More than three months after the brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in New Delhi, the issue of women’s safety in India strangely surfaced in Berlin amid the Indo-German summitry, and in full glare of the world media.
After pitching the India-Germany ties on a higher trajectory, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not expecting to be confronted with some pointed questions about an issue that has receded from the headlines after triggering a national outrage in December last year. During a joint media interaction with German Chancellor Angela Merkel April 11, a German journalist asked him about the high incidence of maternal and child mortality rates in India. Though no questions were asked about the infamous Delhi gangrape, the insinuations were not lost on the prime minister. Initially, Manmohan Singh was taken aback a little, but chose to reply honestly to a pointed question about India committing a serious “human rights violation” by “murdering” its women and children, rather than resort to rhetorical subterfuge. “I cannot deny that there are certain developments,” he said. He cited the example of the Delhi gang-rape and admitted forthrightly that the horrific incident had “mobilised thousands of civil rights activists.” He underlined that his government set up a committee to suggest remedial measures and pointed out that a Bill has been drafted “to deal with violence against women.”
The German journalist also took on the German chancellor and asked her why she had different standards for different countries in connection with human rights violation. Merkel was asked why she criticized China, Syria and other countries for human rights violations, but did nothing about India where 2 million women were missing. She said that issues related to gender security and violence had come up at the April 11 inter-governmental consultations, adding: “India is taking the right steps to meet the enormous challenge.”
A day before, the same German journalist had grilled the foreign ministers of India and Germany on the deaths of Indian women and children. The questions raised by the German journalist may sound an attention-grabbing gimmick to some, but it underlined the imperative need for diplomacy to focus on all-too-human questions of gender justice and equality. Sharing experiences among nations on these issues, and setting up gender-specific dialogue mechanisms like the one India has with the US, will push the envelope of international diplomacy to put real human concerns at the centre of inter-state relations.
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