London, Feb. 1: British MPs have used a Commons debate to press their government to take up the issue of women's rights with India.
The debate on the "safety of women in India", although technically an internal matter, was initiated by Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, who asked foreign office minister Hugo Swire "what recent representations he has made to the government of India on the safety of women and the rule of law".
Swire responded that the matter would be taken up both at the bilateral level and through the European Union.
"We regularly discuss human rights issues with India, including the protection of women, both bilaterally and through the EU/India human rights dialogue," he said.
"Women's rights are on the agenda for the next instalment of the dialogue. I welcome the fact that the Indian government continues to take steps to promote the rights of women and hope they will continue their efforts in this regard."
This did not satisfy Creasy who came back: "One in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime in this world. Whether the rape and murder of the Delhi student, the events in Steubenville in Ohio, what is happening in Congo, or even what is happening on our own streets and towns in Britain, the scale of violence against women and girls is overwhelming.
"The One Billion Rising campaign (a global movement to stop violence against women) is leading campaigners in 188 countries to call for that issue to be a priority for all governments to eliminate. Will the foreign secretary join us in supporting that campaign, and say so, and will he do all that he can to encourage the leader of the House to make sure that on 14 February we can debate these matters in a One Billion Rising debate?"
Swire promised: "This government will stop at nothing in trying to stamp out violence of any sort against women, wherever it takes place. Unfortunately, there is too much violence against women, even in our own country."
The Speaker, John Bercow, said a day would be set aside for a full debate on rape.
Stephen Mosley, the Tory MP for Chester, said: "It is estimated that a rape takes place every 21 minutes in India. Does my right hon. friend believe that the UK should offer specialist advice and training to the Indian police to help rape victims and to protect women from these horrific crimes?"
Swire replied: "I share my hon. friend's horror at the recent events, not least the rape of the 23-year-old medical student in Delhi. We welcome the steps that the Indian government has taken to promote the rights of women, including laws on sex-selective abortions and action against human trafficking.
"We will work, if asked, with the Indian government, but it is an internal Indian matter, which we shall certainly continue to raise with them."
Labour's deputy leader and MP for Dulwich and West Norwood in London, Tessa Jowell, who was once a minister for women, was just as critical of India: "The brutal rape and murder of the young 23-year-old woman was perhaps the starkest example of the brutality faced by many young girls growing up in India.
"The risk is that all the good intentions sound like impotent hand-wringing. Will the minister perhaps be more specific about the steps in bilateral discussion with the Indian authorities that he seeks to achieve?"
Swire made an attempt to defend India: "The right hon. lady needs to acknowledge that India has a liberal constitution and a strong political framework, and women hold high-ranking positions in politics and civil society, so we are sure that the Indian government can continue those efforts."