By Shruti Shrivastav
The sheer number of news stories and commentaries recounting the gory details of the fatal gang rape in New Delhi has even surpassed the coverage of the Indian election. Every television channel, newspaper and media outlet in India is enraged, shaken and vocal about the traumatic and merciless treatment of the young student. The 23-year-old female died of infection and severe damage to multiple organ systems on December 29 after being beaten, gang-raped seven times and thrown out of a moving bus. Her attack, while one of the most disheartening stories of the year, has ignited a resolute will to change the nation’s attitude toward sexual harassment. India’s politicians and leaders are being pushed into a corner by protesters, journalists, socialites, non-profits and women who are asking for one thing: legal changes. Several motions have already been made in the Indian parliament and many more are being proposed. Unfortunately, India’s problem with rape takes root far deeper than any governmental policy.
Every young girl in India is trained to be cautious of how she portrays herself in public. Mothers forbid sleeveless garments and tight-fitting jeans for fear that what happened to the gang-rape victim might happen to their daughters. Millions in India still believe that by dressing or acting in a certain manner, women are inviting sexual harassment and rape. It is ironic, then, when a statistic like “one woman is raped every 22 seconds in India” is published and expected to come as a surprise.
India’s rape problem is exacerbated by ineffective enforcement. Only 10 percent of rapes committed in India are ever reported. When they are, half the time the police shrug them off as wastes of time. The women of India are angry. They have every right to be. The more journalists look, the more jaw-dropping the statistics are. The incidence of rape has increased 875% in the last 40 years alone. Young women, especially college students, have to endure groping, lewd comments, stalking and whistles on a regular basis. They live in fear, carrying two bottles of pepper spray and constantly texting someone their whereabouts and license plate numbers of any taxi they enter.
In the recent Delhi case, the five men who took part in the crime have been charged with rape, murder and kidnapping. If convicted, they will be sentenced to death. However, most rape cases brought to the police never make it to trial unless the victims are fatally injured. There are still many conservative politicians and leaders who have come out with statements such as “women should stick to homemaking to avoid such incidents” and “she should have begged her attackers for mercy and repeated God’s name” in response to the attack.
To these people of supposed power, the young Indian public has stuck up a giant middle finger. The fervor the public and media has reacted with shows a glimmer of hope after the dark events of late.
In India, they call it “the end of the culture of rape.” Women and men all over the nation are organizing, mobilizing and taking a stand. Some of the demonstrations have been awe-inspiring and downright amazing. For example, in Darjeeling 600 guitarists gathered to play John Lennon’s “Imagine”. In the capital, thousands of women marched at the Gandhi memorial. Candle-light vigils and massive group prayers led by prominent social and political figures were held all over India. In a country with over twenty different faiths, fifty different languages and hundreds of different castes, this unification to combat a social evil is truly miraculous.
There are still countless social, political and judicial norms that must be remedied before the sexual violence in India subsides. For one, the concept that a male child is worth more than a female needs to be eradicated. Female infanticide is still prevalent in villages and underground clinics continue to assist with gender-based abortions. If the ideology that females are worthless remains, young men can hardly be taught to respect their female peers. Furthermore, stories in which young girls report rape to the police and are raped by these very officers need to vanish altogether. Such accounts are not rare, but are rather common knowledge.
The media and press has set up the groundwork for a revolution for women across India. What they choose to do with this media attention will be determined within the next couple of months. Activists are gathering in Delhi. Petitions and laws are being signed. Capital punishment is even being considered as the mandatory sentence for rape. Perpetrators must be held legally accountable for their acts and several lawmakers are finally recognizing this need for legislation. The introduction of more women in the police force and maybe even a special, expedited court for rape cases might lead to a greater social awareness of the crime that is sexual violence.
For more information about the activism against rape in Delhi visit gotstared.at
Special thanks to Hina Chowdri.
Picture by Soumyaroop