Is being a female in Odisha difficult?

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When the rigor of Goddess worship on Thursdays of Margashira month, when the pride in celebration of menstruation in Raja festival, when the credit of having had a woman Chief Minister in early 70’s, and all such stories of glorious status of females is pitted against data shown in the recently published National Crime Records Bureau 2016 report, one wonders what the real story is. One wonders about the status of females in Odia society, about the law and order issues concerning women, about the depravity that a largely patriarchal society is depicting.
Inglorious record of crime against women in Odisha begins with 1st rank bagged by the state in outraging modesty of women, with 8269 victims and a rate of 39.1 (rate is calculated by considering population estimate of year 2016). Another shameful 1st rank is obtained in the category of disrobing women.

397 dowry deaths makes Odisha stand 4th in the country after UP, Haryana and Bihar, with not missing the rate of dowry deaths by a long margin from its competitors. Special and local law crimes registered 1400 cases under dowry prohibition Act, making Odisha 2nd rank holder in India with Jharkhand taking the top spot. 2781 cases of cruelty by husband were registered in the same year.

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With 13 acid attacks in 2016, Odisha bags the 6th position. With a rate of 4.1 Odisha is 6th in cases of sexual harassment in the country and 7th in cases of insult to modesty of women. With 84 gang rape cases the state stands at 5th position, 9th in attempt to commit rape. In the year 2016 Odisha has seen on an average 163.3 cases of rape per month.

This author in an earlier piece had pointed out other abysmal parameters like education level (67.4% female literacy rate as per NFHS-4) and health status (50% females are anaemic in Odisha). There are nearly 3,00,000 girls in Odisha who are married when they are mere 15-19 year old. Of them, 87 thousand are mothers among which 11,000 are disturbingly mothers below 15 years of age. One can go on and on with several such shameful parameters.

One thing that is clear is that there exists a law and order problem when it comes to crime against women. Crime prevention and creation of deterrence is responsibility of the state government and the lax here is out in open. Conviction rates of 16% in rape cases, 18% in cases of kidnapping of women and 13% in dowry related cases also speak volumes.

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The first step in solving any problem is acceptance of the fact that the problem exists. Denial is often writ large when one is shown the mirror. Arguments like such is the general condition of women in India and Odisha can be no different, it is just a law and order situation, these data do not reflect the true respect that Odia society have for women, only few anti-social elements and criminals are responsible for such numbers, things are slowly getting better for women, are not going to help the cause.

Effective policing, better investigations, sound legal counsel by the state, awareness campaigns targeted at behavioural change needs to be undertaken by the State. The society at large needs to reflect on where things are amiss. Patriarchy is so deeply embedded that we take things for normal and for granted where there actually is a deep deficit. It needs to be shaken and early signs of it are showing. Yet there are miles to go before one can say that Odisha is a safe and conducive place for women.

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