“Equal access to participation and decision making by women in the social, political and economic life of the nation,” states the National Policy for the Empowerment of Women presented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2001. But the truth is that women in India are still struggling in a male-dominated culture despite various efforts made by a number of organisations to introduce gender equality in the society.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 244,270 incidents of crime against women were reported in 2012 compared to 228,650 in 2011 – an increase of 6.4% during 2012. But these crimes are not limited to the offline environment. For example, a well-known journalist and prominent face on Indian television news, Sagarika Ghose, was threatened online on her Twitter account. A similar online attack was experienced by Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and a prominent Delhi-based women’s activist, during a recent online discussion on violence against women on Rediff.com. Writer and activist Meena Kandasamy chose to file a police complaint when she faced online abuse via Twitter in connection with a beef-eating festival at Osmania University in the city of Hyderabad. She was threatened with “live-telecasted gang-rape and being torched alive and acid attacks.”
On 18 November 2012, two girls in Mumbai were arrested by police over their Facebook post after they questioned the shutdown of the city due to the death of local politician Bal Thackeray. They were arrested under Article 66A of the Information Technology Act (IT Act). According to the act, “(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or (b) any information which [is known to be] false, [and distributed for] the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will…” can be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine.
Information and communications technologies (ICTs) have been identified as a potential tool to empower women and to promote democratic values. But social media have become an easy platform for online violence, reflecting the worst instincts of gender inequality. Empowering women from all classes must be ensured at any cost.
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