India’s Greatest Shame : The “Unwanted” Girl Child

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.”

– Bethany Hamilton

By Dhara Tandon

In the global scenario, India is becoming a force to reckon with and we are very proud of this fact. But there are home truths that we are unaware of or are turning a deaf ear to them, Female Infanticide and Foeticide is one of them. The unwanted girl child is India’s greatest shame. The fixation for a male child transcends socio-economic status, religion, gender and education. A girl is considered dispensable in the world’s largest democracy. She is a product of misconception that has filtered through homes, place of worship, schools, the media, government buildings and her workplace.

Female Infanticide is a deliberate and intentional act of killing a female child within one year of its birth either directly by using poisonous organic and inorganic chemicals or indirectly by deliberate neglect to feed the infant by either of the parents or other family members. On the other hand, Female Foeticide is the termination of life of the foetus within the womb on the grounds that its sex is female and is also known as sex selective abortion.

Infanticide is the homicide of an infant. It has been reported that female infanticide existed in India since 1789 in several districts of Rajasthan; along the western shores in Gujarat- Surat and Kutch; and among a clan of Rajputs in eastern part of Uttar Pradesh. It was so rampant in Kutch that only five of such families were found who had not killed their “new-born” daughters. Today their are alarming reports of the baby girls being murdered even in areas where this practice did not exist earlier. Poverty, ignorance of family planning, cost of dowry, etc. have been reported as the possible causes for this crime.

Female Foeticide, another heinous evil propelling in our society is the conjunction of two ethical evils : abortion, gender bias. In this the girl children become target of attack even before they are born. The practice of female foeticide is based on sex determination by testing the amniotic fluid while the woman is pregnant. Such tests are banned in India but they are secretly and unethically carried out by some medical professionals. In fact, in a well-known Abortion Center in Mumbai, after undertaking the sex-determination tests, out of the 15,914 abortions performed during 1984-85 almost 100 percent were those of girl fetuses. Similarly, a survey report of women’s center in Mumbai found that out of 8000 fetuses aborted in six city hospitals 7,999 were of girls. It has also been reported that about 4000 female babies are aborted in Tamil Nadu every year. Also, female foeticide has replaced female infanticide as a means to reduce or eliminate female offspring as in societies where women’s status is very low, many fetuses are rejected.

Throughout the country and up and down the class-caste ladder the joy of parenthood is conditioned by the gender of the child. If a boy is born, delight amongst the family; if it’s a girl, anxiety and disappointment. The sole reason for this is economic; when girls marry (around 70% of marriages are still arranged in India), the family of the bride is expected to pay a sum of money to the groom’s family- whether they can afford it or not. This is the infamous dowry system, a corrupted illegal method of financial exploitation and violence that, like much else in this extraordinary country, is sanctified by the waters of tradition and culture (a manipulated term often employed to maintain prejudicial social conditioning and resist change), which was banned by the Indian Government in 1961. And yet, like so many liberal legislative statements of intent, the system continues unabated. “The Dowry Prohibition Act” which makes clear that anyone giving or receiving a dowry faces five years in prison and a hefty fine, remains unenforced. In 1986, an amendment was added stating that any death of or violence to a wife within 7 years of marriage would be treated as dowry violence. Indifference, apathy and corruption dog all areas of the many and varied government departments and offices; people have no faith in the police or the judicial system, resulting in the vast majority of dowry crimes, as with all crimes against women, going unreported.

Causes of Female Infanticide and Foeticide

Primary Causes

Patriarchy

Patriarchy refers to a social system in which men hold primary power in all spheres of life, such as political leadership, moral authority, control of property, family affairs etc. Most of the societies in India are patriarchal and most of the patriarchal societies are patrilineal, meaning that the male lineage inherits the property and title. Centuries of patriarchy in India has led to oppression of females and eventually to female foeticide and infanticide since the early 1990’s.

  • Gender Discrimination – Centuries of patriarchy has resulted in gender discrimination in all spheres of life. A girl has not been considered as strong, as smart, as intelligent as a boy since times immemorial. Girls had not been allowed to do work such as join the army and police, do heavy duty jobs, driving buses and trucks, professional pilots, business management, etc. Girls have never been given the real opportunity to make their families proud of themselves.
  • The Girl cannot continue the family lineage – According to the patriarchal structure of the society, girls tend to leave their parental home after their marriage and move to their matrimonial home. Therefore, it is believed that girls cannot continue the lineage of their family to which they are born. Not only shall the family lineage come to an end, but also, the parents shall be left on their own during old age.
  • The desire of a boy/son – The boy/son is considered to be a prized possession and a status symbol in the Indian society. It is prevalent ideology that he will increase the size of the family, be the bread-earner of the entire family and will take care of his parents till their last breath. The desire to procure son is one of the main causes of female foeticide. Unnecessary and constant tampering of the religious ideologies has led to the misconception that birth of a boy is a path to heaven. Facing the brunt of such faulty ideas, girls are considered inauspicious and worthless and are therefore killed in the womb.
  • Dowry system – The ill-practice of dowry has very deep roots in the Indian society. A daughter has been looked at as a liability because of the dowry system. The day a girl is born in a family, parents start to worry about the dowry they will have to pay during her marriage. Excessive demand for dowry by the in-laws and the subsequent failure on the part of girl’s parents to fulfill such demands lead to the girl being subjected to continuous harassment and torture. To free themselves of such burden and distress, families resort to killing the girls inside the womb.

Safety Issues

Increase in the number of crimes against women with the invasion of India by various intruders, became a cause of concern for families having a girl child. Females have borne the brunt of the declining standards of humanity, respect and demeanor. Eve teasing has become a frequent activity throughout India. Many boys tease girls when they find them alone or even in public places. They pass bad comments regarding their dresses, characters, physical appearances, etc. Heinous crimes such as sexual harassment and rape of women have become common in India. Protection of females is a major concern of the society. The fear of such crimes being committed to one’s own daughter prove detrimental for some families and therefore, they find, killing the female foetus in the womb, a better option.

Lack of education

Even till date, more than 25% of the Indian population continues to be illiterate. Lack of education among Indians has proven to be detrimental for the development on the social and psychological front.

There is a wide disparity between the male and female literacy ratios and this disparity continues to exist even today. Ill-practices like female foeticide and infanticide still prevail in India due to lack of education, people continue to believe in faulty ideas. Also, lack of education directly affects the woman’s parenting skills and leads to poor child-care. Malnutrition and high infant mortality is a consequence as illiterate mothers fail to understand and exercise good health promoting behavior, such as immunization and good personal hygiene.

Devastating effects

A complex interrelated series of consequences flows from the social injustices perpetrated against young women in the 18th century : abortion of female babies; infanticide; trafficking and a range of sexual abuse including rape – within the home and the wider community as well as parental neglect and domestic servitude.

Due to the fact that girls are seen as economic burden and boys a source of income, girl babies have been aborted and murdered – female infanticide or gendercide – in their millions in India. The Lancet estimates that 500,000 female fetuses are aborted in India every year. As a result according to the BBC, “an estimated 25-50 million women in India are ‘missing’, if you compare the proportion of women in the population with other countries.” Staggeringly, Unicef believes 10 million girls, were killed by their parents in the last thirty years.

Infanticide- the willful killing of a child within the first year of it’s life- is illegal throughout the world – the British outlawed it in India in 1870, but the practice is widespread (occurring, the UN estimates in 80% of Indian states) and with the introduction of ultrasound in the 1980’s this barbaric crime has only grown. It is illegal for clinics and doctors to tell the parents the sex of the child, but many do so; if it’s a girl her fate is uncertain, if it’s a boy- joy and relief amongst the parents. When Infanticide was banned by the colonial government, they claimed the two chief causes of this inhumane act were ‘pride and purse’. “Purse” referred to the dowry and “Pride”, to pride of the upper castes and tribes that would rather murder female infants than give them to a rival group (caste or tribe) even in marriage.

As the Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, ‘for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’, the after effects of this genocide are fatal and have long term effects. It is a disaster that many have unwittingly invited in everybody’s life. Repercussions of female foeticide and infanticide are long-term and disastrous in nature.

Skewed Sex Ratio – In India, the number of girls per thousand boys is reducing with each passing decade. From 962 and 945 girls for every 1000 boys in the years 1981 and 1991 respectively, the sex ratio had plunged to an all-time low of 927 girls for 1000 boys in 2001, to 933 and 948 for every 1000 boys in 2011 and 2021 respectively creating a slight difference against the declining sex ratio.

Murdered or Trafficked – UNICEF states that the killing of baby girls has reached genocidal proportions. It is a practice that has been going on in the Central India for a long time now, where mothers were made to feed the child with salt to kill the girl. Various other gruesome methods of murder are employed, many dating back to the 18th century : stuffing the baby girl’s mouth with a few grains of course paddy causing the child to choke to death is one, poisoning, using organic or inorganic chemicals, drowning, suffocation, starvation as well as burying the child alive. The criminal act of infanticide must (one feels) be traumatic for the parents, who faced with a distorted dowry system based on exploitation and greed, see no choice but to murder their daughters – and in their millions, leading to a serious gender imbalance in the country, with dreadful consequences.

The sharp decline in the number of girls has also led to illegal trafficking being prevalent in many regions. This regional imbalance leading to abduction and trafficking of tens of thousands of girls and young women every year, from one state, where there are relatively more girls (West Bengal for example, where in 2011 over 11,000 girls went missing), to another part of the country where, due to rampant female infanticide, there is a deficit. And the numbers are rising. Young women, often teenagers, are kidnapped and taken miles from home and forced to marry, or trafficked into prostitution, as was Rukhsana (a victim of illegal trafficking) , who told the BBC how she was abducted by three men on the way home from school. ‘They showed me a knife and said they would cut me in to pieces, if I resisted”, she said. After a terrifying three-day journey they reached a house in the northern Indian state of Haryana where Rukhsana was sold to a family of four – a mother and three sons. For one year, she was not allowed to go outside. She says she was humiliated, beaten and routinely raped by the eldest of the three sons – who called himself her “husband”.

Millions of girls like Rukhsana are the innocent victims of corrupted social practices dating back to the 18th century, practices that have been manipulated by a vehemently patriarchal society to control and suppress girls and women, especially those from the lower castes. All social systems and conventions in India flow around a central divisive core, which is caste- Dalit and Adivasi (indigenous) women have particularly hard time of it.  Child marriages have become a rage and child pregnancies, a disastrous consequence.

Increase in Rape and Assault – Once women become an imperiled species, it is only a matter of time before the cases of rape, assault and violence become common. Due to the decline in availability of females, the surviving ones are faced with the reality of handling a society driven by a testosterone high. The legal system might offer protection, but many cases might not even surface because of the fear of desolation and humiliation on the girl’s part.

Population decline – With no mothers or wombs to bear a child (male or female), there would be fewer births, leading to a rapid reduction in the country’s population. Though a control in population is the goal of many nations like China and India, a total wipe-out of one sex is certainly not the way to achieve this goal.

Laws that make Female Infanticide and Foeticide Illegal

Due to all these causes and implications of female foeticide, many laws have been passed from time-to-time to control this menace.

India passed it’s first abortion-related law in 1971, the so-called Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which made abortion legit in almost all states of the country, but it was particularly made for the cases of medical risk to the mother and child conceived by rape. The law had also established physicians who could legally perform the abortion in the said scenarios. But the government had not considered the possibility of female foeticide based on technological advances. Due to this reason, this law proved to be highly ineffective.

During the 1980’s, sex screening technologies in India was easily accessible to the common people. Due to this reason, a large number of reports started pouring in about the abuse of the sex screening technologies. Considering this problem, Government passed the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT) in 1994. This law was again amended due to various reasons, and it finally became Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PCPNDT) Act in 2004. It’s main goal was prevention and punishment of prenatal sex screening and female foeticide.

Implementation of the Law

Many important changes were made in the PCPNDT Act, 2004. It brought ultrasound and amniocentesis under it’s ambit. It also led to the empowerment of the Central Supervisory Board and the formation of State Level Supervisory Board. The rules, regulations, and punishments are made more stringent.

Despite all these changes, it has been said that the implementation of this act has turned into a farce. It has been nearly two decades since the law came in to force and despite this, not many changes have taken place in the society. Despite rulings given by the Supreme Court and various High Courts to make existing law an impediment, the courts have shown their hesitancy in sending the offenders off to jail. The convicts in many cases have been let off only by a mere warning by the judge which has led to a mass negative reaction from the legal fraternity as well as social and academic activists. Lawyers and activists have unanimously demanded stringent punishment for the guilty while also fixing the accountability of the competent authorities handling the cases of sex detection.

Judicial Pronouncement

The Judiciary has played and continues to play a vital role in the prevention of atrocities against women, in general, and female foeticide, in particular.

In the landmark case of Centre For Enquiry Into Health And Allied Themes (CEHAT) v. Union Of India & Others , petitioners concerned about the implementation of the Act, moved the Union of India to court for effective implementation and execution of the provisions of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 , which had failed at achieving it’s goals of preventing Female Foeticide. The court warned the Central, States and Union Territories to effectively comply with the mandates of the act and also clarified to the appropriate authorities that it was empowered to take criminal action against violators. The court directed for amendment of the Act in view of emerging technology and the Act was amended in 2003 to Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of sex selection) Act, 1994. The court also directed the formation of the National Committee (National Monitoring and Implementation Committee- NMIC) to monitor the implementation of the Act.

The constitutionality of the PCPNDT Act, 1994 was challenged in Vinod Soni & Anr. v. Union of India on the ground that it violates Article 21 of the constitution to the extent it includes the liberty of choosing the sex of the child. The petition was dismissed by the Bombay High Court and the Act was held constitutional.

In the case of  Voluntary Health Association of Punjab v. Union of India , petitioner filed a writ petition before the Supreme court of India to examine the ways in which the Indian state Governments have addressed the problem of sex-selective abortion in India. The court determined that states failed to effectively implement or enforce the Pre-conception and Pre-natal diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition on Sex-Selection) Act, 1994. Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan issued several orders and directions to map out unregistered clinics to ensure they did not purchase ultra-sonography machines, seize illegally sold ultra-sonography machines, and hold workshops to inform communities about the Act’s obligations. Justice Dipak Misra observed that, in order to enforce these laws effectively, the awareness campaigns must encompass social and moral impetus for the Act in order to serve the purpose of implementing legislation effectively and to maintain “humanism” and also that , for the Act to be successful the society must be made aware of the equal role of women in society.

Government Schemes

Both the Centre and State Governments have initiated a range of girl child welfare schemes with an object of changing the social attitude towards the girls and for their upliftment.

  • Beti Bachao Beti Padhao – It is central government scheme to save the girl child from sex-selective abortions and advance the education of girl children all over the country. Initially, the districts having low-sex ratio were targeted.
  • Balika Samriddhi Yojana – It is a scholarship scheme designed to provide financial aid to young girls and their mothers below the poverty line. The key objective of the scheme is to improve their status in society and improve the enrollment as well as retention of girls in school.
  • CBSE Udaan Scheme – It is administered by the Central Board of Secondary Education through the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India. This scheme focuses mainly on increasing the enrollment of girls in engineering and other technical colleges throughout the country.
  • Ladli Scheme of Haryana – It is a cash incentive scheme initiated by the Haryana Government that provides a payout of Rs. 5000 annually for a period of 5 years to families with a second child born on or after 20th August 2015. The money is deposited in a Kisan Vikas Patra. These deposits along with interest are to be released once the concerned girl child becomes a major.
  • Karnataka Bhagyashree Scheme – It is a Karnataka Government scheme designed to promote the birth of girl child among families below the poverty line. Health insurance cover up to a maximum of Rs. 25,000, is provided to a girl child, annually.

Effectiveness

Despite rulings given by the Supreme Court and various High Courts to make the existing law a practical reality, the implementation of this act has turned in to a farce. The legality of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows for abortion where pregnancy carries the risk of grave injury to women’s health, therefore, making Ultra-sound machines continued to be widely available throughout the country. In such an environment, it is very difficult to enforce a law which seeks to control data that whizzes through informal channels and can exercise discreetly.

The various Government initiated the schemes for the welfare of the girl child focus on the people below poverty line and therefore, fail to incentivize the prevention of sex-selective abortion in comparatively well-off families. Most of the schemes focus on cash-incentives, but the money given out in this regard is actually fuelling the dowry demand. The greed being limitless, the demands are insatiable.

Suggestions

Following are some suggestions to check the evil of female foeticide :

  1. There is a need to properly implement, not only the laws prohibiting sex-selective abortion, but also, the laws combating various causes of female foeticide, such as – The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
  2. However the Statutes are not an absolute solution to prevent this practice of female foeticide. To prevent this practice, public awareness is essential and no awareness campaign can ever be complete unless there is real focus on the genius of women and the need for women empowerment.
  3. Medical professionals can play an important role by informing and counselling their patients regarding the gender equality and the impact that a skewed sex ratio has on the society. Women should be made aware of their rights and the ill-effects of abortion.
  4. More and more states should follow and come up with new ideas such as UP Government’s ‘Mukhbir Yojana‘ , launched in 2017. Under this scheme, the Government provides an incentive up to Rs. 2 Lakhs to any person who would alert the state authorities regarding the involvement of any doctor or a medical staff in sex determination of the foetus and/or female foeticide.
  5. Women empowerment projects, such as Project Shakti and Project Asha Daan by HUL, Sakhi project by Hindustan Zinc, Underprivileged Girl Child Education by DB Corp. Limited, etc should be encouraged under the Corporate Social Responsibility of the business firms.
  6. Governments should initiate schemes focusing on the well-off strata of the society and providing incentives other than cash.

Conclusion

Through many mediums, awareness about female foeticide is being spread throughout the nation. Let it be plays, soap operas, mass awareness programs, ads, endorsement by various celebrities, Beti Bachao campaign, rallies, posters, etc. Everyone is trying to spread the message everywhere. Despite all these efforts, the sex ratio of our country is not improving.

Sex ratio is India currently stands at 948 females for every 1000 males. This shows that we have wrecked the sex ratio of our country. We can blame the government, the NGO’s, or the society as a whole for all we like but till the time the common man doesn’t understand the value of a girl child, the problem will not be solved. The people of this country needs to understand that every action has a reaction.

The need of the hour is to change the archaic mindset of the patriarchal Indian society which views girls as liabilities. It needs to be established that girls are in no way less than boys. When given the right chances to nurture their talent and skills, they have it in them to excel in different areas of life. Government alone cannot bring about the change that we seek in our society. We all have to join hands in doing so. It is therefore imperative that both government and non-government organization and also society as a whole should work in cohesion to spread the message of saving and educating the girl child.

The role of education is extremely important here and goes a long way in empowering women. And the process of education has to begin early in life. More and more girl children need to be sent to school, provided quality and holistic education. Numerous benefits come with educating girls the right way. Educated girls are able to take the right decisions in life. For example, when an educated girl falls sick, she will have better understanding and awareness to avail proper healthcare services. At the same time, a society in which girls are educated will see less child marriages, decreased levels of poverty and heightened participation of women in socio-economic processes. Educating a girl has far-reaching impacts. It is rightly said that when a woman is educated, an entire generation benefits from it.

The Beti bachao, Beti padhao (save daughters, educate daughters) mission will fructify only when the Indian betas (sons) and betis (daughters) are enlightened and receptive to embracing strong, empowered Indian women.

Unfolding the Reality of Racism in India

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

– Angela Y. Davis

By Dhara Tandon

Racism is a theory that one race is superior than the other based on the physical attributes, caste, creed, ethnicity or origin. A person is being racist when he displays the emotions of hatred, prejudice, biasness and intolerance against another person solely due to his skin color, language, place of origin or any attribute which he might have gained biologically. We live in a country where racism is deeply rooted, we live in a society where the people are highly obsessed with one’s skin tone. Indians have varied degrees of skin complexion and they are categorized as fair, dusky, dark etc. Indians believe that fair-skinned people are of a much more worth and value than those who are dark-skinned. The fair is considered the intellectual and gets the respect, dignity and the social status while the dark are left behind struggling for their rights and status. We face color hatred and prejudice and somehow still choose to remain silent about it.

Our country has a history of being ruled by the whites, i.e., the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French traders, the Mughals, the British. They were relatively fairer than the rest of the Indian population. This succession by the white people left behind the desperate desire of looking fair. Indians felt that only the light skin people can attain power, dignity and respect as they were the master race. The racial prejudice in our country has taken the form of colorism. This is how the stereotypical mindsets of the Indians work. Due to color discrimination, the brown and black people face problems all over the world. It brings down their morale, enthusiasm and self-efficiency to a great extent. They do not receive the right amount of appreciation, instead they face constant hatred and are subjected to brutality. Many times, they are are denied access to educational institutions, workplace or employment services, social services etc. There is no system which would act as a protection shield against the brutal and the inhumane bullying.

According to the World Values Survey, India is the second most racist country in the world, where people from within and outside the country are treated differently, based on both skin color and country of origin. African people are especially affected by racism in India, denied living accommodations and even attacked and killed. The biasness and generalizations are very obvious. Just recently, there were news reports that some African students who were studying in India were beaten up by drunk Indians. Unfortunately, the issue of racism is compounded by the media’s obsession with the fairer skin.

The North- South Divide

After the invasion, one should just assume that nature had taken its course in human evolution. The fair-skinned invaders proclaimed to be superior to their dark-skinned counterparts. This historically proven racism is the backbone of many Indian people that we are still unaware of.

When people talk about India, they generally use Bollywood as a reference. The white leading man romancing the white girl and they break out in to a song and dance in the middle of the road, the leading man fights a cliche white villain and the movie is over. This theme is universal in Bollywood and almost to the point of incessant repetition. When, people think about travelling in India, they think about all the places they have seen these actors sing and dance and wish to visit only those places. Bollywood is essentially just a big tourism advertisement for the northern region of India. This one-sided characterization of a country with a huge cultural divide is one of the reasons why the south hates the north and vice versa. The north always believes itself to be the only representative of India.

The south on the other hand is richer and more educated. It is more diverse and accepting of different ethnicities. There is less violence against women and female infanticide. In fact, Kerala has more female population and is number 1 in literacy rate, Human Development Index and per capita income.

Movies, TV series, news anchors and every billboard are biased against the Dravidians. There are even advertisements for skin creams that will help people get fairer skin. One of the advertisements even shows how the girl picks a white-skinned boy over a dark-skinned best friend and the guy retorting, “Switch to a cream which will make you fairer!” Here in India, there is a structural nature in racism. In a society where marriages are arranged, a dark-skinned groom or bride will always be at the bottom of the list. And so when it comes to cinema, the South Indian movies are never chosen for an International accolade because the Indian film control board is in the North. All the while, it is the South Indian movies that get all the critical national awards.

Racism against North Eastern people in India

Have you ever felt discriminated in your own country? Your own people calling you by names and making you feel unwanted as if you don’t belong to the community. There are thousands of incidents that Northeast Indians can narrate and yet we mock them on their appearance. Northeast India is mostly unexplored and underestimated, a beauty of high hills, cascading waterfalls and distant wildlife. Northeast includes of eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. Due to China influence, the food and culture is similar, clearly making these places more exotic. The people are warm-hearted and welcoming but the main issue is the racism of Northeast people in their own country.

With Coronavirus clinging to our daily lives, we tend to develop loathness towards Republic of China for gifting this deadly virus to the whole world. We must be wise enough to be able to distinguish between Chinese native and Northeastern but we ironically don’t. It is provoking attacks on Northeast people, both verbal and violent.

North East people have been a subtle target for the people for several reasons in India. Sadly, racism with the north easterns is something that people don’t talk about much. Recently, north east people have been in the eyes of some as a potential distributor of coronavirus because of their look alike with the Chinese people.

Various incidents that happened with the north east people during the coronavirus pandemic :

  1. In the country capital Delhi, a man spat on a north eastern woman in the Vijaya Nagar area saying out, “Chinese corona virus coming”. Later the man was booked under the section 509 of Indian Penal Code which criminalizes any act insulting a woman’s modesty.
  2. Another incident that happened in Delhi was when a woman was hit by water balloons and was called corona virus by two men on a bike near the north campus of the Delhi University.
  3. A woman who lives in Pune was insulted by a shopper in a reliance store in Pune, when a lady passed by the shopper, she covered her face and when she was asked why is she doing so, she said that the woman might be carrying corona virus.

North Eastern people often have to face racist comments such as chowkidar, momo, chinky, chinese etc. While these outbursts are blatant representations of skewed power relations, they are part of a larger, more permanent structure, which has existed for much longer. The disregard for their plight, the northeastern community faces is reflected in the kinds of state policies, the lack of redressal mechanisms or even Institutional acknowledgment of their particular struggles.

Let us learn what happened with Nido Taniam, a 20 year old from Arunachal Pradesh, son of Nido Pavitra who’s a congress legislature. He went to Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi on January 14th and was looking for an address. The shopkeepers mocked him for his physical features and hair. This led to a fight with the shopkeepers and ultimately he was pushed to deathbed due to severe lung and head injury. This incident fired up the protest against racism leaded by different political leaders and activist. The sad killing of Nido was a heinous crime which was an outcome of pure racial prejudice. The police had charged the accused under section 302 of the IPC, however the CBI dropped the murder charges and framed charges under the SC/ST Atrocities Act, 1989. Later the court dropped the charges of SC/ST act saying that there was no establishment of the motive of “racial slur”. This incident moved the north east Indians in a very aggressive and agitated way. They demanded equal recognition and appreciation for the north east states.

There is more than one India

India is a country which portrays a unique combination of people having various cultures, religions, tribes and traditions. The variety in the language, culture, originality, religion brings in the existence of ethnicity. The basic definition of ethnicity refers to the cultural and the sociological factors such as the language, religion, tradition and the place of origin. It basically means the background of the place of the origin and it’s specific cultures and traditions which are taken up by the people. It is not something that a person attains biologically or genetically. Facial and genetic attributes do not come under the category of ethnicity. If a person is questioned as to reveal his identity, it may push him to categorize his identification on the basis of the place he was born and brought up, the language and culture taken up by him. The four main ethnic groups of India are as follows :

  • Indo-Aryans which mainly comprises of Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Konkan, Marathi, Nepali, Sindhi, Urdu, Assamese.
  • Dravidians which mainly comprises of Kannada, Tamil, Tulu, Telegu, Malayali.
  • Sino Tibetan which comprises of Manipuri and Bodo.
  • Austroasiatic which comprises of Santhali.

The World sees India as this one big country with uniformity in culture and ideology. What they fail to realize is that from region to region, there is no similarity. Very often race and ethnicity are confused with each other and are considered the same. But in reality, there exists distinctive features between the both. Race is broadly defined as the facial features like the skin color, shape of lips, eyes or nose or any other feature which is inherited genetically or biologically. On the other hand, ethnicity has a sociological aspect, it distinguishes a group from the other based on their linguistic, culture and traditional aspects. A person can either accept or deny to conform to it’s own ethnic group. But a person cannot deny its own race because it is something that he owns biologically. Both race and ethnicity are used to categorize people and distinguish them from the others. These two draw a fine line between supremacy and inferiority, acting as a barrier to equality that should be given to the people of all races and ethnic groups.

Factors promoting colorism

The social media and the advertising agency contribute to a great extent in favoring the notion of colorism. It is well known that the people would prefer a lighter skin tone than a deeper one and they would try their level best to reduce the tone of their skin color using any artificial means. People tend to follow the social media, their role models and hence in a despair to look fair. There are numerous cosmetic brands and skin lightening brands which came up as a solution to their consumer’s needs. In 1975, the “Fair and Lovely” cream was launched by Hindustan Unilever. This brand added a lot to the theory of colorism. It had become an indispensable requirement in the life of young girls. In the advertisement, it was depicted that the father of the girl was disappointed due to her dark skin color and he wished upon if he had a son. Then the mother gives the famous cream to the girl which would lighten up her skin tone. Thus, eventually the girl underwent the transition from dark to fair. This finally made her father proud and she was successful in life. It gained immense response as it was a skin lightening cream. Similarly, in 2005, the ‘Fair and Handsome” cream was launched by Emami (as if it was not enough for only women to think that fair skin is the only way to be), whose brand ambassador was Shah Rukh Khan.

This clearly shows how an advertising agency can brainwash the minds of the people. It denoted that the deep complexion is not acceptable by the society and how the dark people prove to be a disappointment. Only the fair people could achieve success and lead a happy life. Such fairness cream commercials promote the concept that how fairness is the only means to gain dignity, honor and respect. Such products created an obstacle in the society by differentiating people on their skin color. There is no actual appreciation of the natural beauty and color anymore. It lead to the formation of biasness on the preference of skin color and tone. In 2014, the Advertising Standard Council of India, laid down guidelines that there should be no advertisements which demonstrates negative conventions on skin color or depict deeper skin tone people unsuccessful in life as colorism like this really brings down the level of self-esteem and confidence in life of the people which in turn creates a confined status.

Recently, during the pandemic, another issue that came to highlight is the George Floyd incident and the Anti-race movement. George Floyd was a 45 year old African-American man and a well known football player. On May 25th, 2020, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd after a convenience store employee called 911 and told the police that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life. By combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts, The News York Times reconstructed in detail the minutes leading to Mr. Floyd’s death. The video and pictures shows officers taking a series of actions that violated the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department and turned fatal, leaving Mr. Floyd unable to breathe, even as he and onlookers called out for help. Floyd’s identity as a black man exposed him to a gantlet of injustices that derailed, diminished and ultimately destroyed him. This is how systematic racism shaped Floyd’s life and hobbled his ambition and also underscores how systematic racism has calcified within many of America’s institution creating sharply disparate outcomes in housing, education, the economy, law enforcement and health care.

This incident yet again started the “Black lives matter” protests and it gained momentum, not only in United States but the whole world. People as well as many governments across different countries, came forth against the prevalence of racial discrimination worldwide. In India, people took to social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter to show their support. People all over the country were posting pictures and videos with (hashtag) #Blacklivesmatter. However, the irony here to notice is that how people, just because of the social pressure became a part of the protest and showered their support for George Floyd. Whereas on the other hand, the same pre-set of color and racial discrimination are deeply embedded in their society, yet they never speak about it. Following the anti-race protests, many brands decided to change the name of their skin lightening products, for instance, “Fair and Lovely” was changed to “Glow and lovely” (what a joke). But that alone is not going to solve the problem. Kavitha Emmanuel, the woman behind “Dark is Beautiful” campaign told The Week that “changing names is not enough to undo the damage, done in the past 45 years”. She proposes for the discontinuation of such products so that more and more women, irrespective of color, can get empowered.

Reasons which may have caused a deep rooted xenophobia in the minds of the Indian populace :

Racism as an ego-defence mechanism

After two hundred years of colonial domination and being labelled as barbarians, the Indian identity faced a major setback. The belief that India needed saving from itself and the initiation of an entire ‘civilizing mission’ for the populace reiterated a sense of Indian inferiority time and again. Some regressive Indian cultural practices were questioned at a global level, and many were changed. The attempt to get the Indians to emulate the Western ways of living infuriated the Indians, while making them question their own identity time and again. Post Independence, in order to counter the existing mindset, a strong patriotic identity was forged. This identity led to an exaltation of Indian culture and practices, and portrayed these to be superior to British or Western tradition.

Does our racism stem out of a larger attempt at protection and promotion of the Indian Identity? A subservience can still be traced to British and Western structures. The common notion of beauty is attached to fair and light skin, which is evident in the search of brides/grooms who are fair skinned. The endorsement of a plethora of fairness products substantiate this. The persecution of Africans and black skinned people from Uganda and Nigeria in the past can be attributed to the deep seated contempt towards dark skin.

Racism due to the perception of an ‘out-group’

It can be noticed that countries which are racially more tolerant are usually melting pots of different nationalities settling down for work and living here. Most of these nations are also very individual centric, wherein people are self-absorbed and individual identity is placed above group identity.

In India, however, post colonial rule hasn’t been much of an influx of different nationalities settling down for work and living here. Therefore, when one encounters foreigners, they are immediately viewed as an outsider and beyond the Indian social fabric. This xenophobia leads to hostility and alienation as they don’t fit in Indian standard norms and societal framework.

Racism as an act of retaliation

There have been many noted cases of visible racism against Indians around the world. These are evident in reports of crimes against Indian students in Australia, UK, politicians and business corporations discriminating against Indian brown skin, and in America, where Indian-Americans are constantly shunned. Also, Indian stereotypes are used to taint the image of the country time and again, and questions such as “Do people in India go to school on cows”? and “How can you speak in English”? are asked very often, demeaning and infuriating the Indian masses.

Racism due to competition

With the coming in of so many foreign firms, Indians are often reminded of their managerial positions in the workplace. In most scenarios, Indians form the labour workforce for International business ventures, even if they reach corporate set-ups, they often hit a glass ceiling and find individuals of western nationalities superseding them, or above them, in the corporate ladder. This constant competition for jobs and financial comparison leads to an unhealthy relationship or mental perception towards foreigners. This makes them an out-group and subjects of Indian indignation.

Racism due to diversity in identity

Racism in India is also visible amongst Indian communities. Due to large regional diversity, we find communities pitted up against each other ideologically, or for resources. There have been many cases of North Indian discriminating against those from the South, the mainland population isolating the North Easterns and a multitude of regional clashes. In a scenario where the country is so fragmented within itself, a foreigner seems even more alien, and a common enemy of all.

Racism due to a lack of imbibing virtues of tolerance

Children, and even adults, aren’t been taught tolerance or the beauty of harmonious living. Since this is left as a grey area, people live on with persisting mindsets. They are given no stimulus to change the way they think and the importance of International help and support doesn’t trickle down to masses.

Furthermore, the Government hasn’t put in place strong deterrence in instances of violence towards a particular community or racial abuse against foreigners who come to the country. A clear no tolerance policy towards racial intolerance must be put forth by the Government, and the message should be loud and clear.

Laws implemented for Racial Discrimination

Constitutional provisions identified under the Constitution of India :

  • Article 14 says that no person should be deprived of equality within the territory of India.
  • Article 15 (1) says that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  • Article 16 ensures the citizens equal opportunities of employment to both men and women.
  • Article 17 abolishes the practice of “Untouchability” and any person who practices untouchability shall be punishable under the law.
  • Article 21 protects the citizens from deprivation of life and personal liberty.
  • Article 51 (A) (e) signifies the duty of every citizen to the feeling of harmony and brotherhood among all the citizens of India and abandon the practices which are derogatory to the dignity of women.

Other Legislations and Acts

Anti Discrimination and Equality Bill, 2016

The bill signifies that there be no discrimination against the people belonging to the weaker and poorer sections of the society on the grounds of caste, creed, religion, sex, color, place of originality etc. The bill guarantees protection to the weaker sections like the scheduled caste and the scheduled tribes, who are always exposed to irrational abuse and violence for mundane reasons. It provides measures for redressal and provisions for compensation and exemplary awards.

The Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850

This particular law was passed in the British India under the rule of East India Company in 1850. This law gave people the freedom to convert from one religion to another with all the equal rights. The conversion of the religion would not take away their rights, especially inheritance. This law gave a clear view that a person will not be denied his right of inheritance to the parental property, even after he undergoes a conversion of religion.

The Prevention of Atrocities Act (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes), 1989

The law was passed on September 9th, 1989. This law protects the SC’s and ST’s from the discrimination and exploitation. It provides protection to the weaker sections from atrocities, abuse, brutality and ruthless violence. It lists around 22 offences which would come under the category of discrimination like denial of access to drinking water, safe hygienic conditions, access to hospitals, education, edible food, entry in to temples etc. Section 14 of SC/ST Act provides for the speedy trial courts so that the members of OBC and other tribal communities get speedy justice and do not remain defenseless. There is no provision for an anticipatory bail for offence committed under the act as per the new Section 18(a).

Conclusion

I would like to conclude this article by saying that yes, racial prejudice does exist in our country. India being such a complex and diverse nation, is bound to have some differences between the people, be it facial features, skin color, language, caste, or the religion. But these mere differences do not serve as a ground for discrimination. India is widely known for having varied cultures, traditions, ethics, religions, languages, communities etc. On one hand, we say that we are proud of living in a country so beautiful and diverse that it embraces people belonging to different cultures and traditions and on the other hand, we go freely discriminating and spreading racial prejudice against the people just because they belong to a different community or ethnic group. How ironical is that. Our Indian society has a pre-determined assumption that skin tone preferences have to exist no matter what. They are reluctant in accepting that being dark is beautiful and that the dark is entitled to the same amount of dignity and respect that a fair would receive. Person with a lighter skin tone will always be preferred over a person with a deeper skin tone. This leads to the elimination of opportunities for the black people in every field, be it education or employment. They are a constant subject to hate crime due to their skin color, which makes them feel unsafe and threatened in their very own country. Its high time that the spread of racial prejudice and hatred against the blacks should be stopped, stricter law should be implemented and enforced.

Derogatory comments, racial slurs, racial insults, racist killings etc. should cease to exist. We should embrace and appreciate the people for who they are and not on the basis of how they look. Skin color or caste do not define the character of the person, passing judgmental comments on their skin color and looks does nothing good, but makes them feel isolated and alienated from everyone else.

While it is quite impossible to eradicate racial discrimination completely, but we can at least try to reduce it to the minimum, and for that, we need to spread awareness among people about this sensitive issue. So, as both victims and perpetrators of racism, it is high time that we recognize this. We have to move beyond our “closed community” mindset and be more accepting of outsiders. This superiority complex that we have for the region we are born in needs to go. There’s a lot to do but for starters, accepting the problem would be a concrete first step in eradicating it completely. 

Is Domestic Violence the next pandemic in India?

“At any given moment you have the power to say this is not how the story is going to end.”

– Christine Mason Miller

By Dhara Tandon

India has always followed the path of patriarchal society. This age-long tradition has never died due to the circumstances and upbringing of youth in such an environment which glorifies it. Gender-based violence has never been a stranger to us and has been best identified with the isolation of the victims and exerting physical, psychological, and at times financial control over them. As the ongoing pandemic epitomizes global isolation, it is no mystery that the rate of reported domestic violence and gender-based harassment cases has also gone up.

Domestic violence has often been studied as an abusive expression triggered by financial stress, mental stress, fear, and of course, systematic patriarchy, that has furthered the cases of domestic abuses, and at times, even murders. The whole world is witnessing a sharp rise in the violation of women rights in the surge of pandemic. The national lockdown has reported more than 50% rise in domestic violence. A report prepared by NALSA documents showed that a total of 144 cases were filed in Uttarakhand alone followed by increasing cases in Haryana and New Delhi.

According to the official data of the National Commission for Women (NCW), domestic violence complaints have increased by 2.5 times since the nationwide lockdown began in India. In 2019, the commission received 607 cases between August-September, while in 2020, they registered 1,477 cases. As per the data provided by an NGO named Swayam (based in Kolkata), there were 22 complaints on average per month before the lockdown, which increased to 57 complaints on average per month through e-mails and helplines. Beyond socio-economic factors : Pandemics like Covid-19, though affecting all sections of the population, showed an adverse impact on women- owing to their limited education, mobility, access to work opportunities outside the home and ownership as well as negligible control over resources such as land and finance. According to NFHS-4 data, 71% of women whose husbands got drunk often encountered spousal violence- either physical or sexual. The situation has become worse during the lockdown.

About 86% women who experienced violence never sought help, and 77% of the victims did not even mention the incidents to anyone. The table shows that women who were subjected to both physical and sexual violence seek help relatively more than those who suffer from only one form of abuse.

Type of violence Never told
anyone
Told someoneSought help from a
source
Physical79.59.011.6
Sexual80.69.59.8
Physical and sexual61.39.928.8
Total76.69.114.3

Causes of surge in cases

The sense of isolation and financial and medical anxiety coming along with the deadly pandemic and sinking economy have increased the frequency of terror within homes and most certainly challenged the concept of ‘escape’ for the victims. It is most likely that the number of domestic violence is much more than the real figure as one more factor exists which is liable for exaggerating this problem is that the victim is locked in with the abusers might not get access to a mobile phone and time to call for help. Most of the avenues which help them to fight the situations are impaired. The data shows that amidst this lockdowns the complaints of domestic violence have nearly doubled evincing the idea of patriarchy being dominant till today. Stress, the disruption of social and protective networks, and decreased access to services is exacerbating the risk of violence for women.

Another important aspect responsible for this surge in domestic abuse is domestic labor. Gendered roles all over the world have placed domestic work on women’s shoulders, which is socially and culturally often demarcated as “women’s work”. During this pandemic the work load of women has increased due to all the members being at home. With housekeeping staff being unavailable, the expectation is for women to do all the tasks and that too with full efficiency and productivity, and chances of violence increases if she fails to do so. Economic factor has also played a crucial role in surging this violence. A large chunk of women population is suffering from the economic dependence on the male counterpart. Researchers have long speculated that when one person relies on another for financial assistance, physical help or emotional support, the possibility that the dependent member in the dynamic will be mistreated or exploited increases. Economic dependency of one member could lead the dependent person to tolerate mistreatment because of a lack of viable living alternatives.

Domestic violence is in the form of rapes and sexual harassment as well and COVID-19 times sets out the classic example of it. 2 crore babies are to be born in India till December 2020. This is the highest number recorded so far. The question it raises now is that will all these babies be born with the consent of women? India still has not penalised marital rape. It may happen that the women during pandemic were subjected to force and since they are always considered to be subordinate and disempowered, they had to give in.

A major difference between our health emergency and gender-based atrocities is that there may never be a one-step vaccine to end the latter. One of the key reasons behind gender-based violence is propagating rape/misogynistic culture in our everyday lives as a widely spread norm.

Effects of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence tears lives apart. One in three women experience physical or sexual violence, or both, caused by someone known to them. It affects women, children, the family, and the community in general.

Effects on the victim

Physical effects
  • Bruises
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension
  • Broken bones
  • Involuntary shaking
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Menstrual cycle or fertility issues in women
Mental and emotional effects
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts
  • Depression, including prolonged sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to trust
  • Unmotivated
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling unworthy
Effects on the community
  • Children growing up without learning about positive and respectful relationships
  • Abusers going to prison
  • Higher rates of alcohol and other drug use, and mental health problems
  • Low self-esteem and questioning sense of self
  • Apprehensive and discouraged about future
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Effects on children

Of those women who experience violence, more than 50% have children in their care. Whether children experience or witness abuse, it can take a toll on their development. Domestic violence victims are not isolated to intimate partners. Children are at an increased risk for emotional behavioral problems regardless if they were directly abused or not. Children and young people don’t have to see the violence to be affected by it. Studies show that living with domestic violence can cause physical and emotional harm to children in the following ways :

  • Ongoing anxiety and depression
  • Emotional distress
  • Eating and sleeping disturbances
  • Fearful
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-harm
  • Be aggressive towards friends and school mates
  • Feel guilt or blame themselves for the violence
  • Have trouble forming positive relationships
  • Develop phobias and insomnia
  • Use bullying behavior or become a target of bullying
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Academic problems

Children who are exposed to domestic violence in the home may have difficulty learning and limited social skills, exhibit violent, risky or delinquent behavior. There is a strong likelihood that this will become a continuing cycle of violence for the next generation. The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Children in the earliest years of life are particularly vulnerable. Children and young people need to grow up in a secure and nurturing environment. Where domestic violence exists, the home is not safe or secure and children are scared about what might happen to them or the people they love.

Government Measures

The number of crimes against women has always been underreported, even during the times of the deadly virus. ‘Me Too’, in spite of being one of the most powerful initiatives taken by the feminist movement in India, had seen many pitfalls in bringing the abusers down and at times, receiving all complaints and cases of harassment against women in India. While our culture infused with the patriarchal fear has certainly kept many women away from raising their voices, let’s also look at how it has affected systems dealing with harassment in India.

With cases of domestic violence swelling every day, the situation is becoming very grim. Recently, to tackle the situation better the Delhi High Court has directed the Delhi Government to mull over the appointments of protection officers. The NCW also launched Whatsapp helpline numbers to protect them from harassment and in grave cases Crisis Intervention Centre (CIC) through counsellors accompany the aggrieved person and make possible the recourse to public authorities.

The policies addressing the safety of women that we’ve already had in place have had only little impact. While most of the reformations are under-developed, there are several issues like microaggressions, marital rape, etc. that don’t even have separate provisions to be dealt with. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) has reached out to some women but has largely been flawed with an exhausting procedure and no uniform protocol for service providers that the victims have to go through. Due to lack of seriousness, little focus has been provided to most of the systematic measures related to gender-based discrimination in India. In order to work around this, we need to treat it as a priority similar to other essentials of democracy with more detailed funds, exclusive attention and a more advanced strategy.

Instead of focusing on deciding the number of consequences for the culprits, our policies should be more victim-centered. They should spend more time talking to and understanding the victims and creating unbiased, easy, practical, and recurring systems of support and safety that all victims can keep reaching out to without the fear of things getting complex with their abusers. Leaders in these systems should have more sensitive, multi-dimensional problem-solving approach so that the victims can feel heard and supported instead of finding themselves overcome another ‘battle’.

How to Combat ?

Recognize patterns and seek help – Know the signs of an abusive relationship and how to leave a dangerous situation.

Recognize domestic violence

Abusive relationships always involve an imbalance of power and control. An abuser uses intimidating, hurtful behaviors to control his or her partner. It might not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. You might be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who :

  • Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
  • Prevents or discourages you from going to work or seeing family members or friends
  • Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
  • Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
  • Threatens you with violence or a weapon
  • Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children
  • Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
  • Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
Don’t take the blame

You may not be ready to seek help because you believe you’re at least partially to blame for the abuse in the relationship. Reasons may include :

  • Your partner blames you for the violence in your relationship. Abusive partners rarely take responsibility for their actions.
  • Your partner exhibits abusive behavior only with you. Abusers are often concerned with the outward appearances, and may appear charming and stable to those outside of your relationship. This may cause you to believe that his or her actions can only be explained by something you’ve done.
  • You have acted out verbally or physically against your abuser, yelling, pushing, or hitting him or her during conflicts. You may worry that you are abusive, but it’s much more likely that you acted in self-defense or intense emotional distress. Your abuser may use such incidents to manipulate you, describing them as a proof that you’re the abusive partner.

If you’re having trouble identifying what’s happening, take a step back and look at larger patterns in your relationship. Then, review the signs of domestic violence.

Break the cycle

If you’re in an abusive situation, you might recognize this pattern :

  • Your abuser threatens violence
  • Your abuser strikes
  • Your abuser apologizes, promises to change
  • The cycle repeats itself

Typically the violence becomes more frequent and severe over time. The longer you stay in an abusive relationship, the greater the physical and emotional toll. You might become depressed and anxious, or begin to doubt your ability to take care of yourself. you might feel helpless but you need to break the cycle right there and never let that happen to you again.

Humane Framework

We need a comprehensive nationwide campaign to bring awareness among the people and make them sensitized towards this issues. These issues must be highlighted through various modes like, radio channels, national news channels. These platforms must be strategically used in the same way as the government has used for washing hands and social distancing to combat COVID-19. Efforts like in France and Spain, where pharmacies are being trained in a way to identify the victim of abuse through code words like “Mask-19” for the people who cannot speak openly on social platforms should be adopted. The non-profit organizations, civil society organizations are a key to unlock the unawareness in the society. A lot of these organizations enable shelter needs, counselling, legal aid, medical assistance and many more. A laudable initiative by the UP Police has also been launched named as “Suppress Corona, not your voice” which encourages them to be vocal against the crime. As a responsible citizen of the country under Article 51-A of the constitution, we have certain fundamental duties to perform on our part of which one is “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.”

The Way Forward

There is no doubt in the fact that the judiciary even in these tough times has imparted its services in a very hardworking way by establishing virtual courts and ensured justice to the victims. But still the efficacy of policies and redressal mechanisms needs re-assessment in one way or the other. Not only the physical but also the emotional and psychological health is at stake when an act of domestic violence takes place against her. So, we need to build a safe and secure place for the women by ensuring checks and balances. These crimes are committed not only against the women but also against the democracy, humanity, natural laws and most importantly our legal system.

The “Intimate Terrorism” needs to be curbed as soon as possible before the human rights issue especially (women’s right issue) become a joke for the abusers in the time to come. The Government along with the NGO’s can protect the vulnerable section and help them to survive the pandemic by the setting up of emergency warning system so that women could reach out to the authorities without alerting the abusers. It is high time that we, as responsible citizens of this country start taking up this issue to as our priority.

To sum this up, Swami Vivekanand truly said, “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”

SOCIAL MEDIA – A BOON OR A BANE ?

“You learn the hard way. That’s the thing with social media. Nobody knows what they’re doing.” – Cameron Dallas

By Dhara Tandon

Social media has facilitated a lot in reshaping communication industry and redefining the ways in which we communicate and express ourselves. We have embraced it so tenaciously that social media is now an integral part of our life. It is sweeping across geographies, industries and almost every sphere. Not only individuals, but also businesses, governments are utilizing social media platforms for constant engagement with the masses. Social media allows people to create, share, or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks. It’s a tool that provides users of the Internet unprecedented access to information, freedom to collaborate or build relationships, as well as to create and exchange user-generated content. Though social media offers a global platform to share and express but it’s constant engagement is affecting individual productivity, relationships and society as a whole.

KEY FACTS AND FIGURES:

In 2020, It is estimated that there will be around 2.77 billion social network users around the globe. According to a report, the number of people using the top social media platform in each country has increased by almost 1 million new users every day during the past 12 months. The global number of people using social media has grown by 13 percent in the past 12 months, with Central and Southern Asia recording the fastest gains.

Facebook is the most preferred social media platform. With more than 2000 million Facebook user around the world, if a country is constituted with them, it would be world’s third largest, behind India and China. The other popular social media platforms are YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Whatsapp. According to 2017 official report published by Facebook, on average there were 1.40 billion daily active users with 14% increase over the year. According to forecasts from media analyst firm, US, Social media advertisement revenues are expected to grow to USD 24.2 billion in 2021.

Social media has brought the world so close that political and geographical boundaries are crumbling. Time may come when netizenship may surpass citizenship. The more people-to-people communication is, the more is the strengthening of relationships. This is the basic principle of the political concept of nation building. In an information society, bonds grow stronger. Social media engages people constantly and accumulate everyone in some or the other trending activity. However, social media has both it’s advantages and disadvantages.

A Positive Force

Social media provides a global platform to express one’s views and ideas without any reservations or biasness. It allows instant communication with friends and family and automatically provides up to date information also known as “statuses” while allowing us to find new individuals to meet. Social media is a cost-effective marketing and branding tool. It has created a paradigm shift in the way brands advertise and market products. Social media has created new avenues for learning and job creation which never existed before the advent of social media. Governments of many countries are leveraging social media to engage with the citizens and to garner their support, suggestions and views on policies for effective governance.

As far as students are concerned in this dynamic, social media has benefitted them in numerous ways. For one, it allows students to exchange notes and lessons. Even professors share tutorials on social media. During this lockdown period, many teachers have found innovative ways to teach using platforms like YouTube and Twitter. Two, with the help of social media platforms, students now have access to large number of like-minded people. If you are preparing for admission to a university, you can connect with alumni of that university to take guidance. Three, social media offers a platform for students to get their portfolio published. It allows them the option to be heard and seen. Four, Educational institutes, teachers and professors can extend their classroom discussions and post assignments, quizzes and tests and assists students with homework.

There is no denying that social media has encouraged a culture of entrepreneurship. It gives people with unusual interests and hobbies a place to share information and passion which helps them enhance and manage their social lives. Many professions that were not seen with respect are now being given their dues. If one enjoys carpentry or makeup, social media influencers are now selling their passion viz apps like Instagram and YouTube and earning a fortune as well. Social news is also feeding the intellect of students and others by keeping them updated with what’s happening around the world. Various news media share updates on social media and increase awareness in young learners. You can enhance and improve your skills by sharing your ideas, knowledge, and information through social media, with millions of people even if they are miles away from you. Social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram help in attracting new customers and engross the customers with products which makes their brand popular. It enables a business to get new information about their customers and improve their customer services.

A Distraction and Hindrance

While there are several benefits of social media, some cons are hard to neglect. While many users feel their personal data is safe on social networking sites because they have set high levels of security settings, research suggests this is not the case. A case in point is the recent case of where a researcher linked to Cambridge Analytica (CA), a political consulting firm had accessed details of 50 million Facebook users. The data was shared with Cambridge Analytica, which used online data to reach voters on social media with personalized messages and swayed 2016 US elections. Recently, Netflix released an American documentary-drama on September 2020, which goes by the name- “Social Dilemma”. It explores the rise of social media and the damage it has caused to society, focusing on it’s exploitation and manipulation of it’s users for financial gain through surveillance capitalism and data mining. The docudrama film has shown the dark side of social media from the people who created it. It goes in to the depth on how social media’s design is meant to nurture an addiction, manipulate it’s use in politics, and spread conspiracy theories. The film also examines the serious issue of social media’s effect on mental health (including the mental health of adolescents and rising teen suicide rates).

Social media platforms and big tech companies have been instrumental in providing positive change for society; such platforms have caused problematic social, political and cultural consequences. Social media sites can make it more difficult for us to distinguish between the meaningful relationships we foster in the real world, and the numerous casual relationships formed through social media. While, on the surface it appears social networking brings people together across the internet, in larger sense, it may create social isolation. People use their social profiles to project their lives as “perfect”, and they constantly compare their lives with others and think of themselves as low which decreases their happiness and leads to self-esteem issues. People are becoming so addicted to social media that they are spending most of their time on it instead of doing any other productive or significant work. Lots of people now prefer online conversations rather than meeting in person, which is weakening their relationships. It also affects communication skills and socializing abilities.

Privacy is also one of the major drawbacks of social media and their increased use. Hacking accounts and using other person’s personal information for malicious intentions has been an issue since the usage of social media started and it has only been increasing. Also, there are no reliable measures to check the credibility of the news and videos present on social media. The spread of misinformation can severely impact decision-making process. This is because we are closer in the virtual world but far away in the physical world. Digital culture has become so widespread that whatever happens on the net, is readily accepted. Cross-check is almost nil. It is a dangerous trend and it has a cascading effect. Not only the problem is of the magnitude but also in not being able to find it’s source also. Hence, thoughts of innocent people get easily shaped and influenced by distorted information.

Online bullying and harassment (cyberbullying) leads to anxiety and depression which is the most underrated disadvantage of social media. People use these sites to prey on the naive and vulnerable. Especially, it’s a problem with youngsters and students, where students are radicalized by non-state actors, terrorist organizations that preach wrong ideas to vulnerable learners through social media and they may also fall prey to cybercrimes on the dark web. The victimization is directly related to lower self-esteem and an increase in suicidal thoughts in young people. Additionally, people end up “chasing likes”, in a bid to, as they see it, earn approval from their peers. All such kinds of addiction and becoming overly-concerned with how we will be perceived by others, only sets unattainable standards for ourselves and affects the mental health and well being of the person.

Conclusion:

In sum, whether social media is a boon or a bane, entirely depends on how we use it. Certainly, social media has much to offer to the society and we have benefitted from increased convenience in information acquisition, communication, conversations, engagement and a lot more but at the same time, social media has also made individuals and groups communicate in a manner that is unbecoming of them as individuals, and which has led to unwanted outcomes online as well as offline.

So how do we ensure that we use social media responsibly and that is acceptable to all? First, the responsibility of using the media rests with each of us. Every time an individual uses the social media, she needs to ask whether she is using the media responsibly or not. Second, Are we aware of the consequences of the communication/message that we put on social media? We need need to think twice and through before posting anything. It’s important to understand that we are not as anonymous as we think, the internet leaves a trail everywhere for everyone. Third, focus on what you really enjoy to avoid overuse. Ask yourself what type of content do you really enjoy? Do you care about what your friends post on Facebook? Or do you prefer visual content on Instagram? Maybe you enjoy the more professional content from LinkedIn. Answer that question and limit your usage to just one or two social media platforms rather than media stream binging and apps switching where the cycle continues. Surely, you won’t stop using social media but you’ll limit the time you spend on your phone.

Conclusively, here are the recommended countermeasures to protect oneself against social media :

  • Turn off notifications or reduce the number of notifications you receive
  • Uninstall social media and news apps that are wasting time
  • Use a search engine that doesn’t store search history, like Qwant
  • Use browser extensions to block recommendations
  • Fact-check before liking, commenting or sharing information that looks surprising
  • Obtain sources of information with different perspectives, including sources one might disagree with
  • Do not give devices to children; no screen time
  • Never accept recommended video on YouTube, Facebook or anywhere
  • Try to avoid any clickbait material
  • Keep devices out of the bedroom after a certain time

When it comes to whether social networking is right for you, that is something only you can decide, using your own judgements and past experiences. It is best to reap the benefits of social media while being aware of the malpractices online and strike a healthy balance between the real and virtual world.

MENTAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING – NOT A DESTINATION BUT A PROCESS.

“WHAT MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS IS MORE SUNLIGHT, MORE CANDOR, AND MORE UNASHAMED CONVERSATIONS”

-Glenn Close

BY DHARA TANDON

The Coronavirus pandemic, now widely seen as the most dreadful calamity, swayed away the entire nation creating havoc amongst people with such an unexpected wave and reach. COVID-19 manifested to be life threatening and lethal as well as mentally disturbing. People lost their jobs and their loved ones, countries all over facing adverse and concerning economic troubles, poor and vulnerable segments of society are several times worse and moreover it has affected people’s mental health.

In India, WHO estimates that the burden of mental health problems is of the tune of 2,443 DALY’s per 100,000 population. Over 90 million Indians, or 7.5 percent of the country’s population of 1.3 billion, suffer from mental illness or disorder. Amid growing concerns about the global pandemic, mental health concerns have taken a hit and how. But How Committed is India to Mental Health?

India’s progress on mental health is a depressing tale. According to various reports, there is no central aggregation of statistics on treatment for mental disorders and it is hard to believe in a country where every 7th person will likely to have a mental disorder in his/her lifetime doesn’t even bother to collate data at one place. Good mental health is an essential component of overall well-being and considering the current situation and how it has impacted individuals all over, mental health in India has still been the neglected component of well-being in COVID-19 era. So where are we lacking? How can India improve its mental health policies and revive the importance of mental healthcare and well-being?

The first and foremost reason for India to lose its mental health is the lack of awareness and sensitivity about the issue. There is still a stigma around people suffering from any kind of mental issues. They are often considered and tagged as “lunatics” by the society and this leads to a cycle of shame and suffering of the patients. Mental health promotion and protection involves creating an environment which promotes healthy living and encourages people to adopt healthy lifestyle. Mental health situation in India demands active intervention by the government. To reduce the stigma around people, we need to train and sensitize the community/society and this can only happen when we have persistent nationwide effort to educate the society.

At present, over 36 million people around the world have had COVID-19 which further impacts mental health. In the last few months, India has experienced a lot of disappointments- in the form of farmer’s and student’s suicides, bullying and trolling, economic collapse, public protests, human rights abuses and deaths due to COVID-19 and lockdown. All this prompts us to think if we are actually in a state of good mental health?

Mental health is often associated with a lot of discrimination. There is a little comprehensive data on the prevalence of psychological disorders around the world. But estimates suggests one in seven people on the planet have mental or substance use disorders and 4% have anxiety disorders. There are many factors that fuel the development of mental health issues, which can affect the person’s daily functioning as well as cause them impairing distress. A person’s upbringing, parenting, interaction with others and their immediate environment can all influence their roles and responsibilities in society.

Insensitive media coverage of sensitive issues like suicides and rape, competitive pressures to do well on exams or secure important jobs, divine and hateful narratives on the social media have all been on the rise of late. We shouldn’t be surprised if the entire society is affected by these forces. The COVID-19 pandemic have been added on as an additional stressor. The purpose of promoting mental health is not the same as treating mental illness. We need to create awareness about the mental health to help people understand that mental illness and mental health are different. This way we can understand separate implications of mental health and mental illness avoiding misconceptions, miscommunications and ultimately reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most people paid more attention than usual to improve their physical health and develop their immune system. However, there were few measures and little awareness about the mental well-being. Exhortations to the people to pay attention to their physical health should, in parallel, have been accompanied by messages about strengthening the mental health of individuals as well as society as a whole. As the saying goes, physical health adds years to your life, whereas mental health adds life to those years.

Promoting mental health is not a single-day program and it can’t be led by a single or few health clinics. Good mental health is achieved with the help of good parenting, good education, economic awareness, encouraging independence and social and gender equality and liberty. Responsibility, concern, commitment and moral values should be taught as early as possible, both within and outside the academic system. We are already seeing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental well-being and this just the beginning. We need to make serious commitments to scale up investment in mental health right now and find innovative ways to create initiatives to strengthen psychological support for people.

In all, the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken as a wake-up call to address these deficiencies. It has never been more important than now to recognize that mental health is an essential component to one’s overall health and well-being and that mental illness are common and treatable. It’s now or never. If you are vulnerable, you inspire others to be vulnerable in return. Pay attention to anything that triggers you and seek help. This year, due to pandemic, many of us have lost our loved ones untimely and shockingly, but also this year, we learnt how to appreciate small things in life, prioritizing our relationships with family and friends, the importance of health and wellness, we re-connected with old friends, lived our passion and hobby again, we learnt how we really don’t need to spend as much as we usually do to have a happy and fulfilling lifestyle but more importantly, this pandemic taught us that, “We need to slow down”. Let’s slow down and live one day at a time. We all know life is short; let’s wake up from this and try to really enjoy life and make every moment count.