigning social order have to bear the brunt in the form of violence, coercion and killing.

There are numerous examples in the state where the medieval mindset of the people and its corollary institutions like the khap panchayats has directly or indirectly precipitated situations leading to the cold blooded murder of young women and men for defying the assumed sacrosanct and age-old established value system. Successive governments in the state led by different political parties have rarely responded politically to the grievous social issues. They have often taken them as administrative challenges and responded by launching various social welfare schemes through the state administration.Some of these schemes launched in recent years may have caught the imagination of people as well, particularly in the districts headed by socially committed and conscious officers. But the empty and hollow slogans for saving girl child like, chhori nahin bachaoge to bahu kahan se laoge (if you would not save the girl child, where would you bring the bride from?) merely reflect the poverty of thought behind the much-hyped social schemes.

Such appeals and slogans clearly reflect a sexist and chauvinist overtone and give an impression that the girl child must be saved to serve the male-dominated society.

The schema of social development hardly figures in the political agenda of main political parties in Haryana. This is a disturbing trend in a state where the level of social development is lower than most of sub-Saharan countries.Ironically, even in the 21st century, the dominant political view perceives and justifies the Haryana society being governed by the conventions of patriarchy – a system of social structure and practices that values male gender roles and devalues female gender roles. It declines to visualise that the perpetuation and accentuation of gender prejudice in modern human society amounts to social degradation.

The political parties in the state with the lone exception of the left have displayed opportunism while confronting social issues emanating from reigning social order. They often take shelter behind the social traditions and values. It has been reflected through the public debate on the issues of amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same-gotra and same-village marriages and enactment of laws on honour killings in the state in 2010.

The main Opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal, has openly advocated the amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to appease the vast majority of rural masses engrossed in caste and sub-caste nostalgia. The present ruling party in the state, the Congress, continues dithering on the issue of amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act.

The Congress does not favour enactment of legislation on honour killings either. This despite the fact that during the recent period the state has been the epicentre of the spate of brutal killings of youth for the so-called prestige of castes or clans.

There is an organic link between the continuing social underdevelopment and the nature of political discourse in the state. Despite taking a leap economically, the state remains socially backward as its ruling elites are keeping aloft the medieval social ethos and their functional forum, khap panchayats, to maintain their political hegemony.

The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, Haryana


20 Sep

The Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Ajay Maken today said that the Government of India in close co-ordination with the various State and UT Governments had intensified measures against Human Trafficking and Crime against women. Shri Maken also informed that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) along with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), will be organizing a workshop for training of trainers of all stake holders against Human Trafficking by the end of this year. The Conference will be inaugurated by the Home Minister, Shri P Chidambaram, he said. After this workshop, the MHA also intends to organize similar workshops for stake holders from SAARC countries in line with Government of India’s offer of conducting training programmes for Capacity building for implementation of the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children, he elaborated.

In this regard the Ministry had convened a meeting of the Nodal Officers for Human Trafficking of various States and UTs on August 28, 2009 and had pushed forward the agenda of co-ordinated and intensive efforts against trafficking, Shri Maken informed.

While the meeting resolved to strengthen the respective Nodal Officers and Offices at the Centre and in the States, it also deliberated upon certain common operating procedures and practices, following which MHA has issued the following two advisories to the State Governments and UT administrations to issue suitable directions to all concerned to check crime against women and Human Trafficking;

Advisory regarding Measures needed to curb Crime against Women issued on September 4, 2009.

Advisory on Preventing and Combating Human Trafficking in India issued on September 9, 2009.

Main Points of advisory on checking crime against women

The advisory  has detailed measures that are needed to curb crime against this vulnerable section of the society.  The States and UTs have also been asked to convey the status on the measures to the Centre within a month. The Government of India have been advising the State Governments from time to time regarding the steps that need to be taken to afford a greater measure of protection to the women and in particular to prevent incidence of crimes against them.  Through the advisories, the State Governments were also requested to undertake a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of the machinery in tackling the problem of women and to take appropriate measures aimed at increasing the responsiveness of the law and order machinery.

Some State Governments, no doubt, have taken some measures in this regard. However, the inputs regarding crime against women available with this Ministry indicate that these measures need to be strengthened further. Despite several steps being taken by the State Governments, picture still is very grim and disappointing. Complaints are still being received regarding non-registration of FIRs and unsympathetic attitude of police personnel towards rape victims and victims of violence.

The National Commission for Women has been undertaking visits to various States to review the status of women and has been making available findings of their inquiry to the concerned State Governments as well as to the MHA.  The reports of the inquiries conducted by the Commission in specific incidents indicate that the level of sensitiveness and care with which crime against women should be handled is not up to the desired level.

The Government of India is deeply concerned with these trends and ground situation and has re-emphasized that urgent action should be taken on the following:-

  • Vigorously enforce the existing legislation relating to Crime against Women and Children, i.e.,  Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 and Violence against Women (Prevention) Act, 2005, Section 67 of the IT Act, 2000, the display of lascivious photographs/films on computer through internet, etc.
  • Government must ensure proper enforcement of law and convictions in women related crimes.  Enforcement agencies should be instructed in unambiguous terms that enforcement of the rights of the weaker and vulnerable sections including women and children should not be downplayed for fear of further disturbances or retribution and adequate preparation should be made to face any such eventuality.
  • The administration and police should play a more proactive role in detection and investigation of crime against women and ensuring that there is no under reporting.
  • Increasing the overall representation of women in police forces.  The representation of women in police at all levels should be increased through affirmative action so that they constitute about 33% of the police.
  • Sensitizing the law enforcement machinery towards crime against women by way of well structured training programmes, meetings and seminars etc., for police personnel at all levels as well as other functionaries of the criminal justice system.
  • Government must take concrete steps to increase awareness in the administration and among the police in particular, regarding crime against women, and take steps not only to tackle such crimes but also deal sensitively with the ensuing trauma.

For improving general awareness on legislations, mechanisms in place for safety and protection of women, the concerned department of the State Government must, inter-alia, take following steps:

  1. Create awareness through print and electronic media;
  2. Develop a community monitoring system to check cases of violence, abuse and exploitation and take necessary steps to curb the same;
  3. Involving the Community at large in creating and spreading such awareness; and
  4. Organize legal literacy and legal awareness camps.
  5. Explore the possibility of associating NGOs working in the area of combating crime against women. Citizens groups and NGOs should be encouraged to increase awareness about gender issues in society and help bring to light violence against women and also assist the police in the investigation of crime against women.  Close coordination between the police and the NGOs dealing with the interests of women may be ensured.
  6. There should be no delay whatsoever in registration of FIR in all cases of crime against women.
  7. All out efforts should be made to apprehend all the accused named in the FIR   immediately so as to generate confidence in the victims and their family members;
  8. Cases should be thoroughly investigated and charge sheets against the accused persons should be filed within three months from the date of occurrence, without compromising on the quality of investigation.   Speedy investigation should be conducted in heinous crimes like rape. The medical examination of rape victims should be conducted without delay.
  9. Ensure proper supervisions at appropriate level of cases of crime against women from the recording of FIR to the disposal of the case by the competent court.
  10. Help-line numbers of the crime against women cells – should be exhibited prominently in hospitals/schools/colleges premises, and in other suitable places.
  11. Set up exclusive ‘Crime Against Women and Children’ desk in each police station and the Special Women police cells in the police stations and all women police thana as needed.
  12. Concerned departments of the State Governments could handle rape victims at all stages from filing a complaint in a police station to undergoing forensic examination and in providing all possible assistance including counseling, legal assistance and rehabilitation.  Preferably these victims may be handled by women so as to provide a certain comfort level to the rape victims.
  13. The specialized Sexual Assault Treatment Units could be developed in government hospitals having a large maternity section.
  14. The Health department of the State Govts., should set up ‘Rape Crisis Centres’  (RCCs) and specialized ‘Sexual Assault Treatment Units’ (SATUs), at appropriate places. RCCs could act as an interface between the victims and other agencies involved.
  15. The administration should also focus on rehabilitation of the victims and provide all required support.  The police should consider empanelling professional counselors and the counseling should not be done by the police.
  16. For improving the safety conditions on road, the concerned departments of the State Government must take suitable steps to:
  17. Increase the number of  beat constables, especially on the sensitive roads;
  18. Increase the number of police help booth/kiosks, especially in remote and lonely stretches;
  19. Increase police patrolling, especially during the night;
  20. Increase the number of women police officers in the mobile police vans;
  21. Set-up telephone booths for easy access to police;
  22. Install people friendly street lights on all roads, lonely stretches and alleys; and
  23. Ensure street lights are properly and efficiently working on all roads, lonely stretches and alleys.
  24. The local police should arrange for patrolling in the affected areas and more especially in the locality of the weaker sections of the society.  Periodic visits by DM & SP will create a sense of safety and security among these sections of the people.
  25. Special steps to be taken for security of women working in night shifts of call centers.
  26. Crime prone areas should be identified and a mechanism be put in place to monitor infractions in schools/colleges for ensuring safety and security of female students. Women police officers in adequate number fully equipped with policing infrastructure may be posted in such areas.
  27. Action should be taken at the State level to set up of Fast Track Courts and Family Courts.
  28. Dowry related cases must be adjudicated expeditiously to avoid further harassment of the women.
  29. Appointment Dowry Prohibition Officers and notify the Rules under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
  30. All police stations may be advised to display the name and other details of Protection Officers of the area appointed under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
  31. Police personnel should be trained adequately in special laws dealing with atrocities against women. Enforcement aspect should be emphasized adequately so as to streamline it.
  32. Special steps may also be taken by the police in collaboration with the Health and Family Welfare Department of the State to prevent female foeticide.
  33. Special steps should also be taken to curb the ‘Violation of Women’s Rights by so called Honour Killings, to prevent forced marriage in some northern States, and other forms of Violence’.
  34. Ensure follow up of reports of cases of atrocities against women received from various sources, including NCW & SCW, with concerned authorities in the State Governments.

The advisories issued by MHA, inter-alia, include gender sensitization of the police personnel, adopting appropriate measures for swift and salutary punishment to public servants found guilty of custodial violence against women, minimizing delays in investigations of murder, rape and torture of women and improving its quality, setting up a ‘crime against women cell’ in districts where they do not exist, providing adequate counseling centers and shelter homes for women who have been victimized etc.

Main points of advisory on preventing and combating human trafficking in India

The key points include implementation of legal provisions in the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956; Juvenile Justice Act 2000; Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006; capacity building of the State machinery; prevention of trafficking; investigation and prosecution and rescue and rehabilitation measures. The states and UTs have also been asked to convey to the Centre the present status within one month. The key points have been worked out in collaboration with the related Ministries of Women & Child Development, Labour & Employment and Health & Family Welfare.

To facilitate matters in this regard, MHA has already established an Anti Trafficking Cell (ATC) which deals with the following major subject matters:

  • All matters pertaining to the criminal aspect of trafficking in human beings especially of women and children, which is the fastest growing organized crime and an area of concern.
  • To act as the Nodal cell for dealing with the criminal aspect of Human Trafficking in India, hold regular meetings of all States and UTs, communicating various decisions and follow up on action taken by the State Governments.
  • To interface with other Ministries like Women & Child Development, Social Justice &Empowerment, External Affairs, Overseas Indian Affairs, Labour & Employment, Law, and NCRB regarding the criminal aspect of human trafficking.

The Anti Trafficking Nodal Cell of MHA has developed an MIS proforma for the monitoring of the action taken by various State Governments regarding the criminal aspect of human trafficking as well as crime against women.  The State Governments are required to send quarterly information.

Why are political parties silent on khaps?

16 Aug

These so-called panchayats must be banned


IN its lead editorial in The Tribune (July 25), a question is posed in all anguish: “Who rules Haryana?: The law or the khaps?” The answer is resounding: “the khaps”. From meddling into marital affairs to ostracising a family and lynching a young man for violating khap norms of marriage, the institution of khap panchayat in Haryana has traversed its hideous journey from the grotesque to the macabre.

The two marriages in question were not the same gotra marriages as erroneously reported in a section of the media. Grooms and brides in both cases belong to different gotras. Objections to these marriages rest on frivolous grounds — in one case some families of the bride’s gotra residing in her in-laws’ village while in another case the bride and the groom belonging to two neighbouring villages.

Khap panchayat is largely a Jat institution around Delhi. It is a gotra-centric body covering a cluster of villages dominated by a particular gotra of Jats. All the members of a khap are supposed to be related to one another with ties of blood. This bhaichara (brotherhood) is the basis of solidarity. Marriage within the same khap is a taboo. Even marriage in the gawand (neighbourhood) is frowned upon.

The khap is a medieval institution when Jats were tribals divided into clans. It acted as an instrument of security in an age marked by lawlessness. In modern times, it has outlived its utility when various institutions to maintain law and order are in operation.

The functioning of khap panchayats in Haryana and elsewhere around Delhi poses some fundamental issues which must be given due consideration if the society has to retain its civilised character. First of all, the concept of bhaichara in the khap area which was the raison d’etre of the institution is a myth now. Improved means of communications, transport, mass media and the spread of modern education have exposed the rural youth to the outside world and have led many of them to reject the mores of tribal society. All the members of a khap are no longer regarded as brothers and sisters and the intimacy between the two sexes is getting quite common. When it takes the shape of a matrimonial alliance, this is taken as a threat to the haloed institution of khap and invites barbarous punishment.

Secondly, the khap panchayat has no elective principle. Its so-called mukhias are self-appointed guardians of social mores. It has emasculated the electorally-constituted panchayats which give due representation to women and weaker sections.

Thirdly, It has no idea of symbiotic relationship between tradition and modernity. Tradition untouched by modernity starts stinking while modernity cut off from tradition is shallow. It is the harmonious blend between the two which takes society forward. The lack of this understanding explains its rigidity. In this respect, the Gatwala khap of Malik Jats in Gohana sub-division of Sonepat district of Haryana has proved quite sensible.

In cases of such marriages which recently rocked two villages in the state, the couple is advised to settle at any place other than the village of the groom and the issue is quietly buried. If this flexibility had been shown in the above two cases, the mammoth human tragedy — one young man brutally murdered while another narrowly escaped death after attempted suicide and his family currently living under serious threat — would have been avoided. Ravinder of Jhajjar district has been living with his aunt near Delhi for many years and had agreed to sever all relations with his parents while the deceased Ved Pal of Kaithal district had settled in Punjab.

Fourthly, the observance of khap norms has become impractical with the changing complexion of rural society. For instance, Samchana village has more than 15 Jat gotras. If the khap norm of avoiding matrimonial alliance among these gotras is observed, marriage in this village is well nigh impossible. As such the norms have been relaxed.

There are several villages in the khap belt which have about a dozen of Jat gotras, making matrimonial alliances a nightmare. Then there is a vast tract of land ranging from Fatehbad district in Haryana to Abohar-Fazilka in Punjab and adjoining areas of Rajasthan from Sri Ganganagar district to Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Badmer in Rajasthan where there is no khap system and every Jat-dominated village has almost all the Jat gotras prevalent in that area. Marriage in the same village is quite common in this belt.

Chautala, a village in Haryana, that has produced several leading politicians in the state, has several dozen marriages among its different Jat gotras. Moreover, Punjabi and Bania communities in Haryana are quite flexible in matter of gotras in matrimonial alliances. It is only Jats wedded to khaps who still live in medieval times.

The khap panchayat has become a law unto itself. It has evolved a parallel judicial system. Kangaroo courts are held and fatwas issued. Two ghastly incidents referred to above is not a rare occurrence. Several such episodes have occurred in the state and the culprits went scot- free. It is the kid-glove treatment meted out to khap custodians that has emboldened them to run amuck. A studied silence maintained by the leaders of all the political parties in Haryana except one left party is amazing. Consequently, Haryana has become a killing field for the youths eager for matrimonial alliances of their choice.

The khap panchayat in Haryana sticks out like a sore thumb in the body politic — a diseased part incapable of being cured and hence needs to be amputated. It is time its unconstitutional activities were banned with a heavy hand.

The Rajasthan High Court and the State Human Rights Commission took a suo motu notice of the functioning of the caste panchayats in the state and issued instructions to the state administration to apply a curb on them. The Home Ministry of Rajasthan vide its letter No. P-10(26) Home 13/98 dated February 14, 2001 issued instructions to the law enforcing agencies in the state to curb the unlawful functioning of the caste panchayats in the state. This has gone a long way to keep the monster under leash.

Rapid advance made by Haryana in the material field is regressive in the face of growing moral decay and spiritual atrophy in the state, with a sizeable section of its population fast lapsing into the dark zone of barbarity and depravity. It is like getting all the riches on the earth after selling one’s soul to the Lucifer.

The writer is Member, Administrative Reforms Commission, Haryana, Chandigarh


28 Jul

Following is the text of the statement made by the Union Home Minister, Shri P.Chidambaram in the Rajya Sabha today in response to a Calling Attention Notice regarding increasing incidents of so-called honour killings and honour-related crimes in the country and the role of self-proclaimed panchayats therein.

“Honour crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, mostly committed by family members predominantly against female relatives, who are perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family. Honour killings are rooted in antiquated traditions and social values. Since “honour killing” is not a crime classified separately under the Indian laws, no data is collected separately regarding this crime by the National Crime Records Bureau, and the same is covered under ‘murder’. Moreover, it is difficult to identify or classify an honour killing as such in any given community, since the reasons for such killings often remain a closely guarded private family matter. There is no separate law to deal with the crime of ‘honour killing’, and such crimes are dealt with under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and are investigated and prosecuted as offences under the IPC/Cr. P.C.

2. ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ are State subjects under the Constitution. The responsibility for dealing with enforcement of the laws pertaining to these two subjects, including prevention, registration, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of crimes against women, lies with State Governments.

3. Some caste Panchayats are known to approve of these killings as reported in the media and thus are accomplices in the violation of the laws. However, caste Panchayats are informal bodies and have no legal status as such. Often, villagers give precedence to the judgement of a caste Panchayat rather than that delivered by the courts of law.

4. I recoil with shame when I read in the newspapers that two teenagers – a Dalit boy and a Muslim girl – were brutally killed in a village near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh in the name of honour. Or when I read that a young man, accompanied by a warrant officer was killed when he was on his way to fetch his wife from a village in Jind district, Haryana. Or when I read that a newly married couple in Delhi fear for their lives following a fatwa issued by a Panchayat in Jhajjar district, Haryana. Hon’ble Members will note with regret that these incidents happened last week. The vilest crimes are committed in the name of defending the honour of the family or women and we should hang our heads in shame when such incidents take place in India in the 21st century.

5. The United Nations’ “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, 2002” as well as the latest report i.e. “15 Years of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (1994-2009) – A Critical Review” do not mention India in the context of honour killings.

6. However, the Government of India is deeply concerned about violence against women and recognizes that real progress can only be made by addressing the causes that are rooted in anachronistic attitudes and false values. More efforts need to be made through educational and awareness campaigns in the communities and through sensitization of law enforcement agencies. Towards this objective, Government of India has initiated a number of legislative and ameliorative measures to check such crimes which include:

(i) Enactment of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which provides for more effective protection of the Constitutional rights of women, who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family;

(ii) Setting up of helplines for women in distress under the Swadhar Scheme of Ministry of Women and Child Development;

(iii) Support services to victims of violence through schemes such as Short Stay Homes and Swadhar under which shelter, maintenance, counseling, capacity building, occupational training, medical aid and other services are provided;

(iv) Redressal of grievances through interventions of National and State Commissions for Women; and

(v) Economic empowerment of women through the programmes of Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Swashakti project and Swayamsidha Project by Ministry of Women & Child Development.

7. Instructions/guidelines have also been issued to the State Governments/Union Territory Administrations to effectively enforce legislation relating to crimes against women and improve the administration of the criminal justice system and take such measures as are necessary for the prevention of crimes against women. The measures suggested include:

(i) sensitize police officials charged with the responsibility of protecting women;

(ii) vigorously enforce the existing legislations;

(iii) set up women police cells in police stations and exclusive women police stations;

(iv) provide institutional support to the victims of violence;

(v) provide counseling to victims of rape;

(vi) ensure wider recruitment of women police officers;

(vii) train police personnel in special laws dealing with atrocities against women;

(viii) appoint Dowry Prohibition Officers and notify Rules under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961;

(ix) sensitize the judiciary and police and civil administration on gender issues; and

(x) follow up reports of cases of atrocities against women received from various sources, including NCW, with authorities concerned in the Central and the State Governments.

8. Government deplores crimes committed allegedly to uphold the honour of the family or the victim or women in general and would welcome a wide discussion on how to prevent such crimes.”


7 Jun

More and more women are turning to the Domestic Violence Act, even though it continues to be hamstrung by a lack of adequate resources. Hemchhaya De reports ,The Telegraph Kolkatta

Saira, 25, saw her dreams coming true when she moved to Mumbai from Calcutta after her marriage. But after a few months, trouble started brewing in her marital life. When she became pregnant, her husband asked her to abort the foetus. Or else, he said, he would divorce her. Saira obliged.

But this was not the end of her plight. When she became pregnant again, she was made to undergo an abortion one more time. Then, after she became pregnant for the third time, her husband asked her to move to her parents’ home in Calcutta and get an abortion done once again. Her parents’ pleas to their son-in-law to let Saira return to her marital home fell on deaf ears.

Saira has decided to file a case against her husband under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Despite the trauma she has been subjected to, the 25-year-old doesn’t want her marriage to break up and wants to move back to her Mumbai home.

Rita, 26, doesn’t want a divorce either. She just wants her husband and in-laws to recognise her right to stay in her marital home. Both she and her husband are doctors. She has to live through mental torture from her in-laws who never fail to point out that it’s their home and she has to either abide by their rules or move out. Yet her husband doesn’t want to live away from his parents. Rita has sought legal counselling and filed a case under the Domestic Violence Act.

Seema, who’s in her late 50s, is also planning to file a case under the Act against her husband who has just retired from work. Her husband bought a flat after retirement, but he locked it up and told his wife that they didn’t need such a big flat. He rented a room in a building and asked her to shift there. Seema has been staying there on her own. Her husband never visits her; nor does he allow her access to the new flat, which she co-owns.

Saira, Rita and Seema are potential beneficiaries of a landmark section of the Domestic Violence Act, which came into effect in 2006. Section 17 (1) of the Act says, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, every woman in a domestic relationship shall have the right to reside in the shared household, whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same.”

Thanks to efforts made by non governmental organisations, women activists and lawyers, awareness of the Act is spreading slowly but steadily across some parts of the country.

“The Domestic Violence Act is a path-breaking law in many respects. It recognises several forms of domestic violence — physical torture, mental torture and, more importantly, economic violence,” says Manabendra Mandal, executive director, Socio-legal Aid Research and Training Centre (SLARTC), Calcutta, one of the 11 ‘service providers’ in the state. Under the law, service providers are tasked with helping victims of domestic violence with legal aid, temporary shelter and medical and financial assistance.

Mandal reveals that over the past few months they have been increasingly receiving cases filed under the Act, either from protection officers or from district magistrates.

The law stipulates that a state government is to appoint a required number of protection officers for each district in the state. They can be either government employees or members of NGOs with a minimum experience of three years in the social sector. For instance, there are two protection officers for Calcutta while there is one officer for each of the other districts. Among other things, protection officers are required to help the magistrate in discharging his duties as specified under the Act, receive complaints of domestic violence, take preventive or emergency action and facilitate the aggrieved person’s access to legal processes and other services. A woman can approach a protection officer in her district directly with her complaint.

Though activists argue that the law is still hamstrung by the lack of an adequate number of protection officers and service providers, others say that even then there has been a marked increase in the number of cases registered under the Act. Says Moushumi Kundu, protection officer, Hooghly district, “There is definitely a lot more awareness now about the law even in the rural pockets of my district, thanks mainly to awareness campaigns carried out by some NGOs.” Kundu reveals that about six months ago, there was only one registered case in the Serampore subdivision of Hooghly. But now the number is 20. “On an average, we have around 250 registered cases under this Act in Hooghly alone. The number can vary from one district to another. But in most places the number is more or less the same.”

Data collected through various sources show that there are now 15,320 cases registered under the Domestic Violence Act in India. That figure may look encouraging, showing as it does that more and more women are coming forward to avail of this law. But activists feel that this does not really amount to progress. “This is nothing if we consider that women account for as much as 50 per cent of the our billion-strong population,” says Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research (CSR), New Delhi. She adds that the funds allocated for implementing the Act are still very meagre in many states. “In states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, it’s as little as Rs 3-4 lakh per annum. Andhra Pradesh has the highest allocation — Rs 10 crore,” she says.

“In an interesting development, while the number of cases registered under the Domestic Violence Act is on the rise, there may be a decline in the number of cases being registered under Section 498A of the IPC in some states. (Section 498A is a criminal law to punish dowry offenders.) Of course, this can also imply that the police are not discharging their duties properly in 498A cases,” says Soumya Bhaumick, consultant, CSR.

But though the Domestic Violence Act seems to be helping women, some point out that it is early days yet. Flavia Agnes, lawyer and women’s activist associated with a Mumbai-based women’s organisation called Majlis, cautions against media hype over the Act. “It’s true that many NGOs are raising awareness among victims. But this awareness is not really getting translated into more judicial orders,” she says. The appointment of protection officers is also erratic, she says. “In states like Maharashtra, the appointment of protection officers is quite irregular.”

Majlis activists will organise a workshop for women lawyers and service providers in Mumbai this week to do a reality check on the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act. The Centre for Social Research will also take part in a training programme for service providers in Calcutta.

Clearly, this is one law that needs to be constantly monitored at the implementation level to make sure that women can root out violence from their homes.

Paying the price of killing daughters

10 Mar
Vijaita Singh, Hindustan Times
Satwai (Meerut), March 10, 2009

Sixty-year-old Sheila Devi is unable to understand why her son was arrested. Sitting on a cot in her two-room hutment in Satwai village, nearly 80 km from Delhi, she is still wondering what her son’s crime was.

On March 3, her 18-year-old son Sonu Pal was arrested for allegedly buying a 14-year-old girl from Kapashera village in Delhi and then marrying her.

“Is getting married a crime? My husband is ill and we needed a bride for my son who could look after us. We were unable to find a match in the nearby villages. A relative told us about this girl, so we bought her. I can’t understand how my son can be arrested for this?”

Her family is not the only one in this village to have bought a bride. Her neighbours, another Gujjar family, have a daughter-in-law bought from Himachal Pradesh. There are many more from Nepal, Uttarakhand and Haryana. And like her, most claim they didn’t know it was illegal till Sonu Pal’s arrest.

Most such families went into hiding when HT visited the village last week. “People are scared after the police raid,” said Meh Pal, a villager. “We just don’t have enough girls. So what do we do? We can’t keep our boys unmarried,” headman Kanwar Pal echoed the other villagers.

While most villagers didn’t want to discuss why there were not enough girls in the village, and some, like Kanwar Pal, claimed “historically, there have been fewer girls born in this community”, the figures state the obvious. According to the 2001 census, the village had 860 girls for 1,000 boys in the 0- 6 years group, way below the national average of 927. Rampant foeticide has ensured there are many more men than women in this village.

“Foeticide exists although nobody talks about it openly. We have been holding meetings with village folk to make them understand it is illegal to abort a female child. But they continue to do it clandestinely,” said Dr Subhash Chandra Maheshwari, Chief Medical Officer at PL Sharma District Hospital in Meerut.

District Magistrate Kamini Chauhan Rattan even constituted a Pre-Natal Diagnostic Test (PNDT) committee last year to check the incidents of foeticide in the district. “We are trying our best to control it but villagers have to understand it is illegal to abort a female child. Social mores have to change,” Maheshwari said.

Where have all the girls gone?

11 Nov

Namita Kohli, Hindustan Times
Email Author
Haryana/New Delhi, November 10, 2007

Faced with a crisis, even local elections have candidates promising brides in return for votes.

“My kismet brought me here,” says 14-year-old Heena, who’s come to ‘sasural’ in Malabnuhu — a sleepy village in Haryana’s Mewat region — from Kolkata. Originally from Bangladesh, the teenager can only blame destiny now. Last year, after a sum of Rs 6,000 changed hands, the ‘bahu’ found herself in an alien landscape: where Bengali is replaced by Haryanvi, rice by roti — and where cattle costs more than women like her, who are referred to as paros by the locals.

In the prosperous districts of Haryana and Punjab — where son preference has resulted in a skewed sex ratio — girls from economically weaker backgrounds in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal are being openly bought in droves for ‘marriages’ that are more often than not without the consent of the girl. The legal status of such wedlock, of course, remains questionable. According to data compiled by Shaktivahini, a Faridabad-based NGO that takes up anti-trafficking issues, there are up to 50,000 paros in Haryana alone, including a huge proportion of minors.

Census 2001 shows that the child sex ratio in Haryana and Punjab stands at 820 and 793 per 1,000 boys respectively. But according to the latest health survey by the Punjab government, villages like Sansarwal in Patiala have touched an alarming 438 girls per 1,000 boys.

Ergo, girls are fast turning into a vanishing tribe. A recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report warns that female deficit in the marriageable age (20-49) is set to touch 25 million by the year 2030.

The impact, however, is already being felt here. Says Dr Madhav Mohan Godbole, the director of Balgrah, a rehabilitation centre in Rai, Sonepat, “Villagers come to us and plead for brides. They say if we can’t fix them up, they will be forced to buy girls.” Faced with a crisis, even local elections have candidates promising brides in return for votes. Ram Prasad of Seoti village in Sonepat, concedes, “frequent trips are being made from all over Haryana to hunt for girls in Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and even Maharashtra.”

In a typical ‘buying’ scenario, someone with ‘contacts’ in source states facilitates such arrangements in return for kharcha-paani, explains Rishikant of Shativahini. The ‘going rate’ ranges from Rs 6,000 –10,000, depending on the age and virginity. Forced by poverty, many a time the paros also have to ‘accept’ polyandry.

Interestingly, parents of local girls are now spoilt for choice. No one wants a poor or unemployed groom, says Akbar Ahmed of Malabnuhu. Neither are they willing to send their girls to the land of paros.

Post-Marital Blues

Gradually, the cultural impact of these forced marriages is surfacing. Meena, 30, a paro from West Bengal bemoans, “Men here don’t know how to behave. Their language, attitude are very brash.” The women’s movements are kept under ‘close watch’ and they aren’t allowed to visit home for fear that they might escape. “But at least there’s food to eat here, else why would we come so far,” sighs Mamta, a ‘bride’ from Bihar.

Even so, there are ample stories of abuse. Ameena, 13, was sold to a 35-year-old widower Ashok in Seoti, who was desperate for a bride. It didn’t matter even if she was a minor. “Ashok would lock me up in a room, beat me up and sexually abuse me. He wouldn’t let me talk to my mother,” recalls Ameena, who tried to escape a couple of times, before being rescued by Delhi-based NGO Prayas just last month. “He was so much older, and there was a lot of communication problem. So I was just supposed to say yes to whatever he demanded.”

Ameena’s was the first case of trafficking registered in Haryana, as women seldom register complaints due to social pressures. “There’s no complainant, no accused,” laments Sibhash Kaviraj, SP of Mewat. A local police official in Seoti says, “How can we go about breaking homes? Unless villagers inform us of such incidents, our hands are tied… it is their personal matter.” While many like Chandigarh-based Professor Pam Rajput, vice president National Alliance for Women (NAWO), have been advocating frequent compiling of relevant statistics and sensitising both men and women, the administration has clearly, been slow to deal with the issue.

Meanwhile, the chain continues to grow. As the UNFPA report states, it is the poor and landless men who will be most affected by this bridal crisis. Evidently then, 35-year-old Anwari who was, many years ago, married to a man 20 years older than her in Malabnuhu, is worried for her four boys. “They don’t study. Maybe, I will have to buy brides for them also.” Already, across Haryana and Punjab, it’s a common refrain, “Who wants to give girls to poor men like us?” To which, one Ram Dulari of Seoti chides them: “Who will, when you foolish people kill your own girls?”

(Some names have been changed)

Sex selection in India

11 Nov


In ‘IT revolution and declining dowry practice’ (Open Page, October 28), Chandra Kommera has drawn an interesting analogy between the two. While it is extremely heartening to note this change in the bargaining power of women, such instances are still few and far between. For many, the birth of a girl child is still unwelcome. The sex ratio of India according to the 2001 census is a dismal 933 females per 1,000 males, up from 927 in 1991. These figures leave muc h to be desired.

A major concern is that economic and educational prosperity has not altered this long-held bias against the girl child. It is still a widely held theory that a male child will carry forward the family line. Another factor going against the girl child is the dowry which her family has to churn out at the time of her marriage.

In many areas, among the prosperous, dowry is viewed as a status symbol. Business families also feel the need for having a male heir. And with the trend of smaller families slowly creeping in, the girl child gets chucked out.

Armed with knowledge and money, access to methods of sex selection including female foeticide is easy. For instance, in relatively prosperous Punjab, the sex ratio is 874 whereas in so-called backward Bihar, it is 921 according to the 2001 census.

The mushrooming of illegal ultrasound clinics all over the country is testimony to the rampant sex-selective abortions.

And increasingly, for fear of being caught, these clinics seem to use symbolism to convey the results. They use blue or pink colour to convey whether the foetus is a boy or a girl. Or they make statements such as ‘Your child resembles a doll’ to convey a female foetus.
Hardly a deterrent

The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act of 1994 banned sex determination tests. It provides for three years imprisonment for a first-time offender and a fine of Rs 10,000. This is hardly a deterrent given the huge profits the trade offers and the lax judiciary.

The rate of conviction under this law is one of the worst with the first conviction coming as late as 2006. This could be attributed to the difficulty in producing evidence in court and a powerful lobby which has virtually converted sex selection into a profitable trade. Of late, sting operations by women disguised as pregnant women have helped nail a few doctors.

This trend of sex selection is extremely unhealthy and can have disastrous consequences for society. Moreover, a society which denies the girl child even the basic right to existence cannot claim to be civilised. It is time the loopholes in the law were corrected. Strict implementation of the law can be the only deterrent to the practice, given that attitudes take time to change.

Tribals no strangers to female foeticide

11 Nov

With better education, villagers adopt city lifestyles

Where technology is not accessible, quacks are approached

NEW DELHI: Even as education and technology reach the far-off tribal belts of the country, the practice of female foeticide is also fast making inroads there.

Tribal youth are now going to cities or making use of portable ultrasound machines that provide sex determination ‘services’ at a nominal price.

The practice of sex determination and female foeticide was alien to these communities till recently.
Elders’ fear

Now elders in tribal villages fear that urbanisation will hit tribal villages as youngsters will fall prey to this “style” very soon, says a study conducted by the Pune-based Centre for Youth Development and Activities (CYDA), with support from the United Nations Population Fund.

This fear was expressed by villagers of Badi in Rajasthan, who said that as the educational level went up among their youngsters they tended to adopt certain lifestyles followed by city dwellers.

Quoting a social worker intervening in this area, the study says: “It is being increasingly felt that the issue of female foeticide is entering into the village settings dominated by tribals. Although in the programme area where we work there exist no ultrasound labs, our tribal youth are seen indulging in sex selective practices by going to the cities.”

There are also indications that in rural and tribal areas, where the sex determination technology is not locally accessible, people seek the help of quacks and dais (midwives) who prescribe herbs/medicines claiming that these will change the sex of the child.

Quoting another social worker in the area, the CYDA study says, “People also use traditional herbs and other medicine to have a male child or to change the sex of the foetus from female to male.”

Performing districts

India’s 10 best performing districts, where the ratio of girls is higher than boys, are mostly dominated by tribal communities, while the 10 worst performing districts are in Punjab and Haryana.

The best performing districts are South Sikkim, Upper Siang and East Kameng in Arunachal Pradesh; Bastar and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh; Pulwama, Kupwara and Budgam in Jammu and Kashmir; Senapati in Manipur and Mokukchung in Nagaland.

The access to information, means and technology, and the impact of the pro-sex determination perspective of the urban educated economically well-off sections have influenced some migrant populations of rural India also, a chunk of which are tribal. Technology inroads into semi-urban/rural areas have resulted in an increasing number of people there going in for sex selection.

In Maharashtra’s Akluj gram panchayat, a well developed semi-urban area with a population of 40,000, many unqualified people are using portable machines and travelling to interior villages to offer sex determination services on the doorstep for a nominal fee. According to a Tamil Nadu organisation, Rural Rehabilitation Centre, access to technology has led certain communities such as the Kallars in Madurai district, who were traditionally practising female infanticide, to gradually shift to sex determination tests and sex-selective abortions.

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