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From Makeup Rooms to Streets....

The status of women in India has always been a controversial debate. On one hand, we have women in power of the State or holding a position in the Ministry, but on the other hand, we have women who are raped, sexually harassed at work, abducted and misused, in all, being treated like a property. Among all such media controversies, Mallika Sherawat, an actress in India, was making headlines for standing up for women's rights.

Mallika Sherawat's outburst at the journalist was a surprise to the whole of the nation. She was in news not for her movies or her famous kissing scenes, but for her sentiment about the status of women in the Indian society by an interview conducted by Vanity Fair. It was in a press conference later in this year that got the whole of India to respect her standing up for truth and women's issues. When the reports condemned her for ruining the image of India in an international portal like the Cannes Film Festival, she slashed back at them - Indian society is a regressive state for women because female feticide and infanticide happens on daily basis; with gang rapes making headlines and honour killings happening regularly, India is regressive and depressing for women. According to an UNFPA report, almost 40% of the Indian girls are married at an age below 18 years of age. The use of words and emphasis of speech got Mallika the nationwide attention on this press conference. She strongly asked for women to come out of their fear and start raising their voice for what they deserve. Some might call this an over-exaggeration or a media stunt, whatever the case maybe, many women in the society did look up to her words which are still being read and watched all over the internet. When the question of representing India in International portal and expressing concern of lack of women's rights there which could potentially hold up India's good name on a global front, came up, she sharply retorted - I'm not going to lie. I'm not joining this hypocrisy that there is in our society. There are rapes and honour killings in India. I stand by it.

Repression of women in India roots back to dates from a time before where women were only subjected to the kitchens, any association to the outer world or any other men was considered an action potential to upset the male head of her family. Ever since, women themselves have either allowed for this male dominance society, refused to report it to the society in fear of subjecting themselves to social recluse. Even today, the gender imbalance in the society is still felt in many parts of India. The recent Delhi gang rape case in 2013, the Aarushi Talwar Case decided in 2013, the Bangalore call centre girls being raped and murdered, innumerous cases of child marriage in urban as well as rural towns, were some of the highly media covered issues relating to women violence. But, there are many cases of unreported crimes against women. The disheartening thought here would be, if India is developing in terms of technology and education, why is fights women's rights and issues being a task for the law makers?

As was rightly pointed out by Mallika Sherawat, if women themselves don't stand up for their rights, no one else can be expected to do this for them. Even law cannot help in such a case. Many of them refuse to believe that such crimes take place on a daily basis and this pretence leads to failure of formulation of a public opinion which could pressurise the government to take stringent steps. Hence, the need of the hour would be - a strong public opinion proficient in influencing the law makers, more women participation in demanding for their rights and a change in mind set of the people that women are more than just a means to physical pleasure. Looking at today's scandals, court judges, lawyers, editors and officials of big firms have been accused of sexual harassment. This is indeed a repressive state for the women in the Indian society. While many legislation like:
• The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956,
• The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961,
• The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986,
• The Protection of Women from Sexual Violence Act, 2005,
• The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and
• The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, have been enacted,
The day where a woman can walk without the fear of being raped, harassed or subjected to any sort of violence after dark is yet to come.

Written by Manasa Ram Raj
(Manasa heads the Legal Team at the Red Elephant Foundation)

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