Uttarakhand murder raises questions on women’s safety

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, September 26, 2022, 10:43 PM IST
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Representative pic | File

The gruesome murder of a 19-year-old resort employee near the holy town of Rishikesh in Uttarakhand again highlights the dangers that women face even in this age of supposed gender equality. The apparent reason for her death was her alleged refusal to kowtow to the resort owner’s demand that she provide ‘special services’ to guests. Whatever the facts of the case, Ankita Bhandari’s killing and the subsequent public outrage only highlight the tragedy that befalls India’s daughters regularly, be it Jessica Lal, Nirbhaya, the Hathras victim or now this teenager making her foray into the hospitality industry to support her family and her brother’s dream of becoming a chartered accountant. The alleged perpetrator being a BJP leader’s son has only exarcebated the situation, with many questions being raised about the hasty demolition of the room in which Ankita stayed in the resort and whether it was to destroy evidence in an attempt to hush up the case. Though the resort owner Pulkit Arya, and his father, a former state minister, were immediately expelled from the BJP, the tendency for those in power to get away with crime has been witnessed too often for people not to suspect that they will do so again, prompting the mass anger in the Ankita case that has shaken the hill state of Uttarakhand.

The truth of the matter, however, is that sexual harassment is widely prevalent in the hospitality industry, indeed in all office spaces where men and women work together. Despite the Vishakha guidelines that stipulate appropriate complaint mechanisms in all offices, rarely are they implemented, especially in small set-ups. Most women fail to lodge complaints, despite facing workplace harassment, for fear of losing their jobs as they often receive subtle and not-so-subtle hints from a generally patriarchal management about what they would stand to lose if they persisted in airing their grievances. Litigation is so prolonged and expensive that women would rather suffer in silence than get caught in legal wrangles. They face discrimination and harassment on such a regular basis that many of them accept it as a given rather than choose to fight it. But it is important for women to stand up and say no. Only then will gender-friendly workplaces become the norm, be it a tiny establishment or a corporate giant. In any civilised country, safety of women is of paramount importance. If that is not ensured there is no doubt that many more Ankita Bhandaris will face the same gruesome end.

Italy turns right

With far-right leader Giorgia Meloni all set to become Italy’s first woman Prime Minister after Sunday’s election, there appears to be a distinct pattern emerging in Europe as voters are increasingly giving the nod to right-wing parties with fascist roots. While Ms Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party has its origins in a movement that rose out of Benito Mussolini’s fascism, in Sweden, a neo-Nazi party, Sweden Democrats, is expected to be part of the next government after winning the second largest share of seats in last month’s election. In France, far-right leader Marie le Pen may have lost the presidential election, but she won a substantial share of the popular vote, giving Emmanuel Macron quite a scare. Ms Meloni’s alliance which includes Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forzia Italia is said to have won about 44% of the vote. Her party’s agenda is decidedly anti-immigration and Eurosceptic. She has made her views clear on LGBTQ rights, threatening to review same-sex unions which were legalised in 2016. Her decidedly anti-abortion stance has also raised fears for the future of women’s rights in Italy. Ms Meloni has already run into a controversy by calling for a naval blockade of Libya to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. Though her political rivals have questioned her outrageous proposal, saying it is tantamount to an act of war, her electoral success proves that her views have found resonance with voters.

The rise of populism all over Europe and indeed the world has not left Italy untouched, with citizens becoming increasingly disillusioned with liberal politics. The Covid-19 pandemic left Italy reeling and its economy in a shambles. In the build-up to Sunday’s snap poll, caused by the collapse of the Mario Draghi government, a number of issues were hotly debated including the cost of living crisis and the country’s support for Ukraine. Unlike her alliance partners, Ms Meloni has been avowedly pro-Ukraine. Though she has made all the right noises about European unity, alarm bells are ringing in the EU as Italy is the third largest economy in the continent. Ms Meloni’s working-class background, her image of being an honest person with traditional family values and her anti-immigrant stance have struck a chord with the electorate as right-wing leaders the world over have discovered. As Italy readies for its first right-wing government after the Second World War, it remains to be seen how long the Meloni regime will last in a country that has seen 69 governments since 1945.

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