Term Paper: Violation of Women Rights in India

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Women's Rights In India

Violation of Women's Rights in India

As a fast-growing economy and the largest democracy of the world, India struggles with numerous human rights issues in its attempt to strengthen its position in the world: politically, economically, and morally. India is a signatory to major international conventions dealing with human rights issues and in the last sixty years the government has passed numerous laws designed to protect the rights of India's citizens, especially those of minority groups and women. And yet the problem with women's rights remains serious. Violations of women's rights remain prevalent in Indian society because of centuries-old, deep-seated cultural beliefs and attitudes that disfavor women's rights in the society. The struggles for equality are compounded by sexist and misogynist beliefs and attitudes that cannot be fully erased by passing laws and regulations. The human- and women's rights advocacy groups need to work on educating the society in order to significantly lower the level of female mistreatment with the long-term goal of eliminating the problem altogether.

Mistreatment of women and violations of their rights in India operate on different levels. The most pervasive case is domestic violence where women are subjected to rape, intimidation, mental and verbal abuse. Other forms of abuse include, among other things, discrimination in the rights over properties, sexual harassment at the workplace, the misuse of the institution of dowry, homicide in the matrimonial home, Sati, child marriage, and one of the growing and shocking problem of eliminating "unwanted" female children through abortion (Ramanatha; "India's Unwanted Girls"). In all of these instances, the problem stems primarily from the ancient beliefs and attitudes placing a low worth on women's lives. Many men in domestic sphere as well as in the larger society behave with the conviction that men are the heads of state and that women can be bought and sold like property; should be confined to home; that they are not as "wanted" as men are. They problem has become a systemic one because many women, too, have internalized these views and sometimes appease them and sometimes contribute to the overall abuse of women. The active participation or encouragement by mothers-in-law in mistreating younger brides is the case in point.

The women's movement in India gained momentum in the 1970s, forming women's rights advocacy groups and demanding that the government as well as the public view women's rights as human rights. The Committee on the Status of Women in India was formed in 1975 and submitted to the state authorities a report, requesting the fundamental reform of a range of policies dealing with women's rights and roles in the society. The report based its findings and recommendations on the lives and experiences of women, specifically bringing the government's attention to the way women became victims of domestic violence, rape, dowry, liquor, and custodial violence. Due to pressure by these women's groups, the Uniform Civil Code Debate was restarted to address the question of inequality "imposed on women by 'personal' laws," and "patriarchy has entered the domain of human rights as nurturing the offender" (Ramanatha 1). Since then the terrain of women's rights has been contested through public discussions and activism of women's- and human rights organizations, often with the approval and support of the government.

And yet the problem persists because deep-seated cultural traditions do not always favor equality and due respect for women in India. Many cultural traditions target women on the basis of caste, class, and religion, viewing members of the so-called "untouchables" with contempt. And the problem usually starts at the early age of women. As one human rights blogger posted her findings to an Amnesty page, reflecting upon her observations in Uttar Pradesh, India, violations of women's rights is linked to violations of children's rights. Although India is a signatory to the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that children should have access to formal education and be protected from all forms of abuse, mistreatment, exploitation, and cruelty, young girls face systematic abuse at the hands of their parents, in-laws, and other members of the society ("Women's Rights Abuses in India Begin in Childhood").

The blogger notes that women's rights advocacy groups primarily work with girls under eighteen or those who have been forced to marriage at an early age. Unmarried girls who become pregnant, even if as a result of rape, are often killed by their own family members. The problem is exacerbated by the differences in the caste system because parents of upper castes disapprove or forbid their sons marry girls from lower castes. The sons engage in relationships with girls from lower castes but refuse to marry them if the latter become pregnant. Sometimes, girls are forced to marriage as early as at the age of eight and the family members do not act on their behalf when these young brides are abused by their in-laws. These young brides are forever confined to domestic abusive life, with little or no protection from the society. Even if the wives secure a divorce later in their lives, they will be left alone and ostracized from the community. The blogger also explains that the practice of "dowry still prevails and it is not surprising perhaps that the prospect of such an expense can cause families not to value the birth of a baby girl, blame the mother for not being a son and even resort to killing the baby" ("Women's Rights Abuses in India Begin in Childhood"). The only hope of the women battered in the community is the existence of women's rights groups that address this problem by exposing the brutality of some members of the society as well as practices and by educating them.

One of the most shocking forms of violation in India today is a growing problem of foeticide, i.e. elimination of "unwanted" children through abortion. Due to societal expectations and economic conditions, many families traditionally expect to have male children. The availability of ultrasound technology unfortunately aggravated the problem by allowing misogynist families to check the sex of the baby before the birth and abort female fetuses. It is estimated that from 35 to 40 million India women are missing from the society as a result of this practice. The sex ratio of girls to boys has steadily decreased in the last several decades, in some parts of India dropping to less than 800 to 1,000 (Grewal and Kishore). According to Grewal and Kishore, the relatively lower sex ratio of girls to boys in some places such as Punjab, Delhi, and Haryana is reflected in the fact that these were the places where clinics offering foetal sex determination were established first. It should also be noted that the costs of abortion are often high, leading to further abuses of mothers who are unable to bear sons because in-laws who pay large sums of money to abort babies try to compensate for their financial loss by taking revenge on the brides although the latter also suffer from unsafe conditions in the abortion clinics (Duggal).

Some of the personal experiences of mothers who are forced by their in-laws to abort their female fetuses are extremely saddening. The BBC recently reported about a woman named Kuwant, a mother of three daughters aged 24, 23, and 20, and a son aged 16. Between just the birth of her third daughter and the son, Kuwant became pregnant three times and in all three cases was forced to abort her female fetuses after their sex was determined through ultrasound testing. A women whose life consisted of systematic beatings and abuse at the hands of her husband, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law until the birth of her son, told BBC: "My mother-in-law taunted me for giving birth to girls. She said her son would divorce me if I did not bear a son. . . . They were angry. They did not want girls in the family. They wanted boys so they could get fat dowries" ("India's Unwanted Girls"). Another woman who was forced by her mother-in-law to undergo ultrasound testing and then have her child aborted after it was determined that the fetus was female said: "I said there is no difference between girls and boys. But here they think differently. There is no happiness when a girl is born. They say the son will carry forward out lineage, but the daughter will get married and go off to another family" (ibid).

These practices continue despite the fact that they have been outlawed by the government. The practice of dowry was outlawed by the Indian government in 1961, and the Pre-Natal Determination Test Act, passed in 1994, outlawed sex-selective abortion. But the legal measures remain ineffective as long as the attitudes and views remain unchanged. There are several reasons that account for the ineffectiveness of the laws protecting the rights of women. Sometimes the law enforcement officials do not act because they are also the product of centuries-long cultural practices that disfavor gender equality. Sometimes it… [END OF PREVIEW]

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