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Why Barkha Dutt is wrong about women's safety in India

Did misplaced national pride inhibit the avowed feminist in Barkha Dutt from calling a spade a spade on women's safety in India?

Nikhil Inamdar  |  Mumbai 

I am an unwavering Barkha Dutt fan and admire her for many, many reasons. For being a vociferous advocate of secular values in a country where the word is increasingly used as a profanity. For her versatility as a journalist and the depth and nuance she brings to complex debates every night. For her incredible articulacy as a news anchor which has left even the likes of Oprah gawking!

On her reply to a question by Norah O'Donnell of CBS about women's safety in India at the annual Women in the World Summit in New York though, I am in vehement disagreement with Dutt.

Rebuffing the moderator who expressed concern about India being unsafe for women, Dutt at the event (Click here) , went on a defensive, saying she had a problem with the narrative that was being built around issues of safety in her country. She quoted Nobel laureate Amartya Sen to say that India was safer for women as compared to the US and the UK where incidences of sexual violence were higher. And she said, even as America dithered over a woman president in White House, India had a woman at the helm four decades ago. Shortly after, she hauled up the Americans on maternity leave, abortion and reproductive rights.

'These are conversations we don't have any longer' Dutt asserted to a rapturous applause in the audience, as well as online.

While fabulous if the intent was to play to the gallery, all of these are exceptionally flawed and one-dimensional arguments that obfuscate the very real and frankly chronic problem of women's safety and position in India.

Let's deal with them one by one.

1) That the US & UK have a higher incidence of sexual violence.

Even if this is indeed true, how does it in any manner absolve us from the moral burden of the fact that 93 women are raped every single day in India? And why must the US and UK perpetually validate or become benchmarks for what is and isn't acceptable for us?

To the very assertion that these countries are more unsafe for women than India however - did Dutt consider the fact that sexual violence is sparsely reported in this country? The British medical journal The Lancet puts the number of victims in India reporting sexual violence to the police at a paltry one percent. In the US, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 32 out of every 100 rapes get reported. In the UK, the figure according to one charity, is 20%.

Statistics, even when bandied about by Nobel Laureates, can be deceptive.

2) That India has had a woman Prime Minister 4 decades ago.

How is this anything other than a fact of deceptive symbolism? We are a nation that has been unable to pass the Women's Reservation Bill for 18 long years.

We are a nation where women have only 11% representation in Parliament. We are a nation with an abysmal 3% women holding top positions in BSE 500 firms. The comparative figure in Europe and America is 10% and 14% respectively.

Women in both Indian politics and business are often dynasts or proxies. Dutt would know that.

3) That we don't have conversations about abortions

Could it be because we simply kill the foetuses anyway, no questions asked? Estimates are that between eight to twelve million girls have been victims of Indian patriarchy in the last three decades. That's a genocide of mammoth proportions and a continuing one, with probably more girls being killed in Dutt's own backyard than anywhere else. Affluent South Delhi incidentally tops the charts when it comes to female infanticide.

Dutt started off the 20 odd minute debate in New York with a disclaimer that she wasn't a defensive Indian. But progressively through the course of it, she sounded like someone who wanted to depict a less scathing portraiture of her country than was sought to be presented globally. So much so that it had co-panelist Leslee Udwin, the maker of India's Daughter' remark 'you cannot take care of your shame and let that trump saving your women'.

Sadly, it did seem very much like misplaced national pride inhibited the avowed feminist in Dutt from calling a spade a spade. Pitifully it might also precisely be the reason why the horrendous mob online that usually attack her for her unpandering views, found themselves to be in agreement with their daily trolling target.

That if nothing else, is reason enough to reconsider your position Barkha! I wouldn't trust my judgment if it began echoing with the voices of unreason on social media.

For the full video of the panel discussion, please visit:

First Published: Wed, April 29 2015. 07:16 IST