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Lacking conviction

Manasi Gopalakrishnan
August 18, 2014

Indian PM Narendra Modi used his Independence Day speech on August 15 to call for a fundamental change in attitudes towards women in India. DW's Manasi Gopalakrishnan says the speech lacked conviction.

Deutsche Welle Hindi Manasi Gopalakrishnan
Image: DW/P. Henriksen

It's nice to know that the Prime Minister of India thinks it is necessary after nearly three months in office to finally address the terrible and completely unacceptable situation facing women in India. It is good to hear that he believes that family and upbringing can influence whether a man grows up to be a rapist or not. It is also nice to know that Modi understands the importance of better sanitation facilities for women and the need to educate families about the advantages of having a girl child rather than only boys.

But, and this is where the "buts" start, his speech lacked conviction to my mind. To me his well-meaning words were nothing but a collection of sound bites. To a woman a sense of betrayal remained coupled with the knowledge that there will be many such speeches and false promises to come. I fear that little will change.

I don't want to sound pessimistic, but (and here is another “but”) while I was living in India, I remember a neighbor telling me that she wouldn't let her daughter go out of the house to go shopping with her friends because men and boys in the city would harass her. The mother knew this only too well because she had a son who boasted at home about teasing, pinching and harassing women at the city's central market. Of course, he was beyond reproach, he was a boy after all, “a tiger on the prowl,” as his father proudly acknowledged at every opportunity while narrating his son's latest escapades.

Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on my neighbor and her son, because he didn't rape any women – at any rate not to my knowledge. But his behavior is typical of the patriarchal male mindset in India. This is the root of the problem and is not going to change with one speech from the Prime Minister. And the roots go very deep.

When rapes occur, it is not unusual for Indian politicians to play down the incident by saying things like “Boys will be boys, they make mistakes,”.So said Mulayam Singh Yadav, a politician from Uttar Pradesh, after two girls had been raped and hanged from a tree. Another former minister, Ramsevak Paikra, claimed that “these kinds of incidents happen accidentally.” What an insult to women!

That is why Indian women are not really surprised when a rape occurs. They have become very fatalistic about brutal, gruesome and unthinkable events of this kind simply because for a long time nothing was done to stop rape. So it is time that Narendra Modi at least recognizes that “rapists are also sons from some family” and “as parents, we need to ask our sons, where they are going.” Thank you, Prime Minister Sir, at least we're now officially past the stage where women were held responsible for “provoking” rapes, if they go out on the own or just because they are women.

The problem remains that India's women are being badly let down from all sides. This patriarchal society has a huge problem understanding that women have a right to live in safety because they are human beings, not objects. They deserve respect because they are the ones who will bear children, educate them to be responsible adults and thus secure our nation's future.

What India's women now need from Modi is very simple: We need him to create a broad public consensus on women's rights and to implement the existing legal framework so that women can participate fully in Indian society without fear for their safety. This needs to be done speedily. Where are your plans, Modi? One speech is not enough.

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