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To link Gujarat malnutrition to beauty conscious girls is a joke; it disguises ground realities: Top gender expert

Counterview Desk
Senior gender expert, Prof Pam Rajput, who chaired the High Level Committee (HLC) on the Status of Women, formed by the Government of India (GoI), has heavily come down on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's controversial statement three years ago, where he attributed malnutrition in Gujarat to 'beauty conscious' young girls.
In an interview with the US daily "Wall Street Journal" Modi, explaining the challenge of malnutrition in Gujarat, had said, "Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle-class is more beauty conscious than health conscious -- that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they'll have a fight. She'll tell her mother, 'I won't drink milk. I'll get fat'."
Talking with newspersons in Ahmedabad, where she had come to attend a workshop organized by  a top NGO network, Working Group for Women and Landownership (WGWLO), on women cultivators' right to land, Rajput said, without naming Modi, that those who seek to link malnutrition in Gujarat being beauty conscious are "making a joke and disguising ground realities."
Rajput said, "There are two type of women: Those who are undernourished because they do not get anything to eat, and there are others who do not eat because they want to go on the ramp. The latter in an extreme, minuscule minority. You must go to the interior areas of India to find out whether people have anything to eat and see poverty to understand undernourishment of women."
In an indirect allusion to what is happening in Central Gujarat's milk-rich areas, where women are not fed with milk, as it is a commodity which needs to be sold for want of money, Rajput said, "Today, Punjab is competing with Bihar in undernourishment. Families do not feed milk to girls, because it has to be sold in the market. This is causing anemia among girls."
Rajput, who is former professor of the Punjab University, submitted her report to the GoI in June 2015. She said, the report has been "accepted" by the GoI, and its executive summary has been placed on the website of the Ministry of Woman and Child, while the final report will be uploaded next month. However, a search of of the website suggested that the Page does not exist (click HERE to see).
In July, the ministry organised a one workshop discuss recommendations of the Rajput committee report, attended by representatives of 22 Ministries of Government of India, 10 State Governments and 22 Civil Society Organizations. During the workshop, she reportedly highlighted the areas requiring action, especially legal aspects, financial inclusion, skill development, and so on.
The report wants the GoI to formulate a National Policy and Action Plan to end violence against women, even as strongly insisting that a separate committee should be set up to study the status of Muslim women in the country, which should study the impact of identity politics on Muslim women as such politics leads to communal riots and revives forces that impose outdated values on women.
The report takes strong exception to the two-child norm, saying the norm should be revisited as it is related to missing girl children. Recommending dialogue with Hindu religious leaders to arrest the falling sex ratio, it says, they should be asked to tell communities to include daughters in rituals and practices.
One of the most controversial recommendations of the report is make marital rape an offence, pointing out, this will bring down son preference related to socio-cultural practices. It also talked of allowing marital and sexual choices to be protected through amendments to IPC section 377, thus legalizing same sex relationship.
"We have highlighted in the report that while laws do exist to protect women, sensitivity among government officials, especially at the middle and lower levels, is lacking to implement them", Rajput told newspersons, pointing towards the issues discussed in it -- declining sex ratio, economic disempowerment of women, increasing incidence of violence against women, environmental issues which are linked to increasing incidence of cancer among women, and so on.

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