India: country, people, situation für women, girls and children

Tuesday 31 July 10.00

Aborted, forced to marry, beaten and raped

What's the future of a country, in which girls and women are worthless ?

They are being aborted, abused, forced to marry, beaten and raped. According to the United Nations, India is the second dangerous country in the world - after Afghanistan. What's going on there ? What kind of men are living there, treating women like that ? Unfortunately, very normal men. But they are accustomed to patriarchal structures, in which girls and women are considered to be less worth than men.

That the world looks now more critical on the situation of women in India , is the result of dramatic cases of rapes. Especially the fate of a 23 years old woman draw the attention to India.. She was "lighting a candle for a better India", were the newspapers writing for a long while. It's the story of a special cruel mass-rape with a fatal result.
Everything had started so harmless for a young couple on that 16. Dec. 2012 in Dehli. Nirbhaya had visited with her friend a cinema, to see the film: The life of Pi. After the film, they started to go home right away. In the darkness, Dehli is even for young people not really a safe place. They were waiting at a bus-stop under a big highway bridge. Finally a bus was approaching, but it was the wrong one. It was a private bus with dyed windows, with 6 drunken and kiffed young men inside, planning to riot. They were luring the couple into their bus and then the horror started. The men, aged 17 to 23 years, maltreated - as being without consciousness - the young woman with a corroded iron bar and they raped the woman many times. With the iron bar, they injured the internal organs and finally destroyed her abdomen. Thereafter, they were beating her friend. Then they raped again the young woman in turn , before the were throwing her, after about 45 minutes, completely naked and bleeding on the road. And then they tried to overrun the young woman with her bus, but that attempt failed. Since that group rape, the country was shocked . For weeks, men and women were demonstrating against the unchangingly rising number of rapes. The police statistics were shocking. Only in the capital New-Dehli, the reported rapes had increased from 706 in the last year to 1450 this year. Another statistic said, that every 20 minutes a woman was raped.
Here are some examples: In April 2013, a 5 years old girl had been abused by 2 men in Madhya Pradesh for 48 hours. The girl died short time after that from her internal injuries. In August of the same year, a 7 years old girl had been raped in a train's toilette for days. Shortly thereafter, 5 men were abusing a 22 years old photographer in Mumbai. In Oct. a 16 years old woman was raped by a group of men and when she reported that to the police, the group took revenge and raped her again. This courageous girl however went again to the police,; 2 months later , 2 of the culprits burnt the girl and she was dying of that. This happened exactly one year after Nirbhaya.

In Mumbay, the rapists of the photographer were sitting in an almost empty courtroom and it appeared, they were understanding nothing. Never before, one of their victims went to the police, said the man. Why now that woman? A witness explained to the judge: " They were like children, who had found a dog, attaching some pyrotechnics to its tail , just to see, what was going to happen "
It's the basic tenor in the patriarchal Indian society, which creates this violence - and the caste system.
2 sisters, 14 and 15 years old, in a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh, were - shortly after the elections in Spring 2014 - reported as missing. According to the police, they had gone on a field, because they had no toilette at home. Shortly thereafter, the girls were found, hanging in a tree. 5 men had been raping them before, 2 of those men were policemen. This might have been the reason, that the police didn't record that, when the father was reporting his girls missing. Another reason might have been, that the father was a Dalit, member of the lowest caste. This had happened one and a half years after the rape of Nirbhaya. The commentators of the great newspapers rightly said: " What else has to happen, that the situation for women will change ? " 2 active politicians were not prepared to learn from that case. They only said: That a rape is " sometimes good and sometimes bad "

Figures and Facts : Women in India
48.46 % of the Indian population are women, but only 26.1 % have a job.

80 % of the women are working on the countryside, but only 9% of them own their own land.

Only on 10% of the positions in ministries and on 11% of the seats in parliament are sitting women

According to the statistics, every Indian woman gives birth to 2.55 babies, which means, she gives birth to 2,55 babies during her lifetime. In Germany it's 1.3.

In the birth -rates, girls are being underrepresented, in the death-rates of babies, they are overrepresented. The death-rate of babies up to the 6th year is for girls 61 % higher than for boys.

More than 1000.000 women are dying every year from pregnancy and giving birth. The death - rate of women giving birth, is in the international comparison in the second place. The reason for that might be, that only 43 % of all births are being supported by a midwife or a doctor.

Alone in 2011, 300.000 girls under the age of 15, gave birth to a baby.

Ultrasound investigations were mainly made, to determine the sex of a baby, Since those investigations are forbidden and expensive as well, mainly women of the upper class are asking for such investigations.

Statistics also prove, that women are asking for a sterilization, as soon as they have given birth to the desired number of sons.

Every 3 minutes a crime is being committed in India.

39 % of Indian men and women consider it acceptable, when a man is beating his wife.

Rape in the marriage is only being considered a rape, if the woman is under the age of 16 years.

The average age of Indian women when marrying , is 16 years. According to UNICEF, between 2002 and 2011, 18 % of the girls were under 15 years old, when they married and 47 % were married before reaching the age of 18 - and were living in the country side.

The suicide rate of Indian women between the age of 15 and 44 years is 11.3 %

Two thirds of all women in New Dehli have been sexually harassed during one year

Already in 1961 the dowry had been forbidden. Since then, it's illegal to ask for dowry, when arranging a marriage.

The 2 Dalit girls and Nirbhaya really seemed to touch the people in the whole country and as a consequence it appears, political changes might be possible. As a result of the general shock, that had hit the people after Nirbhayas death, the parliament passed within only some months a more strict law against rapists, the " Justice Verma Law". This was surprising, because formulating and introducing a new law in India normally takes much longer. Looking at other laws, concerning the protection of women and children, it took normally years to introduce them, for example in 2006, the law forbidding marriages of children or in 2005 the law, ruling that violence at home would be punished. 1999, the highest court ruled, that sexual harassement in the office or at the working place will be punished as a criminal act. 1993 it was ruled, that it was forbidden to determine the sex of a child before it was borne. In 1993 the antidiscrimination law had passed in order to to protect women. And already in 1961 the parliament had decided, that dowry payings should be punished. All this would be constructive and highly democratic and in favour of the women, if it would be applied in real life. And If the crimes would be dealt with by courts and if the culprits would be punished and if the legal system and the courts would function properly. But that's not the case and that's dramatical for women and girls.

In the Nirbhanya case it was the first time, that the police investigated quickly, quick as never before. Within 15 days the rapists had been caught. After 9 months the legal proceedings started - a really fast operation. 4 of the 6 rapists were called guilty by the judge in all points: kidnapping, group-rapes and coldblooded murder. The sentence: death by hanging. Never before in the history of India, a verdict had been spoken so quickly. Normally this took some years. In this case the Indians were applauding and they were flying flags in the streets.
A fifth rapist had died already in the prison. Whether he had committed suicide or had been murdered, the police was still investigating. But the sixth of the brutal gang, the 17 years old driver of the bus was only sentenced to 3 years prison, in accordance with youth law, although it was assumed, that he had been the leader of the gang.
All this had been reported by the press worldwide and that the Indians were going on the streets, demonstrating against the increasing violence against women. Dalits, ( the untouchable ones), as well as students, lawyers and activists, Bramans ( members of the highest Indian caste ), house-women and feminists - all together. This happened for the first time since the campaigns against widow burnings and against the determination of the sex of babies before their birth in the nineteen nineties. More campaigns were started with the titles " Men say no Bogathons " or " stop rape now" or " Dehli gang- rape -rap song " ( those were blogs in which men confessed their NO to violence ) and petitions with the slogan " stop raping now " and rap songs against group rapes, song by the most well known Indian groups. In busses one installed supervision cameras. The state owned weapon industry developed a light " Lady-pistol " , named ,to remember to the victims, Nirbheek", which means " fearless " . And this happened, although weapons are forbidden in India. All were demanding - and this hasn't changed - more strict laws and the death-penalty for rapists - which probably wouldn't change the society.
And one was critizising the behaviour of the public and of the people, who were at the bus-stop, where the crime had happened. People had passed the place, where the 2 bleeding and unconscious victims had been lying on the ground.
In India people are frightened to get involved in police investigations, which are often not fair and which might have negative consequences for the people concerned, because they don't know, how the police might react.
Shortly after the rape had happened, a police officer put in a TV broadcast his finger in the wound. How can one expect from the police, that they act differently and more efficiently, when it's always the same type of men, like those, who raped the young woman. In that broadcast another investigation was mentioned, that showed, that 90 % of the policemen in New Dehli are of the opinion, that women very likely initiate rapes themselves. They shouldn 't have left the house alone or they shouldn't have dressed in such a sexy way. Isn't it strange, that women's bodies seduce men to such reaction ? During the TV-broadcast, the question was asked, if the problem could not be created by the men. Why, for example are women allowed to leave a house at daytime, but not when it's dark ?

Strong voices

Kavita Krishnan: "Take care of the liberty of women - not of their body "

The AIPWA, the all Indian progressive women's association is a mighty voice in India, being heard by many people. Her speaker Kavin Krishnan complains again and again how little police and political parties, lawyers and the ministry for justice are supporting women's positions. They still argue along the old patriarchal lines. Especially then , when India wide one was discussing the rape of the student in 2012. Kavita Krishnan is grateful for the protests on the streets and she hoped, they would continue. And they should grow and get louder. Because this is the answer: " Take care of the liberty of women - not of their bodies " And not with the supervising cameras, which are being installed now. The answer is not the death penalty or the chemical castration. When the number of rapists to be sentenced is so low, how could then the death penalty be a solution to that problem ?In our county she complains, there is a culture, that justifies rapes. For example, when men, as politicians say, are being provoked by women, wearing provoking sexy dress. This makes the fighter for women's rights very angry. For that reason, politicians have to be included in such discussions and women have to loudly explain, how they suffer, when they are being raped and politicians then have to listen to them. Because we women must have the right to live freely and without being frightened - that was her opinion .

Searching for the reasons

It was Nirbhaya's fate and the terrible UN- statistic on the situation of the women in India, that made me travel again to India in 2013 after more than 20 years, that I had been there the last time. Then I had reported the first time from India for ML Mona Lisa, a women's TV journal. What had changed in the meantime, especially for women ? Beside the fact, that the country had now a population of 1.2 billion people, it had also experienced an enormous economic development. I was very curious.
I arrived at the brand-new, gigantic airport in Delhi with an exotic, Indian ambience. 2 big elephants on high stands, were showing, where one had arrived. India is no longer underdeveloped and poor. No, today it's one of the most booming nations in the world, competing against China. The number of Indian billionaires has 7 digits. One of them has bought for his wife an Airbus. The steel-producer Mittal has bought the European steel- combine Arcelor and is today the world's greatest steel-producer.. That was what came to my mind in that moment.
At the airport, passport control and baggage claim worked well and quickly , as one would expect it in a modern country. The times one had to wait for hours for one's luggage, were over. Driving on broad roads, the time was passing quickly. It was still early in the morning and the light mist and the sunshine produced a mysterious glance. It were only 16 kilometers for the driver, who had expected me with my name-tag, punctually at the gate. " Namaste " , that's how we greeted each other, bowing with folded hands before the breast.
Outside, on the other side of the road, I saw 2 or 3 women, cleaning the road. But except of those few women, there were thousands of male workers. They came out of overcrowded trains and busses, from the underground and out of overcrowded mini-taxis. This way , drivers have a minimum income and passengers only pay a minimum for their transport. My driver saw my surprise and gave me a friendly explanation " The women ? They are all at home, taking care of the children and the household".

India - Figures and facts

With 1.24 billion inhabitants, India is the greatest democracy in the world and looking at its population, it's the second greatest country in the world

With 3.3 million square kilometers, India is nine times bigger than Germany ( with 357021 square kilometers )

The capital city New Dehli has 15 million inhabitants; the biggest city however is Mumbay, the former Bombay, with 18.7 billion inhabitants

The average age of the population was 25.7 years ( compared to 44..2 years in Germany ). The life - expectancy was 67.4 years ( compared to 77 years for men and 82 years for women in Germany )

32 % of the population were living under the poverty-line.

78.08 % of all Indian households have no toilette

82.14 % of the men could read and write but only 65. 46 % of the women, 75 % of the boys went to school and 66% of the girls

The grossnationalproduct was 1472 billion $, the per head income was 1506 $ ( compared to 44999$ in Germany ) 80 % of the people are living of 1 - 2 $ per day.

12 % of all children had to work

Already in the afternoon , I was driving with the producer Bindu Lall, whom I had leased from the ARD studio, to my first interview with Dr. Charu WakiKhanna, a lawyer and member of the national commission for women. She is one of the leading feminists in the country.
A producer is for us journalists most important. She organizes the appointments, she knows the country and the subjects , which are being discussed and she speaks the country's language. A good producer is worth gold and Bindu was such a producer. We stopped in front of a classical Indian office building. There were , as I remembered from my earlier journeys , narrow, old staircases that needed overhauling, some corridors with plants in pots, needing water. Waiting people were sitting on shaky chairs or old settees. We were asked to enter right away. The lawyer, who had been decorated several times, was in the middle of her fifties. She was wearing the classical Indian Churidar - dress, that's a short dress and some narrow trousers - everything in a decent dark blue colour. She was putting her dark hair out of her face and whilst I was asking her, she was looking in her files. Only when her subordinate - the clerk brought us chai and bisquits- the atmosphere was getting more relaxed. We were exchanging our business cards , her card was a very noble one, showing a coat of arms. Her clerk entered the room again and again during our conversation , bringing new files and displays, the lawyer was using, when she was talking to us.
Whilst sitting there, I was thinking of the 23 years old Nirbhaya and that further mass - rapes had been reported. When I asked her for the reason of that development, I got the following surprising answer: " 90 % of the Indian men are criminals, believe me and for that reason it will take another 30 years or one generation, until that situation will have improved. But we will be successful, because there is a young generation, that doesn't want to continue life like now. . " To continue like now means: to rape, to force children into marriages, to have castes and especially to discriminate the poorest people. With her accusation, men are criminal, she described the fact, that, although it's forbidden, dowry is still being demanded and paid. And since India has become an unbelievable consumers' society, the dowry claims, going to the bride's parents, when organizing a marriage, are rising to unbelievable amounts. Jewellery, gold, fridges. bicycles, a new kitchen or even a new car, that's nowadays the currency a girl is being sold for to the family of the bridegroom.
Charu WaliKharma was telling me, that she is sitting more in her car than in her office, to support women on the countryside, thereby using simple leaflets or drawings to communicate with those women. They are asking, what they shall do, when their husbands are violent and don't stop beating them. What they should do, when they are pregnant and the family of the man is asking for an abortion of the female foetus. Although in India Amniocentesis and the determination of the sex of a baby, using ultrasound, are forbidden, every day thousands of female foetuses are being aborted. That's a situation that can't be found in any other country of that world. Even not in China with its one-child policy.

When I mentioned the rising number of rapes, the lawyer only said: " This has always happened, that's not new. But only today, the police is accepting reports. And meanwhile, the judges are sentencing culprits". And that's the change. Since Nirbhaya's death, a law has been drafted, a law that shall protect the human rights of women. But the law had - one year after the death of Nirbhaya - not been passed by the parliament, contrary to the " Justice Verma Law", that the parliament has passed already. Charu WaliKhanna is afraid, that the new law will be delayed further on. " In the parliament there are almost no men, who are prepared to discuss that subject"

In Spring 2014 there were elections in India. This would have been a chance for the 400 million women, to change something with their votes. That was , what the lawyer was hoping for. But probably the result would be others than hoped for. Surprisingly for me, the lawyer was praising the media, because the newspapers, the radio-stations , TV and the internet were reporting so intensively about the rapes . Meanwhile, Indian men are ashamed of their county. Isn't that a success ?

Only 7 protected rooms for millions of women

Quite quickly I got accustomed again to the Indian head-shaking. That's how that looks: From the left to the right and then a little bit downward. One never knows, whether this means yes or no. My interpretation was " Maybe " . A clear yes or no is not being used in the Indian society. Because the other one would then loose his face and that's not possible.
On top of my list of organizations I planned to visit in New Dehli stood: Shakti Shalini . That is a help organization, that I had visited already in 1992. Then the members of that organization took mainly care of women, whom, after their wedding, their new mother in law had poured Kerosine over their body to burn them and who had survived that attack. Then I was in a hospital, where I saw the heavily burnt women. In those days, every day new victims were admitted to the hospital. Dowry-burning was considered a suitable means to get rid off the undesired daughter in law, but to keep the dowry. This way the son could marry a second time, naturally asking again for an expensive dowry. Five times the annual income was in the nineteensixties considered to be the normal value of a dowry. The few young brides, who had survived the Kerosine attack, would - according to Indian customs - not return to their original family. They were taken care by Shakti Shalini. Today, dowry is forbidden, but the work of the Shakti Shalini women still has to be done, because women are still a merchandise, which has to be paid for and because the greed of the Indian society is growing.
Today, homeless women and women living in slums are being accommodated by Shakti Shalini in their protected rooms. And the number of those women is growing every week. In the evening, 30 to 40 women and their children get a warm meal there. And then they can put their straw mats on the cold concrete floor and quietly sleep there, not being disturbed and frightened , which is most important for them. In their tents or on the road, those women and their children are being threatened to be harassed, to be beaten or to be raped.
Sudha Tiwari is a member of that help-organization since the beginning. " Violence in the families has changed", she told me. There is still violence, but it's different now. Also because the family of the bridegroom is now being made responsible by law, if something should happen to the young bride in the new family. For that reason, the brides are now being tortured mentally, told me Sudha Tiwari. The Indian feminists call it now " pychological warfare". Many young women can't stand that. They can't return to their parents. They leave their new husband and end on the street. The social worker continues: " Only if the woman has learnt a job and if she can work and earn her own money, then there is a chance, her own family will accept her again. In this case, she doesn't cost money to the family and she can maybe contribute money to her family. It's money, that determines - especially in the middle classes- how women are being treated". It's new , that in New Dehli, in so called " Hostels " alone living women can hire cheap rooms and go to work, if they can't or won't return to their family.
In the 17 million city New Dehli, there were still 1.5 to 2 million women, who lived on the street, needing support. And for them, there were only 7 night shelters in the whole city. Colleagues of Shakti Shalini showed me such a protected room, built of stone and with a concrete floor. Along the walls were some pieces of furniture stapled, covered with a few blankets. Whilst I was listening to the women, there was a little girl, playing with its baby-brother on the floor. The baby was enjoying the care and happiness of his sister. What kind of future might be waiting for them ?

New Dehli - the unsafe one

Life in New Dehli is a daily fight - especially for women. Every 20 minutes, a woman is being raped. In 2012, alone in the capital city 1450 cases were reported to the police. But nobody knows, how many cases actually happened, because many women don't dare to go to the police. But the number is increasing every year - that's for sure.
The same applies for sexual harassments, which have been reported. In 2012, the number of cases was 727. In 2013 already 3250 women had been harassed by men. Here is a part of the police statistics for the second halve year 2013, I had been allowed to look at.
June: 2 sisters from Usbekistan had been locked by another passenger in a flat and had there been raped by several men.

July:A 20 years old woman, who had come from Bihar to New Dehli, to look for a job, had been locked in a house, where she had been raped by 2 men several times. The men had promised her before, to look for a job for her.

August: A 20 years old journalist of an international TV company was reporting her colleague to the police, because he had sexually harassed her in her house.
November: A 16 years old schoolgirl had been raped several times by a class-mate and 3 of his friends over some months.
A 26 years old woman had been reporting to the police 2 men she knew and who had given her drugs in a shopping center and who had then raped her.

That's difficult to understand

But let me return to the engaged women in Shakti Shalini's shelter in New Dehli. When talking with them , we were discussing a thesis concerning the growing number of rapes, a thesis, that was new and logic for me. The Shakti Shalini women believed, that the reason for that was the decreasing number of girls in India, because female foetuses are still being aborted and newly born baby-girls were put outside to die. This means, that women are missing in India and as a result, the growing male society is getting more violent. And another reason might be the disintegration of the families. Whilst in earlier days the whole family in a village would have been blamed, if a member didn't behave well, this is no longer the case and those roots are missing today to the young men.None of them is any longer frightened, that his family could be blamed. So they form groups in the cities, far away from home and kidnap girls to abuse them.

Abida was living next to the shelter . She was 35 years old and had 2 sons. Paid by the government, she was guarding for 235 Rupies a day ( equals 3 Euros ) Shakti Shalini's protected room, trying to make sure, no men would enter the room and do any harm to the women and children. She had seen enough violence at home, she told me. But she also told me, that she was staying with her husband. She did that, to maintain the father's name for her children - which is important in India. And the other reason to stay with her husband was, because she was enjoying the respect of the society for a married woman. Inspite of beatings and violence at home, those were important arguments for her. When it was really getting bad at home, then she would take her children and move with them to the other women in the shelter. And since she was needing money, money that her husband didn't earn, she was working additionally as a cosmetician, which was good for her self-consciousness and which helped her to resist a violent man.
During my researches in India, there was no one day, when there were no reports about rapes or group-rapes. But that the police would be participating, that was a new dimension - like the case of the 2 Dalit sisters from Utar Pradesh. In many cases there is also corruption involved. Here is an example: Indian policemen, I had read in the Indian times, had harassed a 14 years old girl sexually when that girl courageously tried to report a rape, the chief of the police - said the girl later - had forced her to undress. This chief had then touched her sexually and had claimed over 5000 Rupies
( 600 Euros ) if he would accept her report. The case became only known, because the father of the girl refused to pay bribe-money to the police. Meanwhile the authorities were investigating that case and the presumable rapist has been arrested.
How strong must a 14 years old girl be, to stand all that and to tell the story again and again in order to get the male culprits punished. And how strong were her parents in such a society, to protect her daughter ?
It was not surprising, that the author Sonia Faleiro wrote in the New York times about her 24 years in Dehli: " As a teenager I had learnt to protect myself.If possible, I never stood alone, I always walked quickly, I crossed my arms over my breast and I always avoided eye-contact or a smile. I always crossed through crowds with my shoulders ahead and I avoided to leave the house, when it got dark, except when entering a private car with a known driver "

Violence is a question of power

Kamla Bhasin was living in a guarded house with a barrier and a receptionist. Quite an attractive area for rich Indians. She had 3 employees and an elegant living-room. Speaking fluently German, she was receiving her guests. She was the head of a successful Indian women's organization. Jagori supports women to get their rights, trains young people on their way to get a job and also cares of such important subjects in India like violence, health, education and development. The employees of Jagori prepare all the necessary handouts to all those subjects affecting women and Jagori also cooperates with other women's groups , NGOs and developing aid organizations. The Hindi word " Jagori " means: " Get up women " This appeal suited to my interview partner.
Kamla Bhasin had short, white hair, was wearing elegant glasses and appeared to have a strong self-concsiousness. First after the usual " Hallo " and welcome words, she wanted to pass over to me, the German journalist, her most important message: Violence against women is in India - measured at the relation of the number of inhabitants - less than in Germany or Sweden. Please say again ! I thought, I hadn't understood, what she had said; but I could check that later on. The vivid and highly engaged feminist wanted to tell me another urgent fact. Dehli was not the capital of rapes - no, it was the capital of protests against rapes. Nowhere else had so many men and women gone on the streets. Only this way, could a change be achieved in the thinking of the society and as a result the law for the protection of women against violence had been drafted so quickly. And therefore your question should be : Are there more rapes or more reports about rapes ?
During our intensive and controversial discussion, she was touching on a decisive point: the growing " machismo" of the men, guns, sex and naked women - that was her explanation for the growing violence. Violence was for Kamla Bhasin a question of power. And she was quoting Olivia Muchena, the women's minister of Simbabwe: " Men of quality are not afraid of egality". Which I thought, was quite true.
When Kamla Bhasin lectured about violence, she was in her element. She said, that 40 % of all men are regularly violent to their wives and she was adding as a question to herself: How many of those men are violent to their bosses?
She was not denying, that 500 million Indian girls and women still had a long way to go , until reaching equal rights. Poverty, missing education and a corrupt legal system had to be overcome first. And the feminist was mentioning an interesting argument. According to her experience, it is mainly the middle class, that kills her unborn female babies or the babies right after they were born. That's a result of the dowry, that, although it had been forbidden, still has to be paid. The poor people, living in the countryside , so Kamla Bhasin, leave the female babies alive, because poor women are working, thereby feeding their families and they are earning money, without costing money. Poor people are simply minded but not greedy. The engaged fighter for women's rights was convinced of that. Only when the women of the middle class will also work , when they will earn their own money, only then the situation will change in India in favour of the women. The end of dowry could be the key for a women-minded society. A society, in which also women will get to power and possess power.