When the Modi government announced that it had allocated Rs 200 crore in its budget towards the empowerment of women, I wasn’t overly optimistic. After all, they had just allocated the same amount to erect a super statue of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, and it wouldn’t be wrong to derive that both budget allocations would merely serve an aesthetic purpose.
However, further examination seemed to indicate that a roadmap was possibly was being laid towards combatting the draconian, misogynistic norms that Indian women have been battling for centuries, right from pre-birth discrimination in the form of sex-selective foeticide, infanticide, denial of education, lack of sanitation, lack of access to employment, unfair treatment and ruthless gendered violence. Even the reporting of these crimes was treated with shame and victim blaming or casual dismissal and disregard at the very least.
So how does the present regime plan to change all that, and will they succeed? Here are some of major schemes the NDA has initiated over the past year.
In the third week of January, Prime Minister Modi flagged off the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao‘ programme, a nationwide scheme to empower the girl child and address the dipping child sex ratio , which had hit an all-time low, declining to 918 in the 2011 census from 945 in 1991, and 927 in 2001.
The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme is a set of initiatives that are part of a national campaign, flagged off in 100 districts that are the worst offenders across all states and union territories. With a budget allocation of Rs. 100 Crore, on the agenda is prevention of gender-based abortions, ensuring the survival and protection of the girl child, and promoting their education and participation in society.
The strategies that will be adopted to reach the goals of preventing gender biased sex selective elimination, ensuring survival & protection of the girl child, and ensuring education of the girl child, are multi-pronged, like the enforcement of the POCSO Act, stricter implementation of the PC&PNDT Act, imbibing gender education and values of equality in educational curricula and modules, construction and restoration of girls’ toilets in schools, sensitization of all government workers and employees, and various others, through the appointment of ‘task forces’ at village, district, state and national levels.
Expert’s take: Pooja Terwad, a criminal and consumer rights lawyer and founder of Nivaran Online, an online forum for the solution of consumer grievances, says that the most salient feature of the campaign is its local and grassroots nature. “When villages at the very grassroots level are made accountable for their performance, and are being led to believe that their contribution matters in the larger scheme of things, the results can be as tidy and thorough as you hope for. Besides, there is a system of incentivisation and rewards granted to people who are doing path-breaking things for the cause. As villages compete with villages for these rewards, the nation stands to gain.”
However, several social activists feel that allocating funds, albeit a step in the right direction, must be coupled with active involvement right from the gram panchayat level to ensure the safety and well-being of girls and women, along with strict laws and stringent punishment for those who violate them. Only then, will real change be seen.
In response to the alarming increase in crimes against women, not to mention the dismal insensitivity shown towards victims, the NDA Government is establishing a nationwide network of One-stop Centres for women, starting with one centre in each state during Phase 1. At a total project cost of Rs. 18.58 crore, the scheme was initiated on April 1, 2015.
These centres propose to offer comprehensive aid to victims of abuse and violence, starting from medical aid, police assistance, legal counselling, court case management, psycho-social counselling and even temporary shelter for those in fear of returning to their homes. The scheme has also proposed linking the universal Women’s Helpline, and other existing helplines like 181 and 1091 with its centres.
Expert’s take: “What really amazes me is that the government has finally started recognising violence has both physical and mental repercussions,” says Pooja.
“For a woman to file a complaint is an unnerving process, I have undergone it myself, and know that our police force has not been sensitised enough to deal with complaints of this delicate nature. Imagine being a woman who has nowhere else to go, pinning your hopes on the police only to have them strip you of your dignity even further; it can be shattering. Hence, having specialised centres with staff trained in counselling is a great idea.”
“Having said that, this scheme might be insufficient. We need independent mechanisms for redressal. If these cases are ultimately going to be referred to the local magistrates, they will meet the same fate,” she feels.
In February this year, the government allocated Rs. 68 crore for an all-encompassing women’s helpline to provide 24 hour emergency and non-emergency assistance and redressal to women affected by violence both in private and public spaces, including in the family, community, and workplace. It plans to integrate all existing helplines for women like 1091, 181 across the country, into one universal 24-hour toll free number that can be accessed in the face of any emergency.
Expert’s take: “We are moving towards a more state-of-the-art age, and I feel a helpline is outdated and redundant. Most women in emergencies may not be able to access their phones to dial that number. Even if that part is managed, there is no guarantee that there will be an attendant on the other end, alert and equipped to take action,” says Pooja.
The Nari Shakti Puraskar was instituted in March, on International Women’s Day, to take the women empowerment agenda forward and highlight the significant contributions women make to society be it in politics, science, education and the arts. It will replace the Stree Shakti Puraskar, which was formulated in 1991 and honoured six women awardees. Now, 20 women who have made path-breaking contributions in their chosen fields across the rural, semi-urban and urban spectrum will be recognised.
Amendments to existing schemes:
SWADHAR Grih, A Scheme for Women in Difficult Circumstances:
Established a decade ago in 2005, SWADHAR aimed at providing shelter to destitute women. The scheme was piloted in Keonjhar, Odisha, under PRAKALPA, a voluntary organisation supported by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The home accommodates 50 inmates who are widows, victims of abuse, unable to support themselves financially, etc. The shelter offers counselling, vocational training and guidance. This model is being replicated at four other locations across the country.
Expert’s take: “Almost all schemes involving the institution of a centre or a shelter look impermeable on paper but tend to turn into a mere checklist in implementation. It is common knowledge that a government building’s infrastructure, staff and systems are in a despicable state. SWADHAR Grihs are no different, ”says Pooja
Ujjawala is a comprehensive scheme for prevention of trafficking and for the rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. This year, Ujjawala received new grants and approvals to open more centres across Haryana.
Expert’s Take: “Schemes of this nature typically focus on every aspect, except the most crucial one –acceptance. While these women may be given shelter, and training to have an alternate means of livelihood, reintegration and acceptance in society remains elusive. Mandating corporates to include employing women with troubled backgrounds as part of their CSR, could be a start,” says Pooja
The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY):
The Sample Registration System (SRS), 2013, recorded the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) at 167 per 1,00,000 live births and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) at 40 per 1,000 live births with a majority of infants dying within seven days of birth. IGMSY was created in 2010 to supplement the income of women who are on maternity breaks or nursing their babies, by providing them partial wage compensation during that period. Under this scheme, all pregnant women of 19 years and above, except those employed by the government (Central or State) or Public Sector Undertakings, are entitled to Rs 4,000 per live birth, in three instalments, for the first two live births, albeit with certain other conditions. This was hiked to Rs 6,000 in two instalments, in September 2013, to comply with the minimum maternity entitlement provision of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013. After years of alleged inactivity, this year, the second Instalment Grants for 2015-2016 was sanctioned for all states under the IGMSY
Expert’s take: “I feel schemes like these are generally introduced during elections and are utterly neglected later. Also, because the contribution of the Central and State governments is not categorically defined, the fate of pregnant women and new mothers is left to the government. I feel we do not need schemes, we need laws. A mandatory allocation that ensures that the money is used for the mother and her baby alone. Local administration and accountability is a must; as is needed with the Beti andolan,” says Pooja.
Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP):
The government’s STEP scheme was formulated in 2010 to enable women to earn a living, by providing various vocational skills like sewing, handicraft making, etc. This fiscal, STEP has been extended to assist 24,000 beneficiaries.
Expert’s take: “STEP aims at creating labourers, but what we need today is entrepreneurs. Women should not only be trained in vocational skills, but also be taught how to make them marketable, while granting them access to a marketplace, and enabling them to fetch a fair price for their products. Somewhere in today’s rural to urban supply chain, the end labourer who deserves the most ends up earning the least,” says Pooja.
We have entered a state of emergency when it comes to protecting and promoting the daughters of our land. More appropriately, we have been in this state of emergency for a long time, and now, women everywhere have reached their boiling point; where they refuse to settle for anything less than complete freedom to be. Nothing more or less is expected than a roadmap to that panoptic end.