Today marks International Women's Day. Hashtags like #IWD and #InternationalWomensDay have been trending on Twitter. Among the twitterati who voiced their support for women's rights was Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He tweeted:
PM: Let me reiterate in this House the commitment of our govt. to ensuring the dignity, safety and security of every woman of this country.-- Dr Manmohan Singh (@PMOIndia) March 6, 2013
PM: Real and effective change in the status of women in our country can come only if there is a change in our societal values.-- Dr Manmohan Singh (@PMOIndia) March 6, 2013
It seems, then, that India's government is not committed to such changes in society to advance the status of women--why else would 28-year-old journalist Naveen Soorinje be jailed for reporting an assault on women?
In July, Soorinje--who has a track record of exposing attacks by self-appointed moral police of India's Hindu right--had been tipped off that a group of men belonging to a Hindu nationalist group were about to attack a local birthday party where young men and women had gathered. Upon arriving, Soorinje said he attempted to report the attack to the police, but unable to reach them, he did the only thing he could do: cover it. He and his cameraman caught the men chasing, slapping, and groping teenaged women. The 43 attackers who were charged in the case were identified on the basis of Soorinje's footage, New Delhi-based investigative magazine Tehelka reported.
Instead of heralding him as a hero for bringing the attack to national attention, the state has grouped Soorinje with the very attackers he exposed. Four months have passed and Soorinje remains imprisoned.
Meanwhile, an ocean away, journalist Abdiaziz Abdinuur is imprisoned on charges of insulting the state after his January 8 interview with a woman who said she had been raped by Somali forces late last year. This week, his conviction was upheld by an appellate court in Mogadishu and his one-year prison sentence was reduced to still-unacceptable six months. In January, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, condemned Abdinuur's arrest, saying, "Allegations of rape should be met with objective investigations by the proper authorities, not detention for victims who come forward or arrest for journalists who report on such crimes."
From Mangalore to Mogadishu, brave journalists--men and women--report on gender-based violence and other issues concerning women's rights. Silencing them by arrests, jail, and other forms of intimidation is a disservice to women's rights, and to everyone's right to be informed.