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India - Gender Bias

In this very same 'tolerant and progressive' India where young women drive scooters, mix uninhibitedly with men in clubs and discos and participate with them in games and pastimes, none of which exists in the 'backward' societies of neighboring countries, women are gang raped and beaten to death in center of the Indian capital. Delhi is said to be the rape capital of the world, and the incidence of rape in India is said to be higher than anywhere else in the world. And, as if that was not enough, there are photographs of adolescent Indian village girls raped and then strung up on a tree.

India was and still remains as a male dominated country. Gender bias’ is a term commonly used to describe how far behind women have remained in seizing opportunities for improving their level of living. The Law treats women and men as enjoying equal rights. Focussing on gender issues in the context of the social sector development means empowering women as agents of socio-economic change.

It is well recognised that societies which discriminate by gender tend to experience less rapid economic growth and poverty reduction than societies which treat men and women more equally. Ending of gender based inequities, discrimination and all forms of violence against girls and women has been accorded overriding priority. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favor of women.

Son preference and sex selection really are products of gender discrimination, and the underlying causes of bias against women and girls are incredibly complex issues. There is a complex web of socioeconomic and cultural factors that result in discrimination against girls. Other manifestations of gender discrimination are the abhorrent rates of sexual violence that occur; child marriage; domestic violence; honor killings; the denial of basic health care, including basic family planning and maternal health services.

A brutal gang rape and killing of a 23-year-old woman and assault on her companion on a moving bus in the Indian capital New Delhi in December 2012 prompted the government to tighten laws and make rape punishable by death. Of the six persons accused in the December 2012 case, a court convicted four men and sentenced them to death, and convicted one juvenile and sentenced him to three years in custody. A fifth adult allegedly committed suicide in police custody before trial.

The Verma Commission, created following the December 2012 gang rape identified areas of legislative reform to address crimes against women, some of which subsequently became law. The Criminal Law Amendment bill, passed in February, revised the penal code to introduce more stringent punishments for rape and other gender-based violence. But the stricter measures appear to have done little to stem violence against women. Reports of sexual assault have continued to pour in from all parts of the country - whether from remote villages or big cities like India's financial hub Mumbai or the capital New Delhi.

Among the targets of sexual assaults have been some foreign tourists, including those from the United States, Switzerland and Britain. Tourism industry officials say the reports of rapes have tarnished India’s image in the past year and heightened fears among women tourists heading to the country.

The rape and murder of two young girls in northern India in May 2014 highlighted the sexual oppression of low caste women in the country, particularly in its vast rural areas. The case also demonstrates the serious risks faced by women living in homes without indoor plumbing, which was a campaign issue for the country’s new government. The higher castes have been exploiting the women of the dalits and the weaker section just as a matter of right. And sometimes rape is used as a weapon to suppress these sections of society.

Police refusal to register criminal complaints from low caste people is common, especially in rural areas. When questioned about the gang rape, Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav told a reporter, “you have not been harmed, have you?” Some months ago his father, former chief minister Mulayam Yadav, opposed the death penalty for gang rape, saying “boys will be boys.”

Violence against women is a serious problem in India. Overall, one-third of women age 15-49 have experienced physical violence and about 1 in 10 has experienced sexual violence. It is very disturbing as well as discouraging to think that a country that praises womanhood through epics and their devotion to goddesses can be so demeaning and indifferent when it comes to the common women living in the country. Although there are laws (civil & criminal) to tackle the issues of domestic violence, it is not implemented effectively.

‘Cruelty by husband and relatives’ continues to occupy the highest share (43.6%) among the crimes committed against women in 2012 followed by ‘assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty’ (18.6%). 15.7% cases were that of kidnapping and abduction, 10.2% of rape, 3.8% of ‘insult to the modesty of women’ and 3.7% of ‘dowry prohibition act’. Some 10.8% cases of ‘cruelty by husband and relatives’ underwent trial by the Courts of Law in 2012 and conviction was done in 1.6% cases. The highest conviction rate of 7.8% was observed for the crime ‘insult to the modesty of women’. Out of a total 24915 victims of rape in 2012, there were 1051 victims who were less than 10 years of age,

Victims of domestic violence are afraid to protest as there is lack of awareness or rather lack of initiative to make her aware of her rights. No or less efforts are made to increase awareness among women by the authorities posted to implement the Act. If domestic violence is reported by a third party then he/she is scrutinized as an intruder and problem maker by the community. The bureaucracy associated with reporting of domestic violence, lack of funds for support group adds up to the continued domestic violence in India.

There are many different theories as to the causes of domestic violence. These include psychological theories that consider personality traits and mental characteristics of the perpetrator, as well as social theories which consider external factors in the perpetrator's environment, such as family structure, stress, social learning. As with many phenomena regarding human experience, no single approach appears to cover all cases.

Some speculate that poverty may hinder a man's ability to live up to his idea of "successful manhood", thus he fears losing honor and respect. Theory suggests that when he is unable to economically support his wife, and maintain control, he may turn to misogyny, substance abuse, and crime as ways to express masculinity. By one estimate as many as 80% of men have personality disorder, psychopathology, poor impulse control, low self esteem.

Acid attacks against women caused death and permanent disfigurement. For example, on July 21, a 28-year-old woman died, and three others sustained injuries, following an acid attack by a former romantic interest in Morena District, Madhya Pradesh. Although the government maintained statistics on gender-based violence and general assaults, it did not disaggregate acid attacks.

Acid was commonly used as a household cleaner and was widely available at local markets. The Supreme Court issued an order on July 18 to regulate the sale of acid across the country. The government issued guidelines in August aimed at preventing attacks and also moved to oblige states to implement guidelines requiring dilution and licensing of acid sold in retail shops. Those who purchase acid are required to show identification and proof of residence. The guidelines also direct states to pay 300,000 rupees ($4,880) to victims of acid attacks and treat victims free of cost at government hospitals. Individuals convicted of acid attacks face a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison. The new regulations were not fully implemented in all states by year’s end and were inconsistently enforced where implemented.

The prevalence of physical or sexual violence ranges from 6% in Himachal Pradesh, 13% in Jammu and Kashmir and Meghalaya, 46% in Madhya Pradesh Rajasthan and 59% in Bihar. Other states with 40% or higher prevalence include Tripura, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam. The ongoing armed-conflict situation prevalent in the North East of India has intensified the violence faced by women, which takes the form of sexual, mental or physical abuse, killings and clashes. Although all the members of communities are affected by the armed conflict, the impact on women and girls is far greater because of their status in society and their sex. The region, under the shadow of conflict, has witnessed a resurgence of patriarchal values and norms, which have brought with them new restrictions on the movement of women, the dress they wear and more overtly physical violence such as rape, which is systematically used as a tactic against a particular community.

Official statistics pointed to rape as the country’s fastest growing crime. The NCRB reported 24,923 cases of rape nationwide in 2012, the latest year for which data were available. Observers considered rape an underreported crime. Law enforcement and legal avenues for rape victims were inadequate, overtaxed, and unable to address the problem effectively. Law enforcement officers sometimes worked to reconcile rape victims and their attackers, in some cases encouraging female rape victims to marry their attackers. Doctors sometimes further abused rape victims who reported the crimes by using the “two-finger test” to speculate on their sexual history. The Supreme Court ruled in May that this practice violated the rape victim’s right to privacy and asked the government to provide better alternatives.

So-called honor killings continued to be a problem, especially in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana, where as many as 10 percent of all killings were honor killings. These states also had low female birth ratios due to gender-selective abortions. In some cases the killings resulted from extrajudicial decisions by traditional community elders, such as “khap panchayats,” unelected caste-based village assemblies that have no legal authority. Statistics for honor killings were difficult to verify, since many killings were unreported or passed off as suicide or natural deaths by family members. NGOs estimated that at least 900 such killings occurred annually in Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh alone. The most common justification for the killings offered by those accused or by their relatives was that the victim married against her family’s wishes. For example, in January the parents of a 21-year-old woman in Sangrur District, Punjab, killed their daughter because she intended to marry a man of her choice.

Sex-selective abortion and female infanticide have led to lopsided sex ratios. In parts of India, for example, 126 boys are born for every 100 girls. Excluding South Asia, the ratio of females to males is 106 to 100 in the rest of the world. In India, in 1991, the ratio was a little less than 93 to 100, which suggests that millions of women are “missing”. As per Census 2011, the sex ratio (number of females per 1000 males) at the national level is 943. Rural sex ratio is 949 and the urban is 929. Among the States, Kerala at 1084 has the highest sex ratio followed by Puducherry at 1037. Daman and Diu has the lowest sex ratio of 618 in the country.

This in turn leads to a shortage of marriageable women, which then leads to trafficking in persons, bride selling and prostitution. Perhaps the best figures concerning the magnitude of the problem come from India's 2011 census figures, which found that there are approximately 37 million more men than women in India. Prime Minister Singh addressed this issue head on, stating "The falling child sex ratio is an indictment of our social values... Improving this ration is not merely a question of stricter compliance with existing laws. What is more important is how we view and value the girl child in our society. It is a national shame for us that despite this, female feticide and infanticide continue in many parts of our country."

Even when they are not killed outright either in the womb or just before birth, the bias against girl children manifests itself in situations where family resources are limited and little food is available; in boys being fed before girls, leading to greater incidence of malnutrition among girls and a mortality rate that is 75 percent higher for girls below the age of 5 than for boys.

In her book, "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, Mara Hvistendahl elaborates, "Sex selection... had the added advantage of reducing the number of potential mothers. If reliable sex determination technology could be made available to a mass market, there was a rough consensus that sex-selective abortion would be an effective, uncontroversial and ethical way of reducing the global population. Fewer women, fewer mothers, fewer future children."

While India has taken steps to curb these practices, indeed passing a law to ban sex-selective abortion, and tempered cultural facts such as the need for brides to provide a high dowry that contribute to parents looking at their daughters as a liability, these laws are largely -- or irregularly, enforced.

In some areas of the country women and girls dedicated in symbolic marriages to Hindu deities reportedly were subjected to instances of rape or sexual abuse at the hands of priests and temple patrons – a form of sex trafficking. NGOs suggested that some SC girls were sent to these symbolic marriages, and subsequent sex work in temples, by their families to mitigate household financial burdens and the prospect of marriage dowries. The women and girls were also at heightened risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Some states have laws to curb prostitution or sexual abuse of women and girls in temple service. Enforcement of these laws remained weak, and the problem was widespread. Observers estimated more than 450,000 women and girls were in this system.

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