Proposed ‘New Deal’ for Women is a Hoax
REPLYING to Congress president, Rahul Gandhi’s letter on the women’s reservation bill, the law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote: “….the BJP and the Congress, should come together and over a 'new deal' to Indian women to ensure equality and adequate representation. As part of this 'new deal', we should approve, in both houses of parliament, the women reservation bill, the law prohibiting Triple Talaq and imposing penal consequence on those who violate the law, and the law prohibiting Nikah Halala. You will appreciate that the latter two not only give the women of the Muslim community an unequal treatment but also seriously compromise their dignity. As national parties, we cannot have two set of standards in dealing with women and their rights. We are already too late in conferring the right of adequate representation, equality in personal laws and doing away with such provisions which compromise with women's dignity.”
Through this rhetorical position, the BJP has tried to usurp the credit for ensuring women’s rights and hide its real conservative anti-women character. While it may be correct to question previous governments also did not fulfil their promises for getting the women’s reservation bill passed, what is particularly interesting about the statement of the law minister is the overt focus on the condition of Muslim Women and customary laws. Both the triple talaq and nikah halala issue raised are being used by the union government to project the opposition as appeasers of the Muslim fundamentalists without addressing the basic concerns of all women in general, and Muslim women in particular. The several flaws and inadequacies of the legislative and other measures proposed by the union government have been pointed out from time to time. The utterances of the union law minister also need to be seen in the context of the increasing insecurity and vulnerability of women under the BJP Rule.
RISING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
The rising insecurity amongst women is reflected in the increasing rate of crime against women between 2014 and 2016. As the National Crime Record Bureau’s Crime in India 2016 gives the following picture:
Crime against Women in Select BJP Ruled States, 2015-2016
Annual Growth Rate
The table above shows that crime against women has increased by almost 4 percent in the one year between 2015 and 2016 (as per the latest available data). It also shows that the rate of growth in BJP ruled states of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat is much higher than the average of all states.
The character of this steep increase in violence is also reflected in the overall increase in rapes within the country. The total number of rapes increased from about 34,000 to more than 38,000 between 2015 and 2016 which is an increase of 12.2 percent. In Uttar Pradesh the instances of rape went up from 3,025 to 4,816 which is an increase of almost 59 percent. The total number of girl child victims went up from 596 to 2,115 girls in UP alone, which means that 50 percent of the all India increase was from UP as the girl child rape cases at the all India level went up by about 4,450 cases. At an all India level, the number of cases that went to trial in rape cases was a miniscule 8.6 percent out of which the trial was completed in only about 50 percent of the cases. The conviction rate was only 25.5 percent of the number of cases where trial was completed i.e., about 3 percent of the total reported and pending cases.
Further the cases reported under 498 A decreased from 1,13,548 in 2015 to 1,10,434 in 2016 i.e., by 2.7 percent. However in Uttar Pradesh the reported cases under 498A went up by 28.8 percent in the same period. The overall decrease in cases under Section 498A can be attributed to the dilution of 498A itself and the increasing difficulties in getting FIRs recorded. The total number of cases in which trial was finished was just 40.6 percent and the conviction rate was just 14.2 percent in the cases where investigation was complete. This only constituted 5.2 percent of all cases pending and reported by 2016.
This snapshot of the rising violence against women shows that the general insecurity and vulnerability of women has increased for all women, not only women of one particular community as projected by the government. In this context it must be noted the Triple Talaq Bill seeks to penalise the Muslim men who give instant triple talaq with no provision for support for destitute women. At the same time the union government is moving to dilute section 498A which provides penal provisions for the conviction of all men who oppress women. This differential and uneven treatment to the problem of violence against women is marred by communal perspective of the union government.
HINDUTVA AND DESITUTION OF WOMEN
The discussion above has shown that the last two years have seen some of the worse cases of violence against women, particularly the girl child. The root cause of this increase is the political protection and encouragement provided to fringe Hindutva groups. In its study of April 2018 the Association of Democratic Rights showed that the BJP had the largest number of MPs and MLAs against whom cases were pending with respect to crime against women. About 48 MPs and 120 MLAs from the party had registered cases, many of them concerning rape and assault of women. This is accompanied by the repeated anti-women statements that are made by BJP ministers across the country, without any condemnation or restraint.
But quite apart from this direct evidence, we also need to consider the impact of the overall atmosphere of rising violence, especially mob lynchings, on women and their families. A recent report by India Spend shows that the first six months of 2017 saw a 75 percent increase of lynching incidents in the name of cow protection. The BJP ruled states of UP, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan together accounted for more than 90 percent of these attacks, most of which were led by Sangh related organisations. Of these only 30 percent had registered cases most of which were registered against the victims themselves. Since 84 percent of the victims have been Muslims it is obvious that most of these families have been left destitute, gone into debt and are running from pillar to post for justice. The burden of survival for these families falls largely on the elderly and women. Hence it is important to point out that the issue of women’s insecurity is not linked only to direct violence, but also to the rising violence on the families of vulnerable social groups.
Given these trends, it is safe to surmise the union government’s ‘New Deal’ is nothing but hogwash with three implications. First, it aims to polarise opinion against the Muslims without addressing the concerns of Muslim women and addressing the issues raised by women’s organisations regarding meaningful rehabilitation and maintenance for Muslim women. The penal provisions of the bill do not meet these concerns. Second, the actions of the union government target Muslim men without addressing the increasing violence perpetrated by non-Muslim men on women. This is reflected in the dilution and lack of implementation of existing laws and procedures regarding crime against women especially 498 A. Third, the lack of concern of the union government regarding the rising violence against minorities and other vulnerable groups is only leading to the destitution of women. Hence the democratic movement needs to expose this so called ‘New Deal’ for Muslim women and the anti-women attitude of the Sangh led government.