Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country for women. The survey and ranking has generated a debate among Indian intelligentsia and media persons. Though Indian government’s response to Thomson Reuters Foundation’s perception survey has been on expected lines, what is surprising is the kind of reactions it has evoked among many women’s groups and of rights’ activists.
Thomson Reuters Foundation poll surveyed around 550 experts on six indices, viz healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual and non-sexual violence and human trafficking. India has topped in the three categories – cultural traditions, sexual violence and human trafficking in the survey. India is understandably followed by Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan as world’s most dangerous countries for women. A similar survey in 2011 had placed Afghanistan at the top of the list while India featured at the fourth spot.
Interestingly the survey received flak from many women groups and activists not for its conclusion but for India being clubbed with countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Saudi Arabia as places that are dangerous for women. Indian National Commission for women while rejecting the survey said, “Countries where women could not speak out had done better”. The commission rather than taking an analytical view of the perception poll observed that sexual violence and harassment of women “appear to have risen in India because more cases were being reported as against earlier”. Ministry of Women and Child Development of India issued a statement after the survey was made public that "an opinion poll to peg India as the most dangerous country for women is clearly an effort to malign the nation and draw attention away from real improvements seen in recent years". Besides these, many social, political and media personalities in India took to television and social media terming the perception-poll findings as motivated and far from reality.
Like any other poll, the survey will have margins of error, but as far as security and safety of women in India is concerned the ground realities can in no way be ignored while reacting to the survey results. Not many voices emerged in India that raised concern about women security in India after the perception poll findings were out. Raising the doubts about the methodology of the survey and rejecting the survey in an outright manner are two different things. One is like succumbing to pseudo-nationalist feelings and other one is to question the methodology employed in the survey, hence the accuracy of the findings without casting the aspersion on the poll itself.
Is India more dangerous for women than Afghanistan and Syria? The answer might be no, when it comes to war-related violence. But looking at indicators like rapes, sexual and non-sexual violence and women trafficking, India has a very dismal record. Indian official 2016 crime statistics indicates “a woman was raped every 13 minutes; six women were gang-raped every day; a bride was murdered for dowry every 69 minutes; and 19 women were attacked with acid every month”. These constitute the reported and documented cases. The figures should also give one an idea about the unreported cases of sexual and non-sexual violence against women in rural areas where women might not have means to report such cases due to taboos and stigmas associated with sexual crimes. India has also many regions where its army and forces exercise AFSPA and other unbridled powers which have been used to commit crimes against women.
The rise of religious fanaticism lately in many parts of India which openly promotes and defends sexual violence against the minorities presents an alarming situation. In the recent Kathua rape and murder case where the majority community came out in support of the accused is another example of state of affairs, when it comes to dealing and acceptability of sexual and non-sexual violence perpetuated on minorities. Many right-wing politicians in power or otherwise have openly issued rape threats against the women belonging to minority communities. Not only was there a call issued by such filthy politicians, to dig out Muslim women from graves to rape them, but many right-wing politicians have been charged with committing rape.
India is also not doing well when it comes to conviction rate and sentencing of criminals in sexual violence cases. Even after five years the convicts in the infamous Delhi gang rape and murder case have not been brought to justice. Thomson Reuters Foundation survey that has ranked India as world’s most dangerously country for women needs to be viewed by taking ground realities into consideration and not India featuring along with war ravaged countries like Afghanistan and Syria. The poll result should not have come as a surprise to anybody, particularly to women rights groups and activists.
Also in terms of the response in India, what is coming to fore are the opinion of few privileged women’s groups and individuals who have the say and access to better resources and justice system. What the survey depicts is the plight of women as a whole and not of a small privileged lot. The privileged women, to be fair to all strata of women, can neither generalize their sense of safety and security and imply all the women feel the same way, nor can they justify themselves by invoking pseudo-nationalistic feeling. The survey needs to be taken in right spirit and help people to introspect what has gone wrong in Indian society, rather than drawing comparisons with other nations.