No country for women, abuse runs high in India | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 19.06.2012
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No country for women, abuse runs high in India

According to a recent poll, India is one of the worst places for women who are routinely subjected to discrimination and abuse.

Babita Devi, 45, was exhausted after leading a demonstration alongside 20 other women in front of a clinic near her village in the Karnal district of Haryana that borders the Indian capital New Delhi.

The head of a women's self-help group had found out that doctors had used ultrasound technology to abort two female foetuses the week before.

"We staged a sit-in protest for three hours," she told DW. "The police finally came and arrested the doctor and two nurses. Unless we raise our voices, nothing happens. We will have no girls in the state at the rate these illegal operations happen."

Women in West Bengal

Women in rural areas are sometimes considered as objects

Decades of sex determination tests and female foeticide have created a statistical anomaly in the sex ratio at birth in India. Skewed sex ratios have spread beyond the states of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

The results of last year's census made it very clear. Despite a slew of laws to prevent female foeticide and schemes to encourage families to keep girls, the child sex ratio in India has dropped to 914 females compared to 1,000 males. This is the lowest figure since Independence.

'I want to live in dignity'

Pramilla Bhai, 34, who lives in Tonk, a in the northern state of Rajasthan, has had three abortions. Her in-laws and husband forced her to have the last one a month ago.

"Our lives from birth to death are full of suffering," she tells DW. "But I will not take these insults any more. All I want now is to live in dignity, I do not want to be reduced to a state of helplessness."

She was able to escape the clutches of her in-laws and sought out the help of local women's committees but she is uncertain of her future.

Even if a female foetus is not aborted, a girl is less likely to survive than a boy. CRY Child Rights, an Indian NGO, estimates that of the 12 million girls born in India each year, one million of them die before the age of one.

An Indian nurse observes newborns

A million female babies die each year before the age of one

Earlier this year, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs revealed that an Indian girl aged between one and five was 75 percent more likely to die than a boy of the same age.

Suffering in silence

When girls do become women they continue to be oppressed in vast swathes of India where patriarchy and discriminatory customs and values reign. Many suffer sexual abuse and domestic violence silently.

An Indian mother tends to her new born baby

Some 12 million babies are born every year

A recent poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that interviewed 370 gender specialists found that in some areas India was even behind Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive and only earned the right to vote in 2011.

It is "incongruous" says Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Centre for Social Research, in today's world that age-old feudal views which see women as inferior objects to be confined to the home and exploited for sexual and domestic servitude persist.

Nevertheless, she does say that "the last two decades have certainly helped empower women and changed the mindsets of how men see women. Opportunities have allowed the poor to pull themselves out of poverty to join a growing middle class."

Moreover, women are reporting abuse more, which might lead to more awareness. Statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau show that the reported incidences of rape in India have increased significantly over the past 40 years. A total of 21,397 cases were reported in 2009 - a 760 percent increase over the 2,487 cases reported in 1971.

Most observers fear there is a long way to go yet.

Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas

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