Human Rights Day in India: Going beyond symbolism

Human Rights DayAll the member countries of the United Nations observe 10th of December each year as the World Human Rights Day. The United Nations defines human rights as inter-related, inter-dependent and indivisible rights inherent to all human beings without discrimination.

India, like many other countries, celebrates the Human Rights Day each year with great fervour. The state of human rights in India has improved markedly since independence. However, a lot still remains to be done with respect to the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the citizens, particularly the women of India.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in its 2008 report on the “State of Human Rights in India” draws attention to gross violations with regard to various aspects of human rights, including the right to equal status for women in India. The report blames the law enforcement agencies at district, state and national levels for their apathy and ineptitude as one of the principal reasons for these human right violations still taking place in India.

Eve teasing, sexual harassment and verbal harassment at work and in public places, criticism of women for being dressed in western clothes or expressing their freedom in any other ways, a negative bias in terms of freedom to study and freedom to work outside the home, suppression of young married women within the households, are some of the most common horrors that an average woman in India goes through every day, while the law enforcers look the other way.

Women suffer ill treatment in many Indian households for not producing a male child, or for not being able to bear a child. Female child abortions and infanticide are horrors that are still prevalent in the 21st century India. The largely patriarchal and feudal society stifles the basic human rights of a woman, not only in villages but also in many parts of urban India.

Women often bear the brunt in rural India for simply daring to express their own choice of a husband, and suffer banishment from the society if the choice happens to be out of caste, or out of religion. Within family and community, the woman’s status in rural India is still primarily governed by matrimony and fertility. But ironically, despite so great significance being attached to fertility, the access of healthcare and maternity care for women continues to be pitiable. By some estimates, India still has a rate of one maternal death every seven minutes.

The number of rape cases across the country remains consistently high, and other crimes against women continue to be committed year after year without any visible sign of a decline. Human Rights activists have been demanding major changes in the antiquated Criminal Procedure Code concerning crimes against women, but to little avail.

The skewed national sex ratio of 933 females per 1000 males, as per the census of 2001, is a most telling piece of evidence about the real position of a woman in the 21st century India.

If we wish to observe the Human Rights Day in India in its true spirit, we as a country need to usher in real, hard changes that can make a visible difference to the quality of life of an average Indian woman at the ground level.

 

- Vikas Vij (views expressed in the article are that of the author)

 

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