One More Way To Restrict Women: MP CM’s Proposal That Women Be ‘Tracked For Their Own Safety’

Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan offers yet more 'control' of women's lives by proposing a tracker app 'for their own safety', compulsory for all women who go out of home.

Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan offers yet more ‘control’ of women’s lives by proposing a tracker app ‘for their own safety’, compulsory for all women who go out of home.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan asks women to shoulder the responsibility for the very violences they face and suggests further surveillance– as if what women needed was more monitoring.

On the 11th of January, during the commencement of a program to raise awareness about crimes against women, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan made certain suggestions which rapidly sparked debate.

He suggested raising the age of marriage for women from eighteen to twenty-one and also suggested that women who have to leave their parental homes to go out for work should register themselves with the police so that they can be tracked for security reasons.

Adding Govt surveillance to restrictions by society?

Both of these suggestions not only gloss over the real problems of gender inequality, but also continue in the tradition of the Indian government providing weak attempts to support women’s empowerment. Further, these suggestions could prove to be counter productive in effect and could end up being detrimental.

The oppression of Indian women is structurally complex and its realities are even harder to navigate, thus making conversations to understand and combat this oppression incredibly difficult. Given the degree and sheer intensity of the various violences against women, the issue has been highly debated in the public space- including both the legal and political spheres.

However, having such conversations does not automatically mean that progress has been made. These debates are grounded in conservatism and the idea that women are to solely bear the responsibility (and part of the blame) for the violences they face. It is safe to say that those in public offices, from the Chief Justice of India to the representative of the National Commision for Women, are yet to truly understand that ‘to deal with the women’s issue’ requires actual changes made in areas of education, work, women’s empowerment and rights etc.

Increasing the age of marriage

A task force had previously been constituted to look into the question of raising the age of marriage for women, which had also been discussed by the Prime Minister during his Independence Day speech in 2020. The argument is that doing so would protect women from early marriages and promote schooling, while also equalising the ages of marriage for men and women.

However, this suggestion fails to recognise that early/child marriages are usually linked to poverty and lack of accessibility to schooling/job opportunities. This raise would do nothing to prevent child marriages (if that is the aim), and could be instrumentalised by families against individuals who marry against the family’s consent.

Women are often pushed into marriages at a young age for the perceived burden they pose on their parents. However, by pushing such ‘quick fixes’ the government seeks to shrug off any genuine responsibility and undermine the severity of the issues that plague Indian women.

The same old case of misplaced attention

The second suggestion made, to register and track women, is ominous, given the context of the already deeply controlled and regulated lives women lead. When societal norms govern women to the extent that they are viewed only as property of the family, and when these norms take on new forms with changing times such that even in ‘modern’ India women have no space to just be, such a suggestion is dangerous. It gives explicit consent to the idea of victim blaming- that women are to blame for any violences they face. Given that sexual abuse, as an example, does not discriminate against women of any age, community, dress or relation to the abuser, it seems as though by simply existing women are to blame.

The idea of registering and tracking flies in the face of democractic freedoms of citizens, furthers the idea that women ‘belong’ to a family unit, and that women only go out to work. The idea that to be in public spaces is some unfortunate circumstance women have been forced into, fails to recognise that not only have women always been part of the public space, but that women have desires and interests outside of the family. Essentially, women are being treated as cattle that must be herded back home, only to be let out under the watchful eyes of the household.

Too simplistic solutions, targeting the wrong problem

Once again, issues of poverty, education, and other societal causes of violences against women have been ignored. Of course, again, little to no attempts have been made to focus on the usual perpetrators of violences against women. Under the guise ofwomen’s safety’, women are being forced back into their households (which themselves aren’t exactly safe havens). They are being pressured to take on more responsibility to deal with the consequences of societal problems with little support.

These suggestions made in ‘goodwill’ are just as insidious as the traditional norms which explicitly stated that women, like land, belong to men and must remain in the household. These ‘suggestions’ only seek to increase avenues of control over women to make them more subservient. How often have women and young girls faced severe restrictions followed by the same message-Yeh sab tumhare safety ke liye hi toh bol rahe hain. Is it of any surprise that Chouhan, during the same speech, was quoted saying, “and she will be tracked for her safety.”?

Where is women’s emancipation to be found then? The social structuring of the family is geared towards the male agnates, our traditions do not allow women to be individuals and apparently, they must now be subject to the surveillance of the Indian state. How long do women have to wait to have political representatives who have an actual understanding of their oppression with well researched plans to structurally empower them?

Image source: YouTube

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