India Today, through the Press Trust of India, released the news that top search engines in India have been given the Supreme Court directive to delete pre-natal sex determination advertisements within 36 hours that they are posted on the internet. A government based nodal agency would be appointed which would liaise with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo for intimations of such advertisements so that it can be taken down within 36 hours. This step has been taken as part of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act (1994) which states that no one shall be permitted to propagate sex selection in India.
This reminds me of the movie scene from the Amitabh Bachchan starrer ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’ (1977) where Big B is drunk and talking to the mirror, “Dekh apna thobda aaine mein jaake dekh! Kitna maara tereko, kitna maara! Pakka idiot dikhta hai!” Saying this, he applies balm, ointment and the bandage on the mirror instead of the face. I am drawing parallels not for the humor in the situation, but that in curtailing internet for annihilating a social evil; we are putting bandage on the mirror, not the face.
I wonder why anyone would want to take on the tsunami of internet to tackle an old enemy. Male child preference has not been created due to internet. Even internet created Frankenstein Monsters cannot be controlled from its source because it is the reflection of people. It is a Jeannie which obeys the command of the user. Internet is subject to how people choose to use it. For every one instance of misuse, there is one instance of technology put to good use.
As an organization which has been active in creating gender-just society for over 3 decades, we are sad to report that back in the 1980s; we were shocked to witness a section of the society trying to revive the Sati tradition (Roop Kanwar, Rajasthan). The crimes in India have increased exponentially for women and its gruesomeness has intensified, especially for the economically backward and those who come lower in the regressive caste hierarchy. For the year 2014, National Crime Records Bureau reported that crimes against women have increased to 14 percent from 11 percent in 2011. Not only that, newer sub-categories which violate human rights of women have been identified under the section, “Insult to the modesty of women”.
Our country bases itself on misogyny. There isn’t one place on earth where women can live safely without legal protection. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005), Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act (2013) and the one mentioned at the beginning, are among the few that ensure women’s safety at home, her workplace and society at large. As an organization, we find ourselves at a juncture where we are creating space for an all-inclusive dialogue on making gender equity, a reality in our country. We have engaged men in our initiatives and to rethink on the concepts of feminism and patriarchy; the two terms which have been otherwise misunderstood. Our organization has also been a pioneer in generating a movement for social change through social media literacy. #SocialSurfing, in affiliation with Facebook and #TweeSurfing, in affiliation with Twitter have been implemented to sensitize the youth in our country which will positively impact their internet usage. We have also interacted with school children in an effort to educate them on counter speech which is the art of managing negative internet interaction and generating more good online.
There is a human in front of the screen who is operating the keyboard. We should remind ourselves of this fact whenever we are tackling a social evil through internet. However, it is commendable of the government, to have demonstrated through an institutional solution; a stand that seeks to eliminate the practice of pre-natal sex selection. This has to be in tandem with reformatory movements that reach masses and individuals within the crowd and inculcate in society, a reverent attitude towards dignity of life and respect for human rights.