Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his first Independence Day address as prime minister, in 2014, said, “Parents ask their daughters where they were if they return home late. But, do they do the same with their sons? After all a person perpetrating a heinous crime such as rape is also someone’s son. As parents, have we asked our sons where he is going? While we keep questioning our daughters, why not use same yardstick for sons too?”
Clearly, for someone to say this on Independence Day shows the deep concern for women’s safety and gender equality. He walked the talk by ensuring that women safety is an integral part of his government’s policymaking, governance and agenda. The nation witnessed some path-breaking announcements that ensured dignity and welfare of this section of the populace, which has been subjected to tokenism for many years. Enabling women-led development, several announcements have been made.
Some such announcements have potentially transformed the safety and security net for women in India.
The Narendra Modi government passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 in Lok Sabha. This bill makes instant triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat) in any form illegal and void.
This Bill protects right of Muslim women who are vulnerable at the hands of instant triple talaq. It is a far cry from the arbitrary practice of divorcing wives with just an SMS or WhatsApp message. This bill is a beginning towards empowering married Muslim women who have been defenseless if such an event befalls them.
Mahila police volunteers and women’s safety app called HIMMAT reinforce the Government’s commitment to allow women a safe life both in and out of their homes. The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 creates a law for investigation of all types of trafficking, and rescue, protection and rehabilitation of trafficked victims. Anti-Trafficking Units will be established to rescue victims and investigate cases of trafficking.
Committed to providing a safe and secure growing environment to young girls, the Narendra Modi led government introduced a law to severely punish the criminals from indulging in such heinous crimes. Capital punishment for those found guilty of raping a child under the age of 12 was introduced by the government to deter such crimes and ensure those who breach the dignity of young citizens of India are dealt with an iron hand. Moreover, minimum punishment for rape of a girl less than 16 years increased from 10 years to 20 years.
Swachh Bharat is another social innovation that has multi-faceted social impacts. In the absence of toilets, women had to venture into open fields at odd hours. This posed a huge security threat for them. Criminals could have found these visits into dark fields, as an opportunity to harm women. Women were also at the risk of lurking wild-life and snake bites which could pose a potential threat to their life. Spillover effects of Swachh Bharat are far and beyond just a sanitation initiative. It also restores safety, dignity and provides security to female members of the society.
Similarly, with launch and widespread implementation of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, there is no need for women to venture into forests to get firewood for cooking. Outdoor risks faced by women when they went to get wood are similar to those faced in the absence of a toilet at home.
For women to contribute to the growth of the nation, their participation in the progress of democracy of India and claim of their place in the nation needs to beequal to their male counterparts. For this, we need to start from giving them security net first that makes them feel at home anywhere in their nation. Awareness campaigns like Beti Bachao beti Padhao are directed towards saving girl child, educating her and then making her a self-sufficient citizen. Sex ratio at birth has already improved in 104 identified districts, a statistic that reflects that we are now committed to protecting our daughters even before they are born.