PM Modi: End Sexual Assault and Harassment of Women and Girls in India
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Protecting women and girls from sexual violence should be a priority for any advanced nation - yet India continues to lag far behind the rest of the world.
When Jyoti Singh was a little girl growing up in Delhi, her father, Badri Nath Singh, sold his ancestral land in a nearby village and worked double shifts to pay for her education. By age 23, Jyoti was well on her way to a career in physical therapy.
On December 16, 2012, Jyoti’s dreams – and the dreams of her father – came to an all too familiar and tragic end. While returning home from watching a movie with a friend, Jyoti was brutally beaten, gang-raped, and sexually assaulted by six men on a bus who were armed with an iron rod. Jyoti was left to die on the side of the road – and less than two weeks later, after a frantic effort by doctors to save her, she was gone.
Sadly, Jyoti’s story is a familiar one in India. Other instances of public sexual harassment and assault include:
· October 2011: Two young men living in Mumbai - Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes – were stabbed to death by four other men after they defended Keenan’s girlfriend, Priyanka Fernandes, from their unwanted sexual advances in public. Five years later, the four men were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
· May 2012: A 60 year man, Alagesan, was beaten and later died in Bangalore after he came to the defense of his teenage niece who being harassed.
· August 2012: In a suicide note, 23-year old airplane employee Geetika Sharma charged Gopal Kanda, a former Haryana minister, of sexually harassing her and forcing her to take her life. The case is currently on trial.
· December 2013: Asok Kumar Ganguly, a former Supreme Court judge, stepped down as head of the West Bengal human rights commission after a law intern accused him of sexually harassing her at a hotel room. The Union Home Ministry later found "no evidence" against him.
· September 2014: A 36-year old man in Virar, Shashi Jha, was brutally murdered after he reported public harassing of female students at a coaching center. Shashi repeatedly reported the incidents, but police took no action. Police later claimed they launched a “high level inquiry” into the murder.
· November 2014: An older male student beat Harshavardhan Rao – a 19-year old college student in Hyderabad – to death after he defended a female college student who was being publicly harassed. A murder case was launched.
· August 2015: A 35-year old Army soldier, Vedmitra Chaudhury, was beaten to death in the city of Meerut after he defended a girl who was being teased. Several suspects were arrested.
· February 2016: A girl was shot and killed after she confronted men who were publicly harassing her in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. The victim’s family argued that no action was taken by authorities despite their complaints.
· March 2016: A teenage girl near New Delhi was stalked, sexually assaulted, and burned to death by a man, who was later arrested and charged with murder.
Despite a national outcry and modest legal reforms over the years, sexual harassment and assault still persists at staggering rates in India.
Groundbreaking research by Dr. Manish Madan and Dr. Mahesh Nalla of Michigan State University has documented the problem: 40 percent of women recently surveyed in Delhi said they have been sexually harassed in a public place such as a bus or park in the past year, with most of the crimes occurring in the daytime. 33 percent of women have stopped going out in public and 17 percent have quit their jobs rather than face harassment, or worse, in public places. An Amnesty International report in 2014 found 322,000 nationwide crimes against women – including 37,000 cases of rape.
Four out of five women in India have experienced harassment or violence in public – known as “Eve Teasing” – and most are between 25-35 years old.
Sexual assault and harassment are not just a women's issue - but a men's issue and family issue that affects all people.
Prime Minister Modi and Minister for Women & Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, must now make common sense reforms to protect women and girls, including:
• Require universal education on the consequences of sexual harassment and the principles of gender equality.
• Implement public awareness efforts, such as public service announcements and displaying “zero tolerance on sexual harassment” signs at highly visible areas such as bus stops, buses and roadsides.
• Improve law enforcement and security in public places, including more widespread police patrols and new security cameras.
For the sake of India's future, it’s past time for the government to act.
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