Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Picture: REUTERS
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Picture: REUTERS

New Delhi/Mumbai — India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi launched an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday after a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found the country was seen as the most dangerous for women in the world, calling it a "shame".

India topped the poll of experts in women’s issues due to the high risk of sexual violence and slave labour, while war-torn Afghanistan and Syria ranked second and third followed by Somalia and Saudi Arabia.

"While our prime minister tiptoes around his garden making yoga videos, India leads Afghanistan, Syria and Saudi Arabia in rape and violence against women!" Gandhi tweeted, referring to a video that Modi posted in May, accepting a fitness challenge. "What a shame for our country!" said the Congress party chief.

The survey — that repeated a similar poll in 2011 in which India was ranked fourth — sparked a storm of criticism in India, with social media users, celebrities and campaigners echoing Gandhi and slamming the right-wing government.

Bollywood director Alankrita Shrivastava, whose last film, Lipstick Under my Burkha, was lauded for its examination of women and sexuality, posted the poll findings on Twitter. "The history of our society is entrenched in patriarchy and misogyny," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, urging the country to think again about its treatment of women.

"We discriminate against women, there is female foeticide, there are unequal laws to property inheritance, no pay parity ... These are deep rooted issues." Indian actor Jaaved Jaaferi wrote on Twitter: "And the winner is ... India the most dangerous country to be a woman, survey shows."

Experts said India moving to the top of poll showed not enough was being done to tackle the dangers faced by women more than five years after the rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi made violence against women a national priority.

"Human life cannot become a political debate. The government needs to be more involved in educating people," said Wesley Menezes, an independent lawyer who fights human trafficking and domestic violence cases. "I deal with so many cases of domestic violence where a man feels entitled to control, which needs to change."

Government figures show reported cases of crime against women rose by 83% between 2007 and 2016, when there were four cases of rape reported every hour. The survey asked respondents which five of the 193 UN member states they thought were most dangerous for women and which country was worst in terms of healthcare, economic resources, cultural or traditional practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking.

Respondents also ranked India as the most dangerous country for women in terms of human trafficking, including sex slavery and domestic servitude, and for customary practices such as forced marriage, stoning and female infanticide.

India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development declined to comment on the survey results.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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