Modi: India’s Shame at Rape and Violence Against Women

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations in Delhi on August 15, 2014. Ahmad Masood/Reuters

India should hang its head in shame over an ongoing rape crisis and dire standards of public sanitation, India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi told the nation in his first Independence Day address.

Women in India should be valued more, Modi said, which begins with addressing the country’s disgraceful record on infanticide. The gender ratio in India is at its most unbalanced since 1947, with 1000 boys for every 927 girls, and families should stop aborting girl foetuses, he said.

“People feel that sons will take care of them when they are old,” he said, speaking without notes at the Red Fort in Delhi. “But I have seen aged parents in old-age homes. I have seen families where one daughter serves parents more than five sons,

Continuing his gender equality theme, Modi asked members of parliament to build separate toilet facilities for boys and girls in every school. Improving public sanitation and toilet facilities in homes will help put an end to outdoor defecation and allow women and girls to avoid having to leave their homes to go outside at dawn and dusk, when the risk of being raped and attacked is much greater, The Telegraph reports.

But what India and the world was waiting to hear was his remarks about rape, after a spate of vicious crimes that has damaged India’s reputation for tolerance and caused tourists to shun the country. One rape happens every 30 minutes in India, according to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. Around 400 women could have “escaped” rape if there was a toilet in their home, the BBC reports.

"When we hear about incidents of rape, our heads hang in shame,” Modi said. “I want to ask every mother and father, you ask your daughters, 'Where are you going, who are you going with?' But do you ever ask your sons these questions? After all, those who rape are also someone's son."

International outrage over India’s rape problem was sparked by the brutal gang-rape of a student on a Delhi bus in 2012. She later died from her injuries. Rapes of female tourists, young children in school and two teenage female cousins, later found hanging from a tree in their Uttar Pradesh village, caused widespread protests across India and the rest of the world.

Modi also spoke about improving India’s economic prospects to benefit the poor and promised bank accounts for everyone in India, The New York Times reports. Two-fifths of Indians don’t have bank accounts.

In an effort to modernize the economy, Modi said he will get rid of the Planning Commission, a bulky and bureaucratic institution established in 1950 and a relic of India’s socialist past. The Commission once spent $50,000 renovating two office toilets while “lampooning” the country’s poor, The Times of India reports.  

Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party were elected to office in a landslide victory in May, ousting the Congress party that, except for a short period, has ruled India for most of the years since Independence from British rule in 1947. India marks its 68th Independence Day today.

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