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India Aims to Woo Women With New Budget

India's Finance Minister focused on wooing women in his budget speech for 2013-2014. Women-centric programs, known in the country as the “gender budget,” were allotted 971 billion rupees (18 billion US dollars) - a hefty 10 percent increase from last year.

The Finance Minister P. Chidambaram also announced a 10 billion rupee (181 million US dollar) Nirbhaya Fund for the safety of women. The fund is named after Delhi's 23-year-old gang rape victim, whose brutal assault in December 2012 evoked rage across India. The country's media referred to her as the “Fearless One” or Nirbhaya and her eventual death prompted vigils and women's right protests around the world.

The budget set aside 10 billion rupees for establishing India's first public all-women bank, which will lend money to businesses run by women, will mainly employ women, and will support women employment.

Another 2.5 billion rupees (45 million US dollars) will be used toward ending gender discrimination and helping vulnerable groups like single women and widows.

P. Chidambaram, India's Finance Minister, with his deputy minister before heading to Parliament to table the budget of 2013-2014. Image by Ranjan Basu. Copyright Demotix (28/2/2013)

P. Chidambaram, India's Finance Minister, with his deputy minister before heading to Parliament to table the 2013-2014 budget. Image by Ranjan Basu. Copyright Demotix (28/2/2013)

The government also wants to motivate youth to join skill development programs. Some see the new budget as a ploy to target young voters and women before next year's elections, as 70% of voters in the country are under 35. In a post on the finance website Livemint, journalist Anil Padmanabhan gives his opinion:

Equally impressive is the political salience of the budget. Chidambaram passed over on the chance to spend his way to the next general election in this budget, like he did in 2009 with the Rs.60,000-70,000 crore farm loan waiver. Yet, he managed to appeal to the Congress party’s traditional constituencies—poor, minorities, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes—by leaving spending on them untouched, and also appealed to the party’s emerging constituencies such as young people and women.

However, some women's and citizens’ media groups are not satisfied with the new budget announcement. They claim that the allocated money is inadequate and that the measures seem to be hollow gestures. All India Women’s Progressive Association (AIPWA) lashed out in a blog post:

In fact, the Government ought to show that it owns responsibility for the safety of all women, by providing every single survivor of rape or acid attacks with state-funded rehabilitation and medical care. The 1000 crore Nirbhaya Fund, a mere corpus fund rather than a Budgetary allocation, is as of now far from adequate for covering the rehabilitation and medical costs of survivors of gender violence.

AIPWA argues that protecting the rights of women is an ongoing duty of the government. Therefore, the budget should have included more allocations for judges and courts to speed up trials, as well as for primary health care centers in villages to take care of women’s health needs.

India's 82nd Union budget in parliament enhances the outlays for Scheduled Caste Welfare, farm credit, women development, health, and urban development sectors. Image of an Indian businesswomen by Tumpa Mandal. Copyright Demotix (28/2/2013)

Woman selling vegetables by Tumpa Mandal. Copyright Demotix (28/2/2013)

Because of the prevalence of corruption and scams in India in politics and administration, other citizens have concerns about the funds being used in the appropriate way, rather than becoming another notorious scam. In the days following the budget announcement, several Twitter users expressed their doubts:

@auravsha (Aakanksha) : #nirbhaya fund?? I hope it dsnt turn out to be #nirbhaya fun…still waiting for justice ..instead getting stupid funds on fake name

@atulabhas (Atul Singh): #IndianGovt. creates #Nirbhaya fund instead of law and order. They will rehabilitate Rape Survivors but not stop rapes!

@jagthesav (Savitar Jagtiani): The more important questions: how will the funds be spent? By who? On whom? Who's monitoring fraud & how will benefit be measured? #nirbhaya

The all-women bank is due to start running in November 2013, and it remains to be seen whether the other government promises will materialize.

This post was proofread in English by Molly Allison-Baker.

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