India Insight

Guns and Gowns: Documentary shows two faces of the Indian woman

Cosmetic surgeon Jamuna Pai inspects the face of the Miss India contestant before her in Mumbai, furrows her brow and points to a blemish. The verdict: the young woman needs a botox injection in her chin because the “proportions are off by 0.6 percent.”

About 400 kilometres away in the town of Aurangabad, worlds apart from India’s financial capital, a middle-aged woman in a sari lectures adolescent girls about wanting careers.

“How can you deny 5,000 years of evidence that you are the weaker sex? Stop asking for equality,” she thunders to her audience of rapt teenagers in traditional Indian attire.

The two women in Mumbai and Aurangabad, and the subjects of their scrutiny are at the crux of Nisha Pahuja‘s film “The World Before Her,” which opens in Indian cinemas next month.

The documentary juxtaposes two training camps — one for the Durga Vahini (army of Durga), the women’s unit of the right-wing Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), and the other for the annual Miss India beauty pageant.

Anti-rape bill goes easy on first-time stalkers, but only if innocent

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

Women have become increasingly worried about their safety in New Delhi after the gang rape and torture of a young woman aboard a moving bus last December. Not for nothing do people call the city India’s rape capital. Beyond the leers and the crass words that men often direct at women walking on the street, fresh fears have arisen over stalkers.

The Lok Sabha passed a bill to toughen penalties on rape and sexual assault on Tuesday, and among its penalties, it would make stalking punishable by jail time. But first-time offenders will be able to avoid being detained till investigation is complete, as the offence is bailable.

Making a case for tougher anti-stalking laws

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

Should any well meaning law proposed in a democratic parliament be shelved because it risks being misused in some form?

Unless we go into specifics, it is hard to generalize the question, but the eighteenth-century English scholar William Blackstone made a strong argument: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

Delhi gang rape case: ‘she deserved it’ is not a good argument

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The gang rape of a 23-year-old woman and the beating of her male friend on a moving bus in New Delhi Sunday night has produced debates about women’s rights in India and about whether the death penalty — or castration — are suitable remedies for the situation. It has not prompted, from what I can see, any speculation that the woman got what she deserved because she was dressed like a slut… until today.

For anyone who has missed the story, here’s what has happened so far, according to multiple media reports: the woman and her friend boarded the bus. They thought it was operating on a public route, but the driver and the men on board apparently were out for a joyride instead. They raped the woman, beat the pair with an iron rod, and threw them out of the bus and left them to die on the street. Police have arrested some of the men, politicians are in high dudgeon, and the woman is in the hospital. She suffered damage not only to her reproductive system, but to her intestines.

Gang rape puts spotlight on India’s rape capital

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

Yet another rape has rattled India. As I read the details, I felt familiar sensations of anger, frustration, helplessness and vulnerability. Sunday’s incident, in which a 23-year-old student in New Delhi was gang raped, assaulted and thrown out of a bus, made the front pages of India’s newspapers and was debated in parliament.

The woman is hospitalised with severe vaginal, abdominal and head injuries. One of those arrested is a 30-year-old driver who ferries school children.

Elsewhere in India: Maria Sharapova wins hearts, minds of cameramen

Here’s some more news that we found in the Indian press over the weekend and would like to share with you. Rather than present stories of great national importance, we would like to highlight some of the items that you are less likely to see in world news reports. Any opinions that the author might express are surely beneath contempt, and are not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters.

Tennis pro Maria Sharapova visited India. Gushing ensued. “The 25-year-old, here to announce her partnership with UK-based real estate company Homestead, sported an infectious smile throughout the interaction even though the lensmen could not get to focus enough of capturing the blonde beauty. ‘Well, it is just the hair and make-up you know. I don’t wake up looking like this,’ quipped Sharapova when a scribe called her pretty. Here only for a day, Sharapova said food and culture was something she would take back from India. ‘I arrived last night and asked the chef what should I try of the Indian food. I had a dosa which tasted really nice. I wanted to have this great Indian experience. There is so much energy in the city, I have been in some quiet areas recently, resting. I really like the culture and people. You all have been really welcoming.’” Final score: love-love. (NDTV)

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s interests spread wider than wrestling or politics. He is also a lover of poetry. “For more than 35 minutes, Mulayam Yadav analysed the content of the book, ‘Yatharth ke Aas Pas’, written by a Congress leader, Chandra Prakash Rai. “This collection of poems on some very sensitive issues like girls, female foeticide, loneliness, loss of faith and other human emotions must be read by everyone,” he said. (The Indian Express)

To Indian women: Forget freedom, follow rules

Anyone looking for stories of outrages committed against women in India this month doesn’t need to look far. Just after an attack on a woman in the northeast city of Guwahati, and a plea by an Islamist group in Jammu & Kashmir for female tourists to dress more conservatively, a group of village elders in Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh has released some new rules to ensure that women stay safe. The only loss they’ll suffer is individual freedom:

- Women cannot use mobile phones in public

- Women under the age of 40 cannot go outside without a male relative to accompany them.

- Women should cover their heads in public.

- Village boys cannot play songs or music on their mobile phones in public.

The village elders, known as a khap panchayat, took the actions, they said, to prevent sexual harassment. The result, of course, is to punish women pre-emptively by restricting their liberties in the name of protecting them from men who cannot be trusted to restrain themselves.

Not so safe on Delhi streets

As a thriving metropolis, New Delhi is taking steps towards becoming a world-class city but the safety of its residents remains a concern — especially if you are a woman.

A Thomson Reuters survey ranks India as the fourth most unsafe place for women in the world. And its capital is no safe haven for its female residents.

But what makes New Delhi so unsafe? Experts differ on whether it’s the deep seated psyche of a male-dominated society, its socio-economic diversity or perhaps both.

Women culpable for domestic assault? Judges believe so

By Annie Banerji

The country that has a woman president, four women chief ministers and has generated the likes of internationally renowned actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi hasn’t scored too well when it comes to the condition of the fairer sex.

The Indian government released census data on Thursday that said every 14th girl child born in India dies before she can celebrate her fifth birthday. The March Census 2011 revealed a highly skewed gender ratio with the lowest level of child sex ratio (number of girls per 1,000 boys below five years of age) in the country’s history — 914 from 927 in 2001.

In today’s global scenario where Christine Lagarde has been appointed chief of the IMF and musical sensation Lady Gaga is number one on Forbes’ annual Celebrity 100 list, India, an emerging global power, seems to be widening the gulf between men and women in a putative patriarchal country.

Women in technology – “unmarketable product in marriage market?”

I moderated a panel discussion for an in-house ‘Women in Technology’ event in Bangalore this month.

A generic picture of a woman using the computer. REUTERS/Catherine Benson/FilesThe three women on the panel were an impressive lot — a former defence scientist, a renowned mathematician currently on the Prime Minister’s panel and a former-CEO-turned-entrepreneur.

But there was one common thread that bound them together — their fight against society, among other odds, to gain their glories.

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