A 25-year old youth spurned by a 21-year old girl killed her by setting her on fire and killed himself too in the similar manner in Kerala the other day. Both of them were students of the Bachelor of physiotherapy programme in the same institute. The boy, piqued by the girl’s refusal to have a ‘private talk’, returned with a can of petrol, which was poured over both of them. He then set both of them afire with a cigarette lighter. Both of them died half-an-hour apart.

On the same day this was reported in the media, I happened to view a video on Whatsapp in which a woman sporting a bobbed hairdo (one of the identifying features of a ‘female activist’, demanding women ‘empowerment’ from rooftops) was all brimstone and fire. She was pained by the fuss made over women wearing tight apparel leaving no anatomy that the clothing was supposed to cover from a civil society to imagination. She ranted for freedom for women to ‘wear anything’. That, to her was women empowerment. She boasted of her ability not to fall to temptation to grab the crotch of a male co-passenger on a train who sat opposite her wearing his shirt tucked into his trousers, which made evident what lay beneath! She demanded that men ought to have such control over their runaway temptations. That, to her was women empowerment.  She did not stop at that. She continued by demanding rights for women to enter places of worship. (Women, who are in their reproductive age, and likely to menstruate, are debarred from certain places of worship, should they sully the purity of the place)she shouted most unparliamentarily that she did not want to worship a God staring in between her legs to ensure she’s not menstruating! That, to her was women empowerment.

Whatever she might say, the status and position of women all over the world have risen incredibly in the 20th century, from ‘objects’ within the four walls of their household, meant to be sold and bought. Long struggles reposed on them property rights, voting rights, equality in civil rights in matters of marriage and employment. In India, customs of Sati, child marriage and state of permanent widowhood have been abolished through legislative measures. Two acts have also been enacted to emancipate women in India viz: Protection for Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the compulsory Registration of Marriage Act, 2006. Women, these days play bigger roles in economic field: as workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, managers and investors. More positively, economic development has increased the demand for educated female labor force in all fields. Women earn as much as their husbands, or even more! The status of Indian women has increased by leaps and bounds. As of 2011, the Indian President, the Lok Sabha speaker, and the Opposition Leader in the Lok Sabha were women. The Indian armed forces began recruiting women to non-medical positions in 1992. As of 2014, women made up 3% of Indian army personnel, 2-8% of navy and 8.5% of air forces personnel.

However, female infanticide and feticide, ‘honor killings’, dowry and deaths associated with it, the imposed custom of purdah (veil)

and Triple Talaq (the procedure of fast track divorce) practiced by Muslims in India still remain unchecked.

still remain unchecked.

They also continue to be at the receiving end of numerous evils viz: victimization through rape, acid throwing, rape and forced prostitution of young girls, and harassment in work places. In 2012, the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the worst G20 country in which to be a woman.

The 2006 Imrana case and the 1986 Shah Bano case showed Indian womanhood in bad light. Domestic violence in India is endemic. According to a past Union Minister, 70% of Indian women are victims of domestic violence. The National crime Records Bureau reveals that a crime is committed against a woman every three minutes. A woman is raped every 29 minutes. Dowry death occurs in every 77 minutes. In every nine minutes, she suffers cruelty in the hands of her husband or relatives. Female feticide and infanticide are rampant in parts of the country even today.

Statistics clearly shows Indian women are not entirely living on a bed of roses. Apart from the above, other areas of conflict have cropped up recently, though irrelevant and skewed; viz (1) demands to wear any dress of their choice. Women forget that the dress they wear ought to be modest and render them ladylike. (2) Demands to enter ‘houses of worship’ (which is governed by tradition, age-old beliefs, superstitions and rigid ‘religious’ codes) while there are more important and basic issues to be addressed. Have they missed the bus? Or, have they got on into the wrong one? Indian women can be considered empowered only if they are able to frequent any part of India at any time of the day, clothed in any dress they chose, are not burnt for more dowry, are not burned for the honor of their families through honor killings, and are respected as a mother, sister, wife and daugher ought to  be, ideally!