Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi decried the prevalence of rape and female infanticide in the country, appealing to parents and doctors to battle crimes which he called a disgrace to the nation.
“When we hear about incidents of rape, our heads hang in shame,” Modi said in his first Independence Day speech after sweeping to power in May on a tide of discontent over a faltering economy, corruption and a lack of security for women.
Violent rapes have sparked outrage across the political spectrum, while the selective killing of girl fetuses has skewed India’s sex ratio into a “demographic nightmare,” according to Unicef. Modi urged his nation to aspire to greater heights, shunning violence based on religion and social status while eradicating pollution and redesigning villages.
“I appeal to doctors not to kill the girl-child in the mother’s womb,” he said at Delhi’s Red Fort. “I request parents not to kill the girl-child because they want a son.”
India has failed to enforce laws that forbid practices such as marriage dowry payments, ultrasounds tests used for sex selection and child marriage. On average, a woman is raped every 21 minutes and a bride is killed over disputes related to dowry payments every hour, police records and crime statistics show.
“I want to ask every mother and father: you ask your daughters ‘Where are you going? Who are you going with?,’” Modi said. “But do you ever ask your sons these questions? After all, those who rape are also someone’s son.”
Modi also called for the construction of separate toilets for women to improve their safety so they don’t need to “wait for darkness” to defecate. Half of India’s 1.2 billion people currently defecate in the open, the highest number in the world, leading to crimes such as a rape and murder in May of two young girls who were hung from a tree after heading to a field to relieve themselves at night.
“We are living in the 21st century -- we should feel shame that our mothers and sisters go out in the open to defecate,” Modi said. “The dignity of women is the responsibility of all of us.”