Thomson Reuters Foundation damns India in a poll based on perceptions, and not on data.
Who would have thought that the venerable Thomson Reuters Foundation would take the quote “there are three different types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics” so seriously, although with a slight twist, by replacing “statistics” with “perception”? The latest poll by the Foundation has concluded that India is the most unsafe country in the world for women, worse than even war-torn Afghanistan and Syria that take the ignominious second and third positions, respectively, in the “findings”. The other countries to keep these three company are Somalia (4), Saudi Arabia (5), Pakistan (6), Democratic Republic of Congo (7), Yemen (8), Nigeria (9) and the United States (10). This gallery of shame is not based on any field-data, or any data for that matter, or even interviews of the women whom the Foundation aims to “rescue”. Instead, it is based on the “perception” of around 550 “global experts” whose names the Foundation has refused to reveal. It’s not known on what numbers these “experts” have based their perception. Under the six heads of “Healthcare”, “Discrimination”, “Cultural Traditions”, “Sexual Violence”, “Non-Sexual Violence” and “Human Trafficking”, India has been ranked “number one” in “Cultural Traditions”, “Sexual Violence” and “Human Trafficking”. On its Twitter feed, the Foundation writes of India’s “rape epidemic”, and on its webpage it features the photograph of an Indian woman—apparently in an urban area—with her face covered in a red dupatta, and her eyes barely showing, just the kind of style many working urban women adopt to save themselves from the intense summer heat while out on the streets. But that context is obviously irrelevant, when the intention is to build a narrative of women being persecuted and oppressed in a country that still resides in the dark ages—in fact the heart of darkness, if you may have it.
The purpose of this column is not to make light of the crimes committed against women in India, or the discrimination they face. Women’s safety is a problem area and India has a long way to go before it can achieve gender justice and eliminate inhuman practices such as dowry violence and female foeticide, among other things. But to bandy around phrases such as “epidemic of rape” and “culture of rape” without any facts to buttress such claims, amounts to being cavalier. So here are some facts for the “global experts” to ponder on.
In terms of number of rapes per 1 lakh population, UK—Thomson Reuters Foundation’s home country—has the highest number of cases at 36.44, and the US the second highest at 35.85, followed by Brazil at 24.4. India is at 5.7 on this list. As for actual incidents, India is third at 33,707, behind Brazil (49,929) and US (113,615). India’s actual numbers could be more, as cases here often may not get reported for various reasons, although reporting has increased in recent years. It must be asserted at this point that even one such incident is inhuman and unacceptable, and represents not only the failure of our law and order system, but also our failure as a society. Structural changes are needed on both these fronts before women all over the country experience a uniform level of security that is the hallmark of a civilised nation.
Now let’s look at the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2016, where India ranks a poor 125 among 159 countries, with only 26.8% of women above the age of 15 in the labour force. While, World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 lists India at 108 out of 144 countries. These numbers are primarily because of low participation of women in economic activities, apart from various other factors such as poor healthcare, survival rate, etc. These are not flattering figures, but even 26%-27% of women of a country of 1.25 billion make for a humongous number of women in the workspace. The point is, millions of women jostling for elbow space on local trains, buses and Metros on any given workday, and millions more “unemployed” freely moving around in public space do not an unsafe—er…the world’s most unsafe country make!
And what is the Foundation comparing India with? War-torn Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and presumably Iraq too, provided it featured in the “perception poll”. Syria, where in the last few years, young women have been sent out of their country in droves for fear of abduction and a possible life as sex slaves of the ISIS. Syria, where it is dangerous for most women to step out of their homes, even now. Syria, where, according to a 15 March 2018 report by the “UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria”, “For the past six and a half years, parties to the Syrian conflict have subjected thousands of women, girls, men, and boys to sexual and gender-based violence…In detention, male officers subjected women and girls to intimate and humiliating body searches and…raped women and girls during interrogations. Many women and girls reported multiple rapes, including gang rapes…During the height of its power, ISIL’s brutal practices included recurrent stoning of women and girls to death on charges of adultery, executing sexual minorities by throwing them off buildings, lashing those who violated its onerous dress code, and forced marriage of Sunni girls and women to ISIL fighters…”
In Nigeria, “thousands of women and girls have been abducted and forced into sexual slavery” by Boko Haram terrorists; where “women and girls are targeted for abduction by Boko Haram and are often raped, forced into labor, marriage or religious conversion, abused, exposed to sexually transmitted infections and are often pregnant upon escaping captivity” according to the “Baseline Survey on Gender Based Violence in Borno State Nigeria” .
As for Iraq, which does not even find a mention among the top ten most unsafe countries for women, perhaps the “global experts” could have flipped through the memoir, The Last Girl, where Nadia Murad, a Yazidi writer, narrates a harrowing account of her life as a sex slave of the ISIS in Iraq, to get a glimpse of the scale of sexual violence faced by women there. The phrase that is constantly used to describe what the Yazidi women underwent in the hands of the ISIS in Iraq, is a “genocide campaign”—far worse than any “epidemic of rape” devastating India according to the “global experts”. And why just the Yazidis, as this columnist reported in February about Iraq’s reconstruction process, “sexual abuse, enslavement and human trafficking of women and children by ISIS terrorists have led to a situation where reconstruction is not just the physical re-building (of infrastructure)…but has acquired the dimension of repairing whole communities”.
This being the situation, a survey that compares the plight of women in these war zones in the last seven years (the last perception report was in 2011), with the plight of Indian women in general, is at best a spurious survey, either born out of the ignorance of the “global experts” or is an act of deliberate mischief. Worse, coming from a Foundation which controls an international news agency, Reuters, it is but natural that such a perception will get disseminated worldwide, thus shaping public opinion. Lest we forget, it was not too long ago, in 2015 in fact, that there was much hue and cry over a German professor in the University of Leipzig rejecting the application of an Indian male student over “India’s rape problem”. Apart from the fact that such surveys also give a handle to the anti-India, anti-Indian-government activist lobby to try and embarrass the country from every platform possible and rope in important voices worldwide to further their cause.
Without trying to sound like a conspiracy theorist, one also cannot help but wonder if India’s ranking and the United States’ inclusion on the list are actually a statement against the so-called right-wing tilt of these two nations, as manifested through the rise to power of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. Of course, western “liberal-left” media’s animosity towards India is legendary and is rooted in the belief that instead of trying to claim a spot on the global high table, India is better off tending to its beggars, and now also its rape victims. And this is how stereotypes are manufactured.
The purveyors of such surveys need to realise that perception can never be the springboard of societal changes, because these do not match reality. Instead, these “shock surveys” generally do a great disservice to women by refusing to look at the truth and by trivialising actual suffering, in a bid to carve out a pre-determined narrative.
After all, statistics is always much closer to the truth than perception.