Stating that she has been actively engaged with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Department of Telecommunications regarding security of women on the Internet and social media platforms, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani said Monday that women, irrespective of religion, have been denied their dignity.
Speaking at The Indian Express e-Adda programme, Irani underlined the need for people to cut across party lines and come together to address this issue.
Responding to a question on the targeting of Muslim women via apps, she said: “Women, irrespective of their religion, have been denied their dignity on social media platforms. I am grateful that the police are investigating this issue. I am absolutely confident that those who are guilty will be punished. My desire is also this… I had the privilege of engaging with the Supreme Court Justices… to ensure that we expedite cases. The law provides for an expeditious pronouncement. But there has been laxity given the burden on the courts of our country. But I am hopeful that between the police system and the judiciary, more and more cases where women receive justice are brought to light. I want to use this platform to say that this is an issue on which, irrespective of our politics, we need to come together.”
Irani was in conversation with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group, and Vandita Mishra, National Opinion Editor, The Indian Express. The transcript of the programme will be published soon.
In the wake of the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder incident, there had been conversations, she said, around the impact of pornography on the minds of the youth. “It’s time to revisit that conversation.”
She pointed to a tweet on January 6 by film actor Siddharth who made “derogatory remarks’’ against badminton champion Saina Nehwal after she tweeted her support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the security breach during his visit to Punjab. The National Commission for Women has since taken cognizance of the actor’s tweet and has written to the Maharashtra DGP to investigate the matter, as well as to Twitter India.
“Do women get explicitly objectified only through one app? No. As I came to this conversation, I had a world champion, Ms Nehwal, who was demeaned for her political position, no less by a so-called popular actor, a man who would have known better. We need to look at this issue holistically. Are only the men who are caught the ones we need to be concerned about? Or, those who deny a woman the right to speak?… Ms Nehwal had a point of view. But she was demeaned and objectified. Should such men be brought to justice as well?” she said.
On the targeting of women via apps, she said: “I have been at the political receiving end of it by no less than a Vadra family member. Does the issue enrage me? Absolutely. I had the opportunity of pronouncing that the Ministry of Home Affairs, and I am grateful to the Home Minister who ensured that that those who are adjudged criminals in cases of sexual assault of children are brought together as a part of one component where there is a tracking system for such criminals. I believe that the Home Ministry has (a record of) seven lakh such individuals who have been accused of sexual assault and such crimes.”
On the introduction of the Bill to raise the legal age of marriage for women in India, Irani said: “When I spoke about the need for women to have an equal right to matrimony at the age of 21, there was support from across the nation, from women of all communities and all religions. The only naysayers were the men who were in that House, making that noise. What is a matter of great satisfaction for me, particularly as a political representative of my party, is that we spoke in one voice about the need for all women to have that right, across all religions.”
Responding to criticism that the Bill proposes to criminalise a large section of marriages in the country, she said this was misinformation.
“I think that is one of the greatest rumours that is being spread… Those who seek to disenfranchise women from the right to equality are propagating this falsehood. How is it criminal for a woman to have equal rights to enter into matrimony as that of a man? This announcement that marriages will be criminalised is a falsehood… Currently, when you look at all the numbers of the NFHS (National Family Health Survey), you find that close to 7 per cent girls between the age of 15-18 years are already pregnant. When the survey looked at women of 24 years, they found that close to 23 per cent of them were married under the age of 18 years. The fact that for 75 years in our country, men and women did not enter marriage at the same age is a matter of deep regret,’’ she said.