Rights have been rightly described as those social claims without which no man can seek to be himself/herself at his/her best. “They belong to the individuals for the development of human personality. “The individuals have these rights because of their being members of the society, because of their being social beings. “The state only maintains and protects rights. Rights belong to all who are members of the society—to all as social and civilized members: the Indian rights belong to the Indians: they belong to men and women alike, to elderly and the children alike, the boy child and the girl child alike, the abled as well as disabled, the free as well as the detained alike, the women belonging to a higher caste and the one who is a dalit, a tribal. In fact, the weaker sections of society deserve special rights so as to raise them equal to others. Democracy seeks upliftment of all—high and the low, the rich and the poor. Rights belong to all as human beings. Rights issues are issues related to rights: they are issues numerous in their nature, having dimensions far and wide.
Discriminations, favouritism, atrocities, exploitation, torture, sufferings and the like, in their numerous forms create issues which affect the people directly or indirectly, intentionally or otherwise. Indeed, rights belong to people and they also know that they have their rights, and yet they are denied to them: the husbands resort to domestic violence; the he-employers force the she-employees to sexual harassment; the grown-up children leave their old-age parents to old-age homes; the dalit women are openly assaulted sexually by high-caste men; the police station houses refuse to register FIRs of those who are relatively weaker; women feel unsafe walking on the streets in broad-day light; children are mentally and physically abused; the disabled are ill-treated; those detained for interrogation are brutally beaten to accept the crime they have not committed; the minorities and the backwards are suspected of their conduct—the list is only illustrative, and not exhaustive.
“This shows that the right issues are numerous. We need to know, at least, some with issues specific to them along with their rights—constitutional, statutory and customary issues and their rights.
Women’s Issues and their Rights
Women constitute 58,64,69,174 (48.46%) of India’s total population (as per 2011 census) of 121,01,93,422. India, basically a male-dominated society, is one where women face numerous forms of challenges, which ultimately impede their advancement in every field of life: family codes are discriminatory, female literacy as compared to male’s (82.14%), is 65.46% —more than 15% lower; the condition of the rural women is dissatisfactory while those of the dalit, really pitiable; cultural stigmas hardly leave the women-folk; despite the constitutional gender equality, women remain unequal; sex-selective abortions, despite the 1996 ban, occurs at staggering rates; sexual assaults are usual affairs: rapes, and gang-rapes are so common that women feel unsafe, whatever their age, fearing more at the hands of their relatives and police than from robbers;
dowry deaths occur too frequently (between 1997 and 2001, around 12134 such deaths through suicide); around 120 women are sexually harassed every day; over 40% of married women face physical abuse by their husbands; trafficking of girls for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation has been reported; an estimate reveals: one crime against women every three minutes, one case of cruelty against women every nine minutes, one molestation case every 15 minutes, one rape every 20 minutes, one kidnapping every 23 minutes and one dowry death case, every 77 minutes; of all the crimes against women in 2006, 60.53% were related to female torture and molestation, and about 1,85,312 incidents of crimes against women were reported in India; hardly half of the women’s population participates in household decisions;
Two in five Indian women do not choose their spouse and about one in two are married before the age of 18 year; about one-fourth of the women’s population, according to 2001 census, worked outside their homes; around 48% of the women’s voters had participated during the elections. “The Dalit women are subjected to unimaginable humiliation: they are put to dishonour/outrage their modesty; parading dalit women naked or with painted fact or body; publicly humiliating them. Despite the rights the women have in India, they face humiliation. “There are safeguards/protection enshrined in the Constitution, patriarchy has not been condemned. Infact, patriarchy has to be outlawed and thrown out, both from our heads as well as hearts.
“The Constitution of India not only grants equality to women but also asks the State to give women special and positive facilities to them. “The Preamble lays emphasis on gender equality; the fundamental rights in Articles 14, 15, 16 provide safeguards to women; the directive principles in article 39, 42, 46, 47 ensure certain facilities to women; Article 51 renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women; the 73rd and the 74th amendments reserve one-thirds of the total seats in rural and urban local institutions for women. Several legislations related to women have been passed and enacted, condemning social discrimination, violence, and atrocities against women; the Indian Penal Code which includes Rape (Sec. 376 IPC); Kidnapping & Abduction for different purposes (Sec. 363–373); Homicide for dowry, dowry deaths or their attempts (Sec. 302/304-B IPC); Torture, both mental and physical (Sec. 498-A IPC); Molestation (Sec. 354 IPC); Sexual harassment (Sec. 509 IPC) and importation of girls (up to 21 years of age).
“The crimes identified under the Special Laws (SLL) which are though not gender specific, but some do have special provisions to safeguard women and their interests. “They include: “The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948; “The Plantation Labour Act, 1951; “The Family Courts Act, 1954; “The Special Marriage Act, 1954; “The Hindu Marriage Act 1955; “The Hind Succession Act, 1956; Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956; “The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (Amended in 1995); Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961; “The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971; “The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1976; “The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976; “The Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, 1979; “The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983; “The Factories (Amendment) Act, 1986; Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986; Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987; and “The Marriage (Amendment) Act 2001. Sexual Harassment of Women at work place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), 2012 etc. With reversal strict laws, now in operation, women are bold and feel protected.
“The Indian government’s special initiatives with regard to women can be stated as under:
- National Commission for Women was set-up as a statutory body in January 1992 with specific mandate to study and monitor all matters related to constitutional and legal safeguards provided for women, review the existing legislation to suggest amendments wherever necessary, etc.
- Reservation for women in Panchayats & Municipalities (Local Self Government): “The 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts was enacted in 1993 to ensure one-third reservation of the total seats for women in all elected offices in local bodies whether in rural areas or urban areas.
- “The National Plan of Action for the Girl Child (1991– 2000) to ensure survival, protection and development of the girl child with the ultimate objective of building up a better future for the girl child.
- National Policy for the Empowerment of Women (2001) to bring advancement, development and empowerment of women in all spheres of life through creation of a more responsive judicial and legal system sensitive to women and mainstreaming a gender perspective in the development process. “The strengthening and formation of relevant institutional mechanisms and implementation of international obligations/commitments and co-operation at the international, regional and sub-regional level was another commitment.
- “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, provides for more effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected herewith or incidental thereto. It provides for immediate and emergent relief to women in situations of violence of any kind in the home.
- Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) was created in January 2006 and is the nodal Ministry of the government of India for the advancement of women and children.