No country for women

Official denials have begun in right earnest ever since a Thomson Reuters survey ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country for women. For Central and State governments eyeing tourism revenues and foreign investment, nothing can be more galling than such a label. It blows a massive hole right through slick government ads and PR exercises about how safe this country is being made for women. Granted that the Government of India has enacted tough anti-rape laws, but what about implementation? How effective are the police in nailing perpetrators with proper investigation and incontrovertible evidence? That India has been considered worse than the likes of Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — where fundamentalists with medieval mindsets make life hell for women — calls for serious soul searching in this country. But with the battle for perception on the women’s rights front clearly being lost, Indian authorities are instead scrambling to trash the report. The Women and Child Development Ministry has decried the “flawed methodology” used, based as it is on a perception poll involving responses from 548 experts (out of 759 contacted) to six indices — discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual and non-sexual violence, human trafficking and healthcare. “The results are not derived from any kind of data and are solely based on inherently subjective opinions,” the Ministry has said in a statement. In the report titled ‘The world’s most unsafe countries for women 2018’, India was ranked worst on 3 indices — cultural traditions, sexual violence and human trafficking. According to the National Commission for Women, cases of rape, harassment and other forms of violence against women appear to have risen in India because public outrage ensures that such incidents are reported more and more. Such a claim has to be taken with a large pinch of salt. While it is true that women victims and their kin are increasingly coming forward to report crimes, as borne out by annual NCRB and other reports, these numbers are merely the tip of the iceberg. Women rights activists are rightly pointing out that the problem here basically stems from a milieu which permits a culture of violence against women, as well as lax enforcement of laws which allows offenders to operate with impunity. Nothing can be gained by official hints that such a report is motivated by Western bias to show the country in poor light. After all, the US too finds place as the 10th most unsafe country for women — particularly in terms of sexual harassment and violence in which it ranks joint 3rd with Syria, as well as non-sexual violence such as domestic violence and physical or mental abuse in which it ranks 6th with the likes of Saudi Arabia and Congo. But at least the American public is coming out strongly against sexual abuse by the high and mighty, using social media to drive campaigns like ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ that are spurring the authorities to action. We need to look squarely at the malaise and do something about it — rather than looking away, mouthing excuses and sticking our heads in the sand.

FTs under scanner

There was a time when the 36 Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) in Assam found it well nigh impossible to carry out their mandated work, such was the political pressure from Dispur and intimidation at grassroots level. Though the number of FTs was raised to 100 in 2015, these are yet to break off the shackles, as evident from many questionable decisions. So much so, that Gauhati High Court recently asked the State government to submit for scrutiny a random selection of 50 rulings by every FT, with 25 rulings declaring the person concerned as citizen and 25 rulings as foreigner. This is in line with a December 2014 order by the Supreme Court, instructing Gauhati High Court to monitor the functioning of FTs. What is noteworthy is that whenever the present regime in Dispur sought to tighten up the functioning of FTs and ensure accountability from Members, there was orchestrated hue and cry by vested quarters. But now that the court is putting FTs under scanner, it brings to the fore once again how utterly politicised the matter has become about determining whether a person is a citizen or illegal foreigner. Just because papers to claim citizenship are available for a price and electoral rolls in Assam allowed to be compromised does not mean that such nonsense should be put up with any more. A recent order by the State NRC Coordinator is relevant in this context. The order had directed all district authorities not to count the kin of declared foreigners for inclusion in the National Register of Citizens, at least until the Foreigners Tribunals decide in their favour. There was a huge outcry again about “a conspiracy to exclude a large number of genuine Indians” from the NRC, but the Gauhati High Court recently upheld this order. Accordingly, the border police has been directed to refer the names of family members of a declared foreigner to the FT concerned, and the inclusion of their names in NRC will be put on hold till they are cleared as Indian citizens. Actually, the border police first refers a person to the local foreigner regional registration office in case of failure in producing citizenship documents; this office in turn conducts a probe and refers the case for trial in FT only if it is not reasonably satisfied. The need of the hour is to clean up and strengthen this system, rather than allow it to be undermined by the foreigners’ lobby.