India shamed by attacks on women, says prime minister

Modi urges parents to take responsibility for their sons’ actions

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi: “Why don’t parents apply the same yardstick of good behaviour for their sons as for their daughters?” Photograph: EPA/Harish Tyagi

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi: “Why don’t parents apply the same yardstick of good behaviour for their sons as for their daughters?” Photograph: EPA/Harish Tyagi

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 01:00

India has been shamed by a string of high-profile rapes and sexual attacks on women, Narendra Modi said yesterday in his first independence day speech as prime minister.

Addressing the nation from the Red Fort in Delhi, Mr Modi called on parents to take responsibility for the actions of their sons, rather than put the blame on their daughters.

He also said every Indian household should have a toilet within the next four years, and promised separate toilet facilities for girls in public schools.

“Our heads hang in shame when we hear about rapes,” he said. “Why can’t we prevent this? When a daughter steps out, parents demand to know where she’s going. But when a son returns home, does anyone dare ask where he is coming from? He might have been with the wrong people, doing wrong things. After all, a person raping is someone’s son.

“Why don’t parents apply the same yardstick of good behaviour for their sons as for their daughters?”

A brutal gang rape on a moving Delhi bus in December 2012 has led to an unprecedented national debate about sexual violence and prompted calls for changes in cultural attitudes as well as policing and legal reform. But many attacks still go unreported amid an entrenched culture of tolerance for sexual violence and social stigma for the victims of such assaults.

Sex ratio issue

Mr Modi’s hour-long speech in Hindi took up issues ranging from eradicating poverty and ending Maoist violence to reforming bureaucracy and ending Soviet-style central economic planning. But he got the maximum applause when he spoke on gender-related issues.

“Look at our sex ratio – 1,000 men to 940 women,” he said. “Who is creating this imbalance in society? Not the Almighty. I appeal to doctors not to kill the girl child.”

Mr Modi called on politicians to ensure more toilets were built. “Can’t we just make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters?” he said.

In May two teenage girls were found hanged from a tree after being gang-raped while going to the toilet in the fields because – like about half of the country’s population – there was no toilet at home.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr Modi did not read a prepared text, but addressed the people directly. The telecast speech was trending immediately on Twitter.

He portrayed himself as an outsider battling with vested interests. He described himself as “not a prime minister but a prime sevak [one who serves]”.

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Tushar Gandhi, said: “The tone of the speech was very grand, but the words were very humble.” – (Guardian service)