Ranjona Banerji: National Pride or Reality?

29 Jun,2018

​By Ranjona Banerji​

 

How dare the Thomson Reuters survey on women’s safety find that India is seen as the most unsafe place in the world for women? Our “nationalists” are up in arms, not because women are unsafe but because someone has pointed it out. We are in such a skewed mind space in India that our priorities focus on national pride rather than national reality.

Across the spectrum our nationalistic politicians and commentators are appalled at Thomson Reuters for pointing fingers at India. It matters little to our nationalists that when the last survey came out in 2011, India was seen as the fourth worst place in the world, the government in power at the time was taken to task by the then chief minister of Gujarat, among others. But now that Narendra Modi and his BJP are in power at the Centre and in most of India, they must be protected from some international conspiracies to malign them. Who care about some women who may have been raped and harassed? Is that more important than Modi’s image?

Interestingly, many of our nationalists, have compared India to the worst war-torn areas of the world to prove that women are better off here because what else should we compare ourselves to? Many of these are women because patriarchy trumps the sisterhood or even humanity for most nationalists. Thus we have to get into semantics and methodologies rather than the problem itself. And of course, play the “foreign hand” card. Sometimes we love it when we are praised by foreign hands; but when criticised, every ounce of our pride exerts itself like small children with big egos.

As always, the side effects around such issues get all the space so the subject itself is ignored. Suppose India had continued to be the fourth worst place for women in the world? Would that fill us with pride? On what basis can anyone claim that women are better off in India today compared to in 2012?

I searched through the websites of The Times of India, Indian Express and The Hindu to find an editorial on women’s safety. The Telegraph had this strong editorial:

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/unwanted-240696

Which asks a relevant question at the end: would a scientific survey bring better results?

 

The Indian Express did have one on the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists reinstating rape accused actor Dileep after he was expelled a few months ago but nothing on the survey. The Times of India may not have had an edit but some brave sub-editor did place the story about the objections to the Thomson Reuters survey next to a report about a Canadian tourist being raped.

 

The Times, London, of June 27, did not mince its words: “…Earlier this year in Kashmir, Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old Muslim girl, was held captive and gangraped for days by a group of Hindus. Even amid widespread national revulsion, Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist prime minister, appeared initially reluctant to comment on something he clearly regarded as first and foremost an inter-community dispute.”

It goes on to say:

“There may be no quick solutions but there are some essential first steps. As in the case of Asifa Bano, there is evidence that states run by Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party are particularly likely to dismiss rape claims from women of ethnic minorities. India must prosecute sexual crimes with energy, and purge itself of police officers and judges who are unwilling to do so. Most of all, the government needs to foster an understanding that misogyny, however traditional its roots, is where sexual violence begins”.

This is the sort of edit I would have expected across India. I am sure there would have been opinion pieces (apart from all the women commentators whose nationalism is more appalled than their nationalistic pride and love for the Modi government), but as long as we get sidetracked so easily, life is not going to get easier for women in India. Whether first, second, third, fourth or whatever on that list.

 

​Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal​

 

 

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