‘Naga society not as safe as we think for the girl child’
Kohima, Jan. 23 (EMN): Some may that say gender-based inequality doesn’t exist in Nagaland state, but a deeper look into the patriarchal Naga society tells that the girl child is still less equal than the boys.
India celebrates National Girl Child Day on January 24 every year to bring awareness about the inequalities faced by the girl child, importance of education, healthcare, safety etc., but their plight remains.
‘Girls are still sent to other families to work as domestic helpers and they are vulnerable to domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse, and more seriously sexual abuse,’ Petekhrienuo Sorhie, project officer of Women’s Studies Centre, NU, Kohima Campus, Meriema, told Eastern Mirror. She added that many girls are deprived of several things like education, security and safety of their own home and parental care, and thus exposed to many cruelties of life at a very young age.
“If any misfortune befalls a girl, the society sympathises with the victim and her family but only momentarily, and the emotional needs are neglected or seldom considered, and this could also be a reason why many girls are falling prey to varied unhealthy habits and lifestyle, adversely affecting their lives,” Sorhie said pointing at the lack support system for the victims.
“Generally, we feel that we have a very safe society for our girls but this is far from reality. With the many horrific stories of abuse of girls and women that keep surfacing every now and then, the feeling and also the actuality of safety for our girls too seem to be diminishing rapidly,” she said.
She stated that girls even fall victim to rape and other abuses committed by people they trust, including family members.
“But I think many such cases are hushed up only to protect the image of the family, clan etc. But the bitter truth is that the perpetrators go scot-free and this, in turn, exposes more girls to be at risk,” she said, adding that it sends out a wrong message that ‘our girls can be violated without any fear of repercussions and victims prefer to keep quiet and suffer silently because of fear and shame.’
“When girl children as young as under the age of 10 are falling prey to such abuses, we can definitely say that our society is not a safe place for our girl children,” she said. She also felt the need to create awareness about child rights and educate the children with precautionary and safety measures so that they don’t fall prey to any form of abuse.
“There is a girl child in everybody’s life; there is an inherent responsibility for all to share the need, to protect the girl child and to see that support systems are in place in order to create a society, that is a very safe place for the girl child to born into and live in,” Sorhie said, adding that “both the boy child and the girl child are equally valuable”.
The director and founder of Pathfinder, Vitono Haralu, told Eastern Mirror that many people in Naga society still prefer the boy child but felt that things are changing for the better.
“Our culture and religion play a lot (of role) in deciding the future of the girl, but then we are seeing a lot of changes right now especially the results that you can see in schools and colleges and different professional fields, where women are excelling and rising up,” she said.
She felt that central government scheme like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is helping the state realise the importance of a girl’s potential but “change of attitude and mindset” is needed as such programmes are temporary while the society needs a long-term sustainable attitude change.
“Very few families give privilege and support to a girl child, but generally speaking, our society is still very adamant because we are still tied up with our traditional and cultural practices and we really need to breakthrough,” she said.
Haralu opined that women are always given the secondary opportunity and not as an equal partner in decision-making, saying “her stories are only told by men and not women”.
“I am somebody working very closely with the ChildLine Dimapur, women organisation and NGOs that deals with women and the percentage of safety in Nagaland to my observance is 50-50, but a lot depends on what my contribution is in making my place safe for myself and for others,” she said.
“Things are changing and Dimapur is no more the same; the state of Nagaland is no more a safe place as we are evolving and progressing, and our culture and attitude merging with the outside culture,” she said.
She stated that there are many unrecorded cases of crime against a girl child as the social stigma in Nagaland is very high; wherein people try to point out the fault of victims instead of punishing the culprits.
She shared that there are many women who would not even talk about sexual assault to their parents because the parents are very worried about what society would think, and their reputation. “There is no conversation around this stigma and crime that is growing overnight in Nagaland state and many of the cases that we have or read are just one or two per cent of what is actually out there”, she reminded.
“Many a time, because of ignorance and cultural stigma, we often end up not delivering justice to the girl child who is assaulted. We have seen how customary power overpowers the very law that is in existence,” she complained, adding that many such cases are compromised with pig heads or other culture customary practices instead of delivering justice, which is why people do not file complaints.
“Holistic support system is lacking in our state as we do not have a provision in terms of rehabilitation for the victims or the perpetrators in terms of professional counselling and putting them back in the society,” she said. She went on to say that everyone’s safety is important, and it is not just about the girl and women.
“Even the boys are being sexually assaulted these days,” she said. “We must acknowledge and celebrate our human side as equals. We are beautifully and wonderfully created in God’s eyes,” she said.