New Delhi: At a time when women journalists and others are complaining about prolific and misogynistic online abuse, union minister Maneka Gandhi has said that the government's new agenda for women's rights and equality looks "very strongly" at how to fight "viciousness against women on the net" which, she said, must be treated at par with violence.
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Speaking exclusively to NDTV, Mrs Gandhi, who heads the Women and Child Development Ministry, said that she has recommended that the Home Ministry create a department to deal with online attacks against women.
Mrs Gandhi, whose proposal on women's rights is the first government plan of its type in 15 years, said an example of the online character assassination of women lies in matrimonial ads. Women who place these or are featured in them, she said, are targeted "with dirty calls" late at night, and are harassed and stalked.
Divorcees, she said, would get calls asking them "to prove that they are sexually fine".
The minister said that initially, the companies that run these matrimonial online services had refused to cooperate, and it took the efforts of the Telecom Ministry and others to force them to protect women and to reveal details of abusers.
Mrs Gandhi also said that she has been misquoted earlier on marital rape. An answer furnished to Parliament on her behalf while she was abroad showed her using Indian societal values to argue against making marital rape a crime. Mrs Gandhi said that remark was not hers, and she has ensured Parliament records have been corrected.
"Marital rape happens and is far more common than we would like to admit," she told NDTV. "But what can a government do about it? There is already an act against sexual violence against women. Nobody in India has ever complained of marital rape and nobody will - until the marriage is over. There are no recorded complaints. How can government enable a solution for a problem that technically doesn't exist?"