With rising crime against women, Odisha women MPs have their task cut out
By Sambit Dash
The outrage over the rape of a minor in Odisha has hogged the limelight. Several parameters of crime against women in Odisha have been higher than the national average and a cause of concern. Fighting violence against women needs a multipronged strategy and a sustained one at that, for it is not a mere law and order issue but is intertwined with social determinants. As one of the strategies, having more women elected representatives has been associated with positive outcomes. Odisha created history in General Elections 2019 by becoming the first State in India to elect 33 per cent women parliamentarians. Their task is cut out and it is time they rise to the occasion.
Seven women, creating individual records, having diversity in profiles and with spectacular victory, put the spotlight on women in Odisha. They represent the parliamentary constituencies of Aska, Balangir, Bhadrak, Bhubaneswar, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur and Keonjhar representing huge swathes of western, northern and eastern Odisha. With this massive and unique mandate, their attention towards improving social determinants vis-a-vis women in Odisha needs to be drawn.
Crime against women
As per the latest National Crime Records Bureau report, the rate of crime against women stands at 91.3 per lakh women. There has been an uptick of cases from 20,274 in 2018 to 23,183 in 2019. In 2019, Odisha registered 1,383 cases of rape and 1,505 cases of rape of minors. Rape cases have ever been rising year-on-year and so have been cases of child rape. Kidnapping of women and molestation cases have also seen an upward trend in Odisha in the last two decades. These horrific figures cannot be seen in isolation and needs to be read with social determinants of health and education in Odisha.
Women health and education
Drawn from National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) and NITI-WB Health Index Report, and hence the latest set of data available, the literacy rate for women in seven major districts in the parliamentary constituencies of the elected women MPs varies from a modest 61.9 per cent in Balangir to a good 85.8 per cent in Jagatsinghpur (represented by Dr Rajashree Mallick).
A whopping 29.8 per cent of girls get married before the age of 18 in Ganjam district. Pramila Bisoyi, the 68-year-old face of SHG revolution in Odisha, got elected from Aska Parliamentary constituency in Ganjam district. In Keonjhar, the constituency represented by the youngest MP in Parliament Chandrani Murmu, 27.6 per cent girls marry under the age of 18. Percentage of mothers, who have had full antenatal care, cuts a sorry figure with Khurda district, of which capital Bhubaneswar is a part and is represented by former IAS officer Aparajita Sarangi, registering a mere 18.4 per cent. Aska and Bhadrak have registered as low as 9.6 per cent and 12.5 per cent respectively.
As far as underweight children are concerned, Balangir, represented by Sangeeta Singh Deo, a three-time MP, has 44.7 per cent prevalence followed closely by Keonjhar with 44.3 prevalance rate.
The overall figures of social parameters for women in Odisha is least impressive. As per National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), a little above half (56.5 per cent) of all women in Odisha are having bank accounts which they use themselves, and a little less than half (47.4 per cent) use hygienic methods of protection during menstruation. While there has been a reduction from 2005-06, about half the females in Odisha (51 per cent) in the age group of 15-49 are anaemic.
Odisha looks up
The MPs in the previous Lok Sabha have not had a stellar record in using their MPLAD funds for healthcare. A meagre 15 works had been sanctioned in the category of Health and Family Welfare in Odisha in the last Lok Sabha, with a paltry Rs 34 lakh spent for buildings for hospitals, family welfare centres, public health care centres and ANM centres and Rs 26 lakh spent for procurement of hospital equipment.
While the available district level data are from NFHS-4, a comprehensive constituency level data can help in taking necessary actions. The women MPs can actively work towards improving health and educational status of a large section of women in Odisha, including through MPLAD funds, ensuring implementation of State and Central schemes; while their stock taking, listening to complaints, interacting with law enforcement agencies, striving to shatter the patriarchal ecosystem, can help address the issue of crime against women.
These seven MPs represent both the party in power at the Centre and the State and perhaps a consortium, comprising women lawmakers, leaders and citizenry concerned of the State, which can function en bloc to help elevate status of women in Odisha, could be considered. Their functioning as model lawmakers, change agents, leaders, effective parliamentarians and as role model to the millions of women in Odisha can usher in the much-needed change.
__ The author is Senior Grade Lecturer, Department of Biochemistry, Melaka Manipal Medical College (Manipal Campus). He comments on public policy, healthcare and issues of social interest. He tweets at @sambit_dash