Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Monday, 14 February 2011

India, Ignoring Women at its Peril

An edited version of this article appeared as an op-ed in the South China Morning Post of 14 February 2011.

On 7 February a young girl in India had her nose, arm and ear chopped off. Her crime: resisting rape. Seventeen-year-old Sarika had gone out with her friend when three men pounced upon her. When she raised an alarm the men tied her up, mutilated her and left after threatening her not to inform anybody about the incident. The girl has since undergone several rounds of surgery to correct the effects of the brutal attack.

It happened in Fatehpur, located on the sacred Ganges river in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. The fertile Gangetic plain is considered the cradle of Hinduism and Fatehpur itself finds mention in ancient Hindu texts called the Puranas. The juxtaposition of heinous violence with religious places is not unusual – precisely why this case is noteworthy for both its terrible brutality and its ubiquity.

India is a patriarchal society. The good Indian girl needs a man at each stage in her life – in the form of father, husband, and son. She does not question her father’s authority, participates in an arranged marriage, and when she reaches her in-law’s house with sufficient dowry to ensure that she is not burnt, proceeds to beget male progeny. In the event that she conceives a girl child, there is always recourse to female foeticide or infanticide. Which accounts for the skewed gender ratio in India: 933 girls:1000 boys according to the 2001 Census.

In the event that she is harassed the good Indian girl is taught to ignore, look the other way, do anything but avoid calling further attention to herself. The National Crimes Record Bureau (2007) shows that total crime against women has increased by 12.5%. Yet she is instructed to weigh the cost of a few gropes, molestation, rape versus the shame of a public case. Those who don’t listen deserve a lesson – as did Sarika. That she did not allow herself to be gangraped incensed the men enough to mutilate her.

Cutting off a woman’s nose is a common treatment meted out to difficult women. It has its roots in the Ramayana where Rama’s brother slashed the nose of a seductress. When I worked in Etah, another impoverished district of Uttar Pradesh, on a rural development project, one village woman who assisted us was perennially sheathed in a voluminous shawl that revealed only her eyes. It was only later that I learnt the reason why. Apparently, her irate in-laws had hacked off her nose since they suspected her of speaking to a strange man. Clearly, being a poor woman in rural India is hazardous.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s second-largest state economy. It has been growing at 6.29% since 2004, an economic feat that is credited to Mayawati, its Chief Minister. Mayawati, like Sarika, is a Dalit woman. However, that is where the similarities end. Dubbed the Dalit Queen, Mayawati belongs to that other subset of women in the subcontinent – dynastic successors, benefiting from either their fathers or mentors.

This provides a skewed picture of female leadership in the subcontinent – after all Benazir Bhutto was the first woman Prime Minister of an Islamic state, Indira Gandhi was the longest-serving Prime Minister of India, and Bangladesh has been ruled by two women, one the daughter of its founding father, the other the widow of an assassinated President. The truth is that their gender is incidental.

Mayawati, who has similarly profited as a political protege, has used public money on commissioning statues of herself, her mentor and elephants, her party symbol. She has done little to check the high crime rate in Uttar Pradesh which tops the list of lawless states in India.

Currently a Hindi film, No one Killed Jessica, is showing in India. It depicts the true story of a barmaid in Delhi who refused to serve a drink to a drunk bully. Slighted, he shot her dead. Despite the presence of multiple witnesses the accused were acquitted. Subsequently, the story was picked up by media and after intense pressure the case was reopened. Eventually, it took a public movement and seven years to get justice for one woman.

India ranks 114th out of 134 countries covered by the Global Gender Gap Index. It is last among the BRIC countries on the index, and second to last in South Asia, ahead only of Pakistan. The Indian economy has been growing at an average of 8% for several years, yet its rank has remained unchanged since 2006. In India’s much-touted growth story, its women are sadly missing.

Stringent deterrents and effectual legislation are needed to ensure that girls like Sarika get prompt justice. No nation can prosper if half its human capital, its women, are ignored, or worse, discriminated against.


  1. Manreet, thanks for the article and creating awareness. We all need to ensure politicians, officials and judiciary of India acts to prevent these barbaric acts.

    Just saw the movie, 'Noone killed Jessica'. It is based on events from 1999.
    I wished we as a society should had learnt something.

  2. Rural Indian women are becoming increasingly politically aware, taking part in Panchayats and fighting for a better tomorrow, and urban women have shown that given education, they can better men at every step. When the oppressed rise, they destroy everything in their path. Indian men who treat women with dis-respect would do well to remember that.

  3. @ Thanks! As a society we are in a hurry to put the past behind us. In this relentless rush for tomorrow, we've impaired our long term memory. Elie Wiesel says without memory our existence would be barren and opaque - that opacity is evident in the 'shining' India of today. If it is memory that saves humanity, our society is bent upon a death wish.

    @ Damyanti: True, but the pace is so darned slow. And if women who come to power don't look out for other women, change will always be a mirage...

  4. Manreet,thanks for creating awareness about this blatant crime . To think about how a culturally and spiritually enriched nation like ours has so many evils ingrained in its soceity, is not just heart-breaking, it's soul-killing.When I was eighteen, I had written a few lines on the plight of a girl child in India - " I was killed before being born, Or was it just a word for you 'abortion'"....and so on....fifteen years later as my friends send me cause invitations to the page of a 'Girl Child' on Facebook, I recollect all of those lines and realize that nothing has changed, or marginally, if at all. I used to be very proud of my Indian heritage, but nowadays when I talk to my American peers here in the US, I make sure I put things in the right perspective in my mind and don't overly take pride in a culture that has fundamental flaws.

  5. I appreciate you for writing such a wonderful piece of article..
    I think it may(or may not) take another century for the country to find a solution for brutal crimes against women..Also rather than waiting for others' to find a solution for us,i think it is the responsibility of each woman to make a brave effort to counter the bad situations..That doesnt mean that they need to pick up a fight with their male relations..It is upto how we handle certain situations..

  6. @ Mallika: Thanks for stopping by. Our treatment of women in India is an enduring shame. Like you I am proud of my Indian heritage but with regard to its women, we need no blinkers - the situation stares us in the face. We pride ourselves on our ancient civilization and culture and yet, a culture that is not interpreted afresh becomes moribund.On that note, let each one of us do what we can - and educating the girl child should be an absolute priority.

    @heyithinkthisway: Thank you. Yes, absolutely, we all need to do what we can - co-opting our men folk, teachers, educators, religious leaders is essential. The battle is not men against women; it is against unfairness.

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  8. Manreet, yes we should each create awareness and do what we can towards alleviating the sufferings of the girl child and women in general in our society.

  9. It is an issue I very strongly feel about too. My blood boils at the term 'eve-teasing' which is really such a frivolous term for so grave an issue.
    The root change has to come from deep within. If the seeds are flawed, only a flawed plant can emerge which leads to a flawed tree itself.
    It is not a problem that can be wished away. It would take years to solve. But yes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

    Satjit Wadva has explored this issue well in a book called 'Woman-many shades, many hues'. (To which I contributed two pieces too)

    Stringent laws coupled with creating awareness in the society and more importantly in the mothers who 'raise sons to think they are God' is the need of the hour.

    You have raised very relevant points here.I completely endorse and agree.

  10. @ Rajiv: sorry but it looks like your comment didn't appear.

    @ Mallika: onwards and upwards! :)

    @ Preeti: I couldn't agree with you more: eve-teasing is a Victorian term that does not remotely convey what a woman has to endure. Thanks for suggesting the book - I shall look it up. It is a long road but as Faiz said, dil na umeed to nahin, nakaam hi to hai, lambi hai gham ki shaam magar shaam hi to hai

  11. The article you wrote reeks of social unjustice in our society.It is unfortunatly true where women are supposed to fall in line or to face consequences.This should not be allowed. The preprators should be given adequate punishment. But it is heartening to learn that you have not given up hope.That conclusion I gathered by the sher of Faiz.I will also try to emulate the spirit of Faiz.

  12. @ Rajiv: Giving up is not an option. Rome wasn't built in a day! Cheers

  13. This article was an eye opener on the sorry state of women in India. Look at the women bill which is still stuck in between the political gallery.

  14. Thanks Rachit. As you said, the Women's bill and its stormy passage is another illustration. I did a post on the same - if you're interested, you can check it at