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Friday June 13, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday June 13, 2014 MYT 9:01:11 AM
by jason burke
Indian activists from the Social Unity Center of India (SUCI) shout slogans against the state government in protest against the gang-rape and murder of two girls in the district of Badaun in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and recent rapes in the eastern state of West Bengal, in Kolkata on June 7, 2014. – Photo AFP
INDIA’S new government has promised “zero tolerance” for violence against women, amid widespread public anger following the recent gang-rape and lynching of two teenage girls.
President Pranab Mukherjee made the pledge in a speech to parliament where he announced a range of other measures to tackle the recent surge of sexual violence against women in India including reforms of the country’s slow, corrupt and inefficient criminal justice system.
“The government will have a policy of zero tolerance for violence against women, and will strengthen the criminal justice system for its effective implementation,” the president told a joint sitting of parliament.
The attack last month on the two low-caste girls, aged 12 and 14, a poor region of northern Uttar Pradesh was the latest in a series of such incidents that have shocked many Indians and badly damaged the image of the country overseas.
In December 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapist was gang-raped on a bus on busy roads in Delhi, and later died of her injuries. Tens of thousands took to the streets demanding change after that attack, which prompted widespread calls for judicial and policing reform as well as an unprecedented debate on the causes of the surge in such crimes.
Ranjana Kumari, a well-known campaigner and analyst, said politicians themselves needed to set an example. In the last week, two senior officials from the BJP have prompted outrage with ill-considered comments on sexual violence. One, home minister in the central Chhattisgarh state, said that “no one commits rape deliberately” while his counterpart in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh state, said rape was “sometimes right, sometimes wrong”.
“You need to communicate the zero-tolerance message to every Indian to have real change and that starts at the top,” said Kumari.
Modi’s government also promised to provide toilets in every home – a measure experts say would significantly improve women’s safety.
Almost half of India’s 1.25 billion people currently defecates in the open. For reasons of modesty, women do not use the fields for toilets until it is dark, making them vulnerable to assault.
The victims of the Uttar Pradesh attack were assaulted when they went into the fields in the evening to relieve themselves, because their homes, like most in the district, do not have toilets. Indian government statistics show 244,270 offences against women reported to the police in 2012. But campaigners say that this, a 6% rise on 2011, is only a small fraction of the total of such crimes.
“We will watch and wait. There have been so many such statements with good intent but how do we achieve these things,” said Kumari, the campaigner.
The president said the government was also committed to reserving 33% of seats in parliament and state assemblies for women, the president said, reaffirming a pledge made by previous national governments.
He also promised the government would clean the heavily polluted Ganges river and build infrastructure in India’s overcrowded cities.
Most estimates put the cost of constructing functioning sewage, transport and similar facilities in all of India’s urban centres at hundreds of billions of dollars.
“When India will celebrate 75 years of Independence (in 2022), every family will have pucca (brick-walled) house, water facilities,” Mukherjee said. “Soon 50% of India’s population will reside in urban areas. My government will treat that as an opportunity, not a challenge.” – Guardian News & Media
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Women, World, Narendra Modi; Women; India
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