INDIA: International Women’s Day requires regrouping to claim lost ground

By Avinash Pandey

In functioning democracies based on rule of law, International Women’s Day would be a solemn occasion to mark victories for valiant struggles for the rights of women, to commemorate them, to celebrate them and to reaffirm our faith in continuing the struggle, until ‘women own half the earth and half the sky’. In functioning democracies, every new International Women’s Day provides an occasion to take stock of how far ahead the country has come regarding women’s rights from where it was last year. Unfortunately, International Women’s Day in India marks the ground lost, and hard won victories being erased by regressive forces.

Despite all its claims of being the world’s most ancient civilisation, with the worship of female goddesses, India has one of the worst track records in women’s rights, from infant mortality, to education, to violence against women. To put this in perspective, the World Economic Forum ranked India at an abysmally low 108th in its Gender Gap Index out of 149 countries. This ranking would have been lower, with India ranking 147th in women’s health and survival. However, its improvements in wage equality for similar work, as well as managing to fully close the tertiary education gender gap, saved India somewhat. It must also be mentioned that India is included in the list of least improvement in the health and survival category for an entire decade.

Women in India also suffer from rape, dowry killings, honor killings for daring to marry outside one’s caste/gotra/community, forced marriages, and denial of the right to work. India’s sex ratio further underlines the lack of gender justice in the country. One of the worst in the world, India’s sex ratio at birth fell from 908 in 2012, to 877 in 2016, hinting at a sharp increase in female feticide, despite all the claims to the contrary by authorities. The government’s own National Economic Survey notes the enormity of the problem- India has over 63 million women missing from across its population, while another two million vanish from it every year across all age groups; most of them are victims of either female feticide or infanticide.

The last few years in India have seen only newer, sadder problems adding to the already unacceptable list of crimes committed against women. One of the most prominent is the strengthening of revivalist groups trying to control all aspects of women’s lives- what they eat, what they wear, whom they love, whom they marry- in accordance with their notions of “how women should behave”. Instead of tackling these forces trampling women’s rights under their boots, sticks and scarves- mostly saffron, but also of all other hues- the government of India seems to have been backing them tacitly. Take for instance, the creation of a “Romeo Brigade”, a specialised police unit launched by the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party government as soon as it came to power in Uttar Pradesh in March 2017. Ostensibly formed to stop “eve teasing”, a euphemism for sexual violence committed in public places, the Brigade soon turned to moral policing, harassing couples with even extortion and blackmail.

Similarly, right wing fanatic groups started cracking down on interreligious love, especially if the boy was from the minorities, often with full state support, especially in the BJP ruled states. There are cases that even reached the Supreme Court of India, despite the adult woman asserting that she married of her own free will.

The attacks have put women only at more risk, while denting the strong base the Indian women’s movement had built over decades of struggle. This is the time for them, and the whole human rights community and civil society, to pause, and act decisively to reclaim their lost victories and seek newer ones.

# # #

About the Author:
Mr. Avinash Pandey, alias Samar is Programme Coordinator, Right to
Food Programme, AHRC. He can be contacted at

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-002-2019
Countries : India,
Issues : Violence against women, Women's rights,