Dr. Urvashi Sahni
Founder, Study Hall Educational Foundation
The unspeakable horror of the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old girl in the capital of the world’s largest democracy, India, on December 16th has brought to the forefront the cruel, fatal, highly discriminatory gender norms prevalent in a country that now claims to be one of the worlds rising economic stars. A window has opened for responses that challenge these gender norms through critical dialogues and empowering education.
There is probably no woman in the country regardless of caste, class, religion or region who has not been the target of sexual harassment in some form or other at home, in the work place or on the street. India has one of the lowest sex ratios in the world, one of the highest rates of incestuous sex abuse, and the worst gender differential of children aged between 1 to 5-years-old such that girls are 75 percent more likely to die than boys. Approximately 1 million girls arekilled in the womb before they are born, 25,000 die due to dowry related deaths and the gory list goes on and on. We are not a nation that values our daughters, or one that knows how to keep them safe. They are neither safe in the womb before birth, nor at home or in the streets. And we do nothing about it! The nationwide protests protested just this. They were protesting against an apathetic administration, against sexist mindsets of the police, the judiciary, the legislature and society at large. People are demanding more just laws, speedier redressal in courts of law and conviction of criminals. What is noteworthy is the large number of students, men and women who were on the streets, braving lathi charges and tear gas to make their voice heard. This continuous, nationwide, mass protest for women’s rights – is not only unexpected, especially in a country like India, it is unprecedented and historic.
While I can only hang my head in shame at this awful crime, I will admit to a sense of exhilaration at the huge response it has generated among the nation’s youth, raising many gender related issues, leading to discussions and debates spanning both the length and breadth of the country.
The media is making sure the issues do not disappear from the spotlight as is often the case. It is engaging voices from all sectors of society including students, civil society, academia, political parties, the police, the judiciary and the government. Everywhere people are discussing gender discrimination, gender norms, and the sad status of women and girls in India. Nirbhaya’s brutal rape and murder should not pass in vain. We hope that this is the turning point. Everyone is being forced to sit up and take notice of the millions of girls who are being attacked, raped, killed every day all over the country.
Along with the strong measures that the government should take to ensure the safety of our women, as a long term measure we should be working at educating our young people towards more equitable gendered perceptions. Everyone is clamoring for a change of gendered mindsets and I add my voice to the uproar – we should include gender studies in the post-primary curricula of all schools for both boys and girls. This is one way of ensuring that future generations of men will grow up respecting women and their right to bodily and sexual integrity. If it is important to give our children an understanding of math and science, it is equally important for them to understand equality of gender. Educators have an important role to play in creating a safer, more just world for girls and women.
Studyhall Educational Foundation is launching a campaign called “India’s daughters: Unwanted, Unsafe, Unequal”. I invite the entire Studyhall family, students, alumni, teachers and parents to join us as we raise our voice and consciousness against gender violence and gender inequality in India in particular and in the world in general. The campaign will include online and offline activites which will be announced on our website. Please participate in the discussions by writing blogs and comments and encourage your family and friends to do the same. Let us all work together towards an egalitarian social order.