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Killing Them Softly

The violence against women begins when girls are denied health and nutrition.

The outrage and shock over the bestial gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in Delhi last month has generated a wide range of discussion on women’s safety and has brought into focus women’s rights and status in India. However, as so often happens after such brutal acts of violence against a woman, particularly in an urban area and more so in the national capital, you see a combination of genuine anger and despair as well as a great deal of rhetoric and demands for extreme solutions, such as castration and the death penalty for rapists. What is often overlooked in the course of these passionate debates is what this growing incidence of sexual violence and assault reveals about Indian society and the place of women in it.

We forget, for instance, that even as evidence of the alarming decline in the child sex ratio emerged after the 2001 Census (attributed to the deliberate use of sex-selection techniques) and the inevitability of greater violence against women was discussed, few acknowledged that this was a serious issue. The stronger laws that followed to check sex-selection did not stem the tide because of half-hearted implementation. In any case, the law did not touch the root issue of son-preference that remains virtually unaddressed. Although the last decade has seen a marginal improvement in sex ratios in some of the worst districts, the decline has become evident in other districts where such a trend was not seen before.

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