Today it’s been exactly two years since the brutal gang rape of 23 year old physiotheraphy student Jyoti Singh on a bus in Delhi, a case which provoked outrage all over the world. Flicking through the newspaper about a week ago I stumbled upon another story which stated that a 26 year old Indian woman had reportedly been raped on an Uber taxi journey. She was attacked by her driver in Delhi, leading to the international taxi-booking app being banned from usage in the entire state; North India and Delhi are fast becoming notorious for acts of sexual violence against women. Now a while back I wrote a pretty tame post on the sexual harassment of women in general, but after recently learning that New Delhi is popularly referred to as the ‘rape capital’ of the world and that India as a whole is the 4th most dangerous country for a woman to take public transport in, I felt obliged to write a post to specifically discuss the issue at hand in India. Bear in mind, I’m not trying to put any of you off ever going to India, that’s not my intention at all. I’ve been there countless times and look forward to going back again next year! I’m simply drawing attention to the issue of rape and the position of women in India and sadly there just aren’t many nice things that I can say about the treatment of either of these subjects. However, I’ll be sure to write a positive and praising piece on my homeland in due course just to show you that the positives of the country outweigh the negatives by a mile, but for now let’s get to the topic in hand…
Firstly I believe that the subject of rape exposes just how caste-biased India truly is. For centuries people of lower castes have been undervalued and considered to be less important than those from the upper classes and as a result their rape cases are treated as being extremely low priority by the government, the police and the courts. Take for example the recent case in a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Two teenage girls were allegedly gang-raped and then hung from a mango tree. Now while this statement was later disproved when it became clear that neither girl was raped nor murdered, further investigation into the police’s treatment of this case was what struck me most. It was discovered that upon arriving at the police station for help, the families of the victims were immediately asked, ‘what is your caste?’. The police were aware that the family was of a low caste (they were Dalits) and so upon confirming this they took the investigation of these teenage girls’ deaths much less seriously. Appalling. But such is the general attitude in India: if you hail from a low social class you’re not worthy of anyone’s attention or help. It’s well-known that nobody, let alone the police, will intervene when it comes to protecting the ‘untouchables’ of society and so men are given free reign to use and abuse these women however they see fit. India: the world’s largest democracy? Hmmm.
Secondly the subject of rape also exposes just how sexist India truly is. Look at some of the country’s leading officials’ responses to rape. Earlier this year Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav controversially opposed capital punishment for rape when he said, “ladke, ladke hain… galti ho jati hai (boys will be boys… they commit mistakes).” He exposed his true patriarchal colours by nonchalantly brushing off the seriousness and brutality of the act of rape by likening it to childish pranks and immature misbehaviour. And Babulal Gaur is no better. The Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh said that rape “depends on men and women. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong…Until there’s a complaint, nothing can happen”. Yes, he really said that! It’s disgusting that over 1 billion people look to such men as being the leaders of their country. Indian men are basically being given official permission to exploit and abuse women to their hearts’ content and feel no remorse afterwards because they’re taught that their government is ok with it. Rape is akin to sex citizens are brainwashed to believe, that like sex it “depends on men and women”. But it doesn’t: rape is not sex. Sex is consensual, rape is not; sex is about feeling, rape is about power and such details cannot and should not be overlooked, especially not by government officials in positions of power.
Now while I will always love India and am immensely proud of my culture and the fact that much of my identity stems from such a rich and vibrant country, India’s treatment of women is beyond shameful and quite frankly embarrassing to be associated with. In all honesty it just doesn’t seem like the government takes the issues of rape and sexual violence seriously at all. For centuries India has been a country governed by a patriarchal system that preaches misogynistic ideals and sadly it doesn’t seem like there’s much chance of the current government changing that any time soon. Despite rape laws becoming stricter in 2013 with the government increasing jail time for offenders and buckling down on acid violence, voyeurism, stalking etc, rape within marriage is still not illegal in India and to me that says a lot about the position of women within not only marriage, but also the country. Furthermore, Prime Minister Modi may claim to be against sexism and for equal rights, but simply building separate toilet facilities for women will not have any impact whatsoever on the problem. He needs to do more.
I know from personal experience that whenever I go to India and venture out to go shopping in Punjab or Delhi there will be hoards of vagabond young men lurking about and following us to our cars with unblinking long stares; it’s terrifying yet commonplace, but truth be told I just can’t imagine it being any other way. We’re never allowed to go anywhere without male relatives escorting us, even during the day and in busy public places, because it’s well known that a group of women will be easy targets for the moral-lacking men of the country. It’s just not safe for women. Well unless they belong to the elite upper classes and are dripping in wealth, but such women definitely make up the minority of the population. The locals lightheartedly refer to sexual abuse as Eve-teasing, a euphemism to make it sound moderately acceptable, but it’s still not ok, however you may phrase it.
On the whole Indian men are brought up with the mentality that women are lesser beings and should be commanded to act at their will. And Bollywood does nothing but add fuel to this fire of dangerous thinking. Films show storylines in which a guy catches a glimpse of a girl that he likes. He’ll then proceed to pester and stalk her until she relents and falls in love with him too, that’s the golden formula. This gives ordinary young men the idea that when a woman says no she really means yes; if a hero like Akshay Kumar or Salman Khan can pull a girl by following her around aimlessly like a bad smell, of course it’s acceptable for them to do the same and of course she’ll end up being their wife, because that’s how all Bollywood stories end. The mere thought of her having any sense of free will is preposterous! All mainstream films also include a song which is completely unrelated to the storyline, known as an “item number”, in which a scantily dressed actress will dance to a catchy and erotic song with men leering and touching her, again reinforcing the idea that women are objects to be exploited at a man’s desire. Moreover she’s referred to as an ‘item girl’, how degrading is that?!
So yes, it’s safe to say that men are brought up as kings in India. Why? Well the general parental mentality is that it’ll be their sons who’ll stay with them in their old age and carry their name forward after they’re gone, daughters will only bring with them the burdens of dowries and wedding costs before becoming a new family’s ‘possession’ after marriage. Ridiculous I know, but that’s why the birth of a boy is celebrated and the birth of a girl is mourned. Daughters are generally considered to be temporary (and expensive) members of a family, but if sons are considered to be permanent fixtures, then why shouldn’t daughters be? They may take on a new surname after marriage, but that doesn’t mean that they no longer care about the family who raised them or that they suddenly disappear off of the face of the earth, they do come back to visit whenever they feel like it! It’s about time that girls and boys were treated more equally in India and contrary to popular opinion, having all girls is not a curse, it’s a blessing; all children are blessings regardless of their sex. And they should all be raised to believe that, not just the boys.
Furthermore, as you may know the predominant religion practiced within India is Hinduism. Yet while men may bow their heads and worship goddesses like Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi on a daily basis, they fail to contemplate that there are countless human forms of these goddesses living and breathing the very same air as them right now. Perhaps when they do wise up, rape cases will be taken a little more seriously and maybe female infanticide won’t be so rampant either.
The sad truth is that the more dangerous society is becoming at the hands of men, the more that women are the ones being punished and suffering for it. They’re being denied opportunities to study and work in the cities as a precaution to keep them safe and so end up being restricted to their households. But instead of reacting in a way that causes women to suffer even more, the real way to mitigate this endemic is to focus on the perpetrators, the men. Boys need to be educated from a young age that girls are their equals and not their lessers. Young boys need to be taught by their parents and teachers that they have no right to dominate their female counter parts and that sexual violence of any kind is absolutely unacceptable, whether that’s whistling in the street or tailing a lone woman as she walks home from college.
There also need to be a lot more female law enforcers in society. A common fear for many women is that if they report a rape case to a male police officer, they will be mocked, disbelieved or even shamed into changing their story, women do not have enough fellow females to turn to in high positions of authority and that is very necessary; they need to feel safe and reassured. There is now a toll-free women’s helpline for rape victims, but there needs to be a stronger sense of assurance that the police are fully on their side, because generally the male officers are believed to be first and foremost concerned with protecting their own sex and predominately subscribe to the “boys will be boys” attitude.
One thing that I have to applaud however, are the types of new programmes airing on the popular Star Plus channel that’s watched by millions of Indians all over the world. There are an increasing number of dramas which now showcase female protagonists who run households and also have interests and careers of their own. One involves a young woman set on becoming a mountaineer and conquering Mount Everest and another shows a book-smart young woman who decides that after she’s married she’ll study hard and take exams to become an IPS officer and is then seen to counter various terrorist attacks, working with the police force. This goes to show that women are actually capable of handling responsibilities outside of their households and depicts the fairer sex in a much more strong and independent light in keeping with the 21st century. These are the kinds of characters that ordinary Indian men and women need to be exposed to. These are the kinds of characters that India’s youth need to look up to and idolise, not sexualised ‘item girls’ who have no morals and who men view as play-things that they can sexually dominate. Best of all, however, has to be Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate in which the actor addresses a wide range of pressing issues faced by the country and which would typically be deemed too taboo to talk about out loud, like: tuberculosis, drug abuse, female infanticide, divorce, the caste system, acid-throwing etc. One of the episodes he dedicates solely to sexual violence in the country, and it’s very eye opening and informative, definitely a programme that everyone should watch!
I strongly feel that it’s the younger generations who have the power to provoke a change and establish a new set a values for the people of India to abide by. Following the gang rape of Jyoti Singh hundreds of thousands of young Indians all over the country took to the streets protesting for women’s rights and harsher punishments for rapists (leading to the formation of the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 2013) and that was amazing to see! But this revolutionary approach needs to continue until we see a much bigger change in society, until we’re able to say that the position of women within India has truly been elevated. Young people need to continue to openly question and challenge current attitudes towards women as well as men’s behaviour towards women, we need to continue to raise public consciousness on the issue and eliminate the taboo connotations that rape holds. It’s the time for a new wave of thinking and only the people can bring that. The rape culture of India needs to be stamped out and it’s every Indian’s responsibility to bring about that change!