The women question in India is much more deeper and of larger consequence than it appears in scattered issues of violence against women every couple of decades. Historically women of India faced negligence and death as a result of a new issue of violence every decade or so. It is not an issue but a cultural undercurrent of India. Hence, every decade has seen some type of issue that has claimed thousands of lives of women, and necessitated the creation of an urgent law. When one thinks seriously about the recurrence of violence against women, it does not seem isolated, or unusual that a new issue of violence against women erupts, every couple of years, which may be linked to the social, cultural and political nature of the way in which gender is understood and normalized in India. As Johan Galtung has theorized several decades ago about violence (“Violence, peace and peace research”, Journal of Peace Research 6 (3), Aug. 69: 167-191), it exists in two forms, structural as well as physical. To these two categories of violence, Galtung had recently added another category of violence, under the name, cultural violence (Galtung, Johan, “Cultural Violence,” Journal of Peace Research; Aug. 90, Vol. 27 Issue 3, p291 -305). Women of India are trapped in this web of structural, physical, and cultural violence. Unless a complete systemic overhaul is undertaken with the help of strong central legislation, a solution to women’s issues could not be found. Systematic denial of rights and discrimination of women is compounded by the physical abuse a female is subjected to since her birth in domestic as well as public settings.
What is needed is only a constitutional provision akin to the SC/ST provision of the constitution, that would provide equal rights in addition to reservations in education, employment and political positions.
The year 2013 marks a historical beginning for the women of India. Since the beginning of the year 2013, it had been quite common to see news stories about women and women issues of India both in Indian and International electronic and print media, owing to the Nirbhaya case, as it unleashed one December night in 2012, on the street of Delhi, finally jolting the government out of its deep slumber, resulting in the creation of a bill (also called the Nirbhaya bill) concerning rape, molestation, voyeurism, and stalking of women. India has returned to life as usual, subsequent to the passage of this bill by the Parliament. However, a number of concerns still remain. Is this the final legislation that is needed to put an end to the numerous issues women face in India? Can women rest easy and be assured that life would finally be free of harassment, and they can choose whatever they want to do with their life? That does not seem to be the case. Women’s issues are systemic problem in India, similar to the social issues of the past such as untouchability. Unless a comprehensive law is enacted similar to the SC/ST act, supported by a national commission akin to National Council for SC/ST Council (http://www.ncsc.nic.in/) the systemic problems associated with women could be stopped.
It has always been the usual practice of Government of India any time an issue concerning women surfaced, to resolve the immediate issue at hand by resorting to stop gap arrangements in a haphazard manner without taking any comprehensive measures. Fifty years ago dowry issue prompted the Parliament to enact the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 (http://wcd.nic.in/dowryprohibitionact.htm), while it raged across India claiming lives of numerous women across all strata of society. It was only recently that another landmark legislation the Domestic Violence Act 2005, is passed, after numerous women again became victims of immense amounts of mistreatment within their own homes (wcd.nic.in/wdvact.pdf). It is the attitude of the society as well as the Government of India, to react to issues and enact measures in a hurry and be satisfied with the result calm down and wait until another issue surfaces. The issues are noticed, but were not taken into consideration, or measures were introduced until a public outcry becomes unbearable. Therefore, it is necessary that India should take into consideration, the female population, their needs and necessities and enact a comprehensive legislation to empower women to take charge of their lives and hence become full partners in the development of India.
Current population of India is rapidly evolving, with almost 30% of the population aged under 40 years which is set to rise to 40% in the next twenty years (http://censusindia.gov.in/2011census/censusinfodashboard/index.html). If India wants to take advantage of this demographic youth, favorable legislation providing independence and advantages to women is necessary. Since the women under 40 years of age now hold the key to the future of India. The human resource power is manifested innately in the women of India, now, as they age and bear children, a new world will be inaugurated in India, if certain favorable measures are introduced immediately to protest and preserve the rights of women. There are two sides to the issue of women’s fertility in India. On the one hand it is dominated by monetary gain and business interests where, the womb, eggs, and gestation are treted as marketable commodity without any concern for civil liberties or human rights. The other side of the issue is of a stark contrast to the former, in lack of money, basic facilities, contraception or pre and postnatal care. The former is supported by money and upto date medical research and facilities, while the latter is plagued by the lack of them.
Women of childbearing age is going through a silent economic evolution unbeknownst to them or larger Indian society. He fertility is becoming the marketable and most sought after commodity in the world. Fast changing medical developments have brought this into the backyard of India without adequate planning or preparation. Rape, molestation and public mistreatment of women may have been addressed by the recent Nirbhaya bill, but the female fertility is a major issue evolving undercover that effects the lives of female, as well as the society much more deeply. Female fertility, and surrogacy have much more severe consequence for India in the coming decades, than any other feminine issue that had affected the country until now. It has the power to change the demography, and claim numerous victims in the next decade unless clear measures regulating the surrogacy, and ART (Artificial Reproduction Treatments) with limitation on egg donations are undertaken. Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) passed by the Parliament of India in 1971 clearly states when a pregnancy can be terminated, and the limit is placed at 20 weeks of gestation, beyond which no pregnancy can be terminated. However, aborted preterm fetuses are used for research, and organ tests without any ethical are legal precautions. Egg donations and stem cell research is carried on by numerous private clinics with utter secrecy. Although Medical Council of India lays down guidelines, there are no binding rules or clear guidelines on inter country transfer or sale of eggs, which might be of concern, as stem cell research is evolving as a multibillion dollar industry, and may lead to black market trading and hording of eggs and sperm, without express knowledge of the donors. Women are tricked into donating eggs, embryos, or becoming surrogate mothers, lured by money. However, information about full discloser is lacking, about the use of their egg, or any further help if the woman’s health deteriorates or faces uncommon pregnancy troubles.
Such utter secrecy maintained by the hospitals concerning the ART, MTP and surrogacy leads to numerous pregnancies not known or registered in the official statistics of India, and women’s body in the case of pregnancy becomes a marketable commodity, endangering the safety and the security of women. The consequences are very similar to the human trafficking. Although commercial surrogacy is legalized in India in 2002, India faces numerous bioethical concerns and legal issues due to lack of clear laws as noted above. The mother or child in this process lack any rights according this law, and another law was enacted in 2010, to provide nominal rights in the Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill and Rules, which however leaves much to be desired. Most often the women are lured in to this process for monetary gains (up to $7-$10,000 which results in a hefty sum of 3.5 to 5 lakhs of rupees, which may be a large sum when compared with daily wage of up $3-5). Indian law does not adequately address the health issues or concerns of surrogate mothers, which is largely regulated by fertility industry, under the nonbinding guidelines set by India Council of Medical Research (Mishra, 2012). Several issues of physical as well as emotional aspects of surrogate mothers are completely ignored by the policy and law on commercial surrogacy. It is especially important to address these health aspects surrogate mother since maternal mortality is high in India. This brings us to the second side of the female fertility issue, where minimal facilities are lacking for women resulting in high rates of maternal and infant mortality rates discussed below.
The maternal mortality ratio is 570 per 100,000 live births in 1990, which was to be reduced to 100 per 100,000 in 2015. For example the child mortality rates discussed below illustrate the lack of availability of prenatal and post natal health care facilities in India. While the annual population growth in India is 1.4%, infant mortality rate (deaths per 1000 live births) is 48, and in children under the age of five mortality rate is 63, (deaths of children under age 5 per 1000 live births) (http://apps.who.int/ghodata/?vid=10400&theme=country). The increase in child mortality from birth to age 5 is greatest and indicates the urgent need for establishment of primary health care centers, and educating women. This shows the lack of prenatal and post natal care and neglect of female health issues. For example iodine deficiency is noted as a common ailment among women and children, causing health risks especially among pregnant women, which can be eliminated very easily by educating women about using Iodized salt, which is commonly available in the market. Similarly studies have shown that lack of basic personal heigene (probably due to lack of clean toilets and water) lead to abnormal results of Pap smear tests, while lack of education also impedes women from seeking medical help.
A recent study from Tamilnadu (Sundari, 2004) illustrated women resort to abortions as the only way to limit family size, which shows the failure of availability of contraceptives or other temporary methods of controlling fertility to limit family size, which demonstrates the failure of family planning methods designed by the government with a male centered perspective. Contraceptives are not freely available in the country side, and culturally women feel shy about shopping for contraceptives, therefore depend on their men to procure the contraceptives.
Cultural belief systems have also shown to interfere with seeking screening for common diseases such as breast cancer. Although cervical cancer and breast cancer account for 50% of deaths in India as per the data collected by the National Cancer Registry Program (www.ncrpindia.org), annual screenings are still not common, and numerous women are not aware of the impending dangers of these most common cancers.
There are enough legal provisions now addressing women’s issues. What is needed is their implementation and women’s participation. A national level organizational body such as National Council for the Women should be created to ensure and oversee the implementation of legislations and programs concerning women. In order to ensure that women are sufficiently educated and aware of their rights, each village and town should proactively encourage women to form self-help groups, functioning under the auspices of this National Council for Women. Women can no longer sit and wait for government to come to their doorsteps to provide them services and necessities. They should be active in forming civic self-help societies to deal with issues concerning women. The success of micro-finance groups is an example of what women’s groups and co-operatives can do to help the local development. The civic groups should have membership spanning across the social, economic, as well as education spectrum. Female teachers as well as government employees should be required to participate and provide guidance to the civic groups. Issues of childcare, feminine health, security and well being should be addressed by theses civic groups. The groups should maintain records of any issues in their community and actively support any one in need.
Civil Supplies department has the largest reach in the world. It supplies food, and other necessities even in the remote parts of India. They should also be charged with sanitary napkins and condoms with the monthly rations to eligible white card holders.
It is also the responsibility of the govt. to educate and plan the proper implementation of the legislations it makes. It is especially important in the case of India, where education, and opportunity is not equally distributed across all layers of society. These modest measure proposed above would help women in the remote corners of India.