This article has been written by Jhanvi Sharma.
With being the second-largest country in terms of population, India is a multitude of various religious communities. Hindus cover nearly 80% of India’s total population, with an estimated 172.2 million Muslims, 27.8 million Christians, 20.8 million Sikhs, and 4.5 million Jains, etc. The controversial term “minority” or “minorities” is used in the Constitution in some articles like Article 29, Article 30, Article 350(A), and 350(B) but a concrete definition is not given in the Constitution. Six communities are declared as minority communities namely Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Zoroastrians as per clause (c) of section 2 of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
Being one of the world’s largest democracies, India glorifies the principles of secularism and pluralism and the Indian constitution promotes prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth but this type of cultural, religious, and social diversity leads to varying forms of intersectional discrimination for the minority communities, for example, Dalit, Muslims, and Christians, or religious minorities who are also linguistic minorities or belong to indigenous communities (Adivasis) and such challenges are intensified when it comes to women of the minority community.
Discrimination against minority
This act of discrimination against the minority isn’t limited to India but is a global problem and Women get the worst of it, minority women often experience discrimination from both within and outside their communities and suffer disproportionately from the economic, social and political marginalization affecting their communities as a whole. Minority women are often subjected to abuse, discrimination, and stereotypes for instance, manual scavenging is often reserved for Dalit women, in both urban and rural areas and they are paid menial wages for this degrading and unsanitary task. These women are forced into doing undignified and ill-suited jobs and are intimidated if they try to adopt any alternative livelihoods. Their daily lives are immersed with hate speeches, anti-minority sentiments, violations, discrimination and they are not able to take any action in spite of having various legal rights and lack of awareness, poverty, and fear add more factor to this problem.
Problems faced by minority women in India
For a long time, women in India were in the clutches of patriarchal society and were denied even the basic rights, all of this was intertwined with gender inequality and abuse. Women were subjected to many social evils like child marriages, sati pratha, widow exploitation, devadasi system, etc.
But in recent years, the social situation of women has significantly improved, the practice of these social evils have almost vanished and the taint of gender inequality has reduced . These changes were possible because of various social, economical and cultural developments in the country, increase in awareness, educational opportunities and even healthcare facilities but unfortunately these developments and changes didn’t seep to the minority communities and plenty of them remained backward and illiterate thus, making the lives of women in their community engrossed with various issues. Women of religious minority face challenges from everywhere and they can’t even turn to their own community for help.
They are subjected to constant abuse, both physical and mental, they even lack the basic facilities required for a dignified life due to their poverty-ridden background. Belonging from a minority community and being a woman in a male dominant society, puts them in a more vulnerable position which is often taken advantage of by people from both outside and within the community.
They encounter unjust and unfair treatment as compared to their male counterparts in every aspect of life such as: education, job opportunities, security, health care facilities, etc. Women of the minority community are often seen as inferiors by the majority class and are associated to menial jobs, unequal pay, forced labour, etc. it’s true that India’s religious minorities face many problems related to violence and discrimination, particularly Muslims are targeted, but women of the Muslim community face even more problems. Christians and Sikhs face lesser degree of social, economic, cultural and legal discrimination.
A few specific problems faced by them are:
Problem of Identity
A vast difference is seen in socio-cultural practices, history and backgrounds of the minorities and majority communities and thus minorities often struggle to maintain their identity and women experience even more difficulty in doing so. This makes it harder for them to adjust with the majority community. The identity of a female belonging to the minority is often associated with a male in the family and in rural areas they are even considered the property of her father or husband thus failing to create her own concrete identity.
Problem of Security
The problem of security is common to all women of the country and not just the women belonging to the minority community but these women are often left feeling more insecure, both physical and psychological and are prone to abuse and threats from both their community and the majority community. This feeling of insecurity gets even worse when the relations between the majority and the minority communities in a society are strained or not much cordial, during the time of communal riots, minority women are specifically targeted and are killed, robbed and raped without mercy.
Problem Relating to Equity
Women are deprived of various opportunities of development as a result of discrimination, based on both religion and gender. Due to the difference in identity, the minority community develops a sense of inequality. They are forced to miss out on many academic and employment opportunities.
Lack of representation
The Constitution of our country provides for equality and equal opportunities to all its citizens including the religious minorities and women through various articles and provisions but this concept sometimes fails to apply to the minority women and they lack proper representation in many spheres, for instance, in civil services and politics. Women of the biggest minority community, that is, Muslims are left feeling neglected and unheard.
Large numbers of people of the minority community belong to the lower strata of the society and results in backwardness for the whole community. They fail to recognise the need for education and proper healthcare facilities for women, women are abused and are forced to earn by doing odd jobs, in traditional houses, they are even forced to stay inside with little communication with the real world. In rural areas, they fall severely ill due to the absence of health care facilities and basic necessities like proper hygiene, care during childbirth and menstruation.
Women and girls of these communities face several other problems that are often overlooked or that are not considered as important as the above-mentioned problem. They experience severe discrimination in workplaces, educational institutions or even public places because of the way they dress or speak or just on the basis of their religion. They are assumed to be socially, economically or culturally poor even when that’s not true. They are often treated with racial slurs, verbal abuse and are often the victims of eves teasing.
All of these problems take a toll on their physical as well as mental health and they are left to suffer alone with no or very little support. It is necessary for the development and growth of our nation to address this alarming issue of religion and gender-based discrimination against these women, adequate representation should be given to them and their concerns should be addressed accordingly. As this issue is very deep-rooted in the society, greater effort is needed to ensure the same.
Violence against minority women
Violence against women is a very old concept in Indian history. In ancient times, women were affected the most during wars, they were taken slaves, raped and killed. The situation is still substandard and violence against women include dowry-related harassment, death, marital rape, wife battering, sexual abuse, deprivation of healthy food, female genital mutilation, etc.
A Thomson Reuters story ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence, human trafficking and slave labour. Women are more prone to violence, both sexual and non-sexual, many researchers have declared India unsafe for women, especially during riots. The crime rate against minority women is as high as ever, according to a recent study on the government’s crime records, a crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes in India. Every day, six of their women are raped, and 11 are beaten up.
There have been many incidents of violence against the minority communities in the past and females of the marginalised communities always got the worst of it, for instance, Gujarat riots, severe violence resulted in as many as 2,000 killed, 100,000 displaced and many others injured and all of this was accompanied by high levels of sexual violence against minority women and those accused of associating with Muslims.
Muzaffarnagar Riots of 2013: The riots contributed to a large amount of sexual violence like gang rape, 19 such instances were prominently noted during the riots.
There have been instances of Communal violence linked to cow vigilantism which led to brutality against minority women, like on 27 July 2016, Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh. Two Muslim women were attacked by a crowd at a railway station after they were accused of selling beef.
On 24 August 2016, Mewat, Haryana, two Muslim women were reportedly gang-raped and two of their relatives murdered by a group of men who told the victims that they were being punished for eating beef.
Numerous cases of rape against minority women across the country fail to get highlighted due to the failures of the criminal justice system. Nearly six years after the government amended laws and put in place new guidelines and policies aimed at justice for survivors of rape and sexual violence, girls and women continue to face barriers to reporting such crimes. Victim-blaming is rampant, and lack of witness and victim protection laws make girls and women from minority communities even more vulnerable to harassment and threats.
Bhurji And Ors. vs State Of Madhya Pradesh on 15 February, 2007
This is infamously known as the Jhabua nuns rape case and is one of the key instances of violence against the women of the minority communities. The incident dates back to 23-24 September, 1998, when a group of persons gang-raped three nuns residing in Preeti Sharan Seva Kendra in Navapara, 25 km away from the district headquarters Jhabua. They had also looted cash and valuables from the place of worship. The crime had not only shocked the country, but also provoked outrage at an international level. The then state government was severely criticised for its failure to protect the missionaries. The district and sessions court had in 2001 sentenced 17 persons to life imprisonment for their involvement in the gangrape of nuns while acquitting seven others after the prosecution failed to prove their involvement in the case.
Kathua Rape case
The Asifa Bano rape case is another example of violence against the women of the minority communities, in this case, an 8-year old girl, Asifa Bano, was brutally gang-raped and murdered in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu province, on 10th of January in 2018. The motive of this brutality was committed by the Perpetrators to scare away the girl’s family from their land and they chose the innocent young girl as the target to send a message.
Violence against women can be domestic along with being categorised as public, physical, emotional or mental. Women have fear of violence in their mind which hampers their full participation in many areas of life. Not only sexual violence is performed on the women of minority community but they are the victims of other forms of brutality like Domestic violence, honour killing, acid attacks, etc.
According to the 2005–2006 nationwide family and health survey report the most domestic violence prevalence rate was reported by women of Buddhist religion (40.9%), The same report also mentions that the frequency and intensity of domestic violence experienced was highest among Muslim women who had been victims. These women tend to have greater long-term mental disorders and drug dependencies than those who were not abused.
Legal aspect and government initiatives
The Constitution of India provides various provisions that guarantee the rights of the country’s diverse population, including their rights to religious freedom. The Constitution also guarantees freedom of conscience and the right to practice religion openly, as well as the rights of religious minorities to establish their own educational institutions.
With Constitutional provisions regarding the freedom of religion and the rights of religious minorities, there are various laws mentioned under the Indian Penal Code (1860) and Code Criminal Procedure (1973) that promotes the interest of the religious minority communities and provides them protections against communal violence and guarantee life and security for all citizens.
Country-wide laws which also benefit the women of the minority community are:
- Article 14 : The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
- Article 15(1) : The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them…
- Article 16(1) and (2) : There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.
- Article 25(1) : Subject to public order, morality, and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.
- Article 26 : Subject to the public order, morality, and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right (a) to establish and maintain an institution for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law.
- Article 27 : No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.
- Article 29 : provides the citizens with the right to conserve their language, script and culture; as well as guarantees that they would not be denied admission into any educational institution based on their race, language, religion or caste.
- Article 30(1) and (2) : All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.
Some court judgments specific to the betterment of the minority women
- Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant ruled that Muslim women are entitled to seek maintenance under section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code which grants the same relief to wives, children, and parents. The judges also castigated family courts for delays, saying they were being “absolutely apathetic” in granting maintenance.
- Questioning the existing law that mandates a two-year separation period for Christians seeking divorce by mutual consent, against one year for others, justices Vikramjit Sen and A.M. Sapre identified that the note violated Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life and liberty), and asked the Centre to make the required amendments.
- In February 2014, a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by then Chief Justice of India, P. Sathasivam ruled that Muslim women had the right to legally adopt children, even though their personal law did not give them that right.
- Nai Roshni: For women empowerment, the Ministry of Minority Affairs started “Nai Roshni”, a Leadership Development Programme for Minority Women in 2012-13. The objective of the scheme is to empower and instil confidence among minority women, including their neighbours from other communities living in the same village/locality, by providing knowledge, tools, and techniques for interacting with the Government institutions, banks and other departments at all levels.
- Scholarships: Many scholarships like Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship are also available for the females of the minority community. This scholarship, formerly named Maulana Azad Scholarship, offers a scholarship amount of up to INR 12,000 to minority girl students studying in class 9 to 12. The scholarship is meant for meritorious students belonging to Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi communities.
- Schemes: Various national schemes are also available for the women of the minority community, the main objective of these schemes is to promote a better lifestyle for unheard women and provide them with jobs, education, health care, etc.
Suggestions and conclusion
There is no doubt in saying that the situation of the women belonging to the minority community of this country is very unfortunate and they suffer from unimaginable discrimination and abuse everyday but as compared to the past, the condition of these women has shown improvement, for instance, due to education, they are able to afford some sort of concrete lifestyle and their living conditions have also significantly improved. Even the cases of violence have reduced. All of these changes are possible because of the progressive nature of the country and an increase in awareness, along with significant steps and measures are taken by the government.
A few more measures can be taken to improve their current situation like:
- Particular attention should be given to the violence, threats and harassment experienced by religious minority women. In order to do this, police and prosecutors must be adequately trained in treating minority women victims in an appropriate, respectful and confidential manner, and always enabling victims to be assisted by women officers. FIRs concerning such cases must be filed and followed up promptly.
- Government and civil society employees should be exclusively trained in gender-sensitive data collection, ensuring that religious minority women victims can come forward and report instances confidentially.
- Eliminating Discriminatory Treatment : it is vital for the society to give equal preference to girls and women of minority and make provision of essential things to them in order to promote effective growth and development.
The Preamble of the Constitution declares India to be Secular and in the spirit of secularism and pluralism, all of the citizens should be treated equally and should be given equal opportunities irrespective of their gender or caste or religion. For the true development of this country, it is necessary that all resources are put to use and no capable person is considered a liability in society whether a man or women. Women of the minority community constitute a large population of the country and keeping them oppressed won’t help us in any way, giving equal treatment and respect to them will lead to a better future. Religion and gender-based hate crimes should stop, Communal tension and riots kill the true spirit of the Constitution and this practise should be curbed, various governmental policies should be introduced for the same.
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