By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - I am beginning to dread opening the Indian newspapers when I get into the newsroom every morning.
While the front pages are focused on some political or corruption-related scandal, or in more recent days, the cricket World Cup, open up most of the broadsheets and you will find countless tales of abuse against women and girls which will turn your stomach.
A recent Friday edition of the popular national Hindustan Times, for example, was enough to put me off for the entire weekend.
The government is investigating reports of how a group of 21 young girls – including a one-year-old -- were sold to a brothel and were being pumped with hormones like estrogen and steroids to hasten their physical growth.
A more detailed report in the same paper said the young girls -- aged between one-year-old and eight-years-old --were injected frequently with the chemicals so that they could more quickly be sold into the sex trade.
I turned the page and then found the headline "Minor girl's father raped her repeatedly over two years" glaring at me about a 13-year-old girl whose father threatened to kill her and her siblings if she told anyone.
On the same page 3, there was "Drunk uncle-nephew duo gang rape divorcee neighbour" and then under that was "Neighbour rapes 18-year-old after finding her alone".
To complete the page, amidst the advertisements for courses at private universities and special World Cup packages for cars, there was another headline "Another Oz tourist molested."
I wish I could say that this reportage was an exception, but after five years of working in India, the number of stories of rape, sexual violence and abuse against women and girls being featured is most definitely increasing.
Gender rights activists say in patriarchal India, women and girls face hardships which few in the West can even fathom.
According to the country's national 2001 census, 35 million women are "missing" in India -- many of whom are victims of discrimination, neglect and violence, including female foeticide and infanticide -- the killing of unborn female babies and children.
From domestic violence, dowry deaths, rapes and sexual abuse to the murder of young girls simply because they are seen as burden in the family, the crimes can be hard to take even for some of us who report on these issues daily.
Groups like ActionAid India say crimes like domestic violence, molestation, and rape are showing the highest rate of growth both in the urban and rural areas.
"One-quarter of the reported rapes involve girls under the age of 16. Large numbers of girls between the ages of 5 and 15 are trafficked or sold. Millions of girls are eliminated, some even before they are born," says the charity.
"The unequal power relations between men and women in society and at home lie at the heart of this violence," adds the group.
But while India has some of the best legislation to protect women and girls, very little of it is practiced, say activists, adding that there is a lack of serious political will to implement and enforce such laws and punish offenders.
Until that happens, I guess my stomach will continue to turn pretty much every morning.