While the rest of the world recently watched the horrors of a mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut with disgust and dismay at Americans’ deep and profound attachment to private gun ownership, (consequences be damned), my own shock, disgust and sadness at that (latest) massacre here has been matched — possibly exceeded — by the reports of rape from India, where a 23-year-old woman was attacked and raped then thrown from a moving bus.
Her battered, torn body gave up the ghost in Singapore, where she was sent in a last-ditch desperate attempt to save her life. A 17-year-old girl, also raped — one of the barely one percent of women even reporting this assault to authorities — committed suicide.
This prompted one Indian politician to suggest girls stop wearing skirts to school.
No salwar kameez — the modest tunic/trousers combination — will protect any woman from the brutality and terror of rape.
Here’s one analysis — albeit by John Lloyd, a middle-age white male journalist writing for Reuters:
Indian observers have cast both tradition and modernity as background causes. The country’s most prominent sociologist, Dipankar Gupta, said the “unmet aspirations” among hundreds of millions of young men “who know just enough English to know that they don’t know English” were a major cause of Indian criminality. (It’s a telling comment: Fluency in English is among the most obvious class markers in India; most of the protesters’ signs were in English.) Cities are seen both as a place where success can be achieved and where traditional respect for fathers gives way to life in a space where male hedonism can be indulged. For the six drunkards on the New Delhi bus ride, a rape and a beating were folded into a fun night out.
Female empowerment has unsettled men everywhere. Women who think and speak for themselves rip apart settled hierarchies; educated women who take jobs other than mechanical, peasant labor or household tasks threaten the grip men have over income and its patterns of spending. The rootlesssness of the mainly dirt-poor migrants who flock to New Delhi and other cities for work tears them away from a life in which marriage is embedded in family and social structures.
And the nation’s leaders too often create moral vacuums. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered an anguished and brief reaction over Christmas, in which he sounded like a man who felt every one of his eight years in office and 80 years of life, and had nothing to offer but sympathy as with the father of three daughters. His honesty is unquestioned, but his governments have presided over large increases in corruption and in reported rape cases. Neither of these has been more than sporadically tackled. Now, in the December days on the streets of New Delhi, there may be something more than a flash flood of protesters – something that points to a tipping point.
Her killing has prompted government promises of better protection for women, and deep soul-searching in a nation where horrifying gang-rapes are commonplace and sexual harassment is routinely dismissed as “Eve-teasing”.
Several thousand people massed again yesterday in the centre of the Indian capital – some to express sympathy for the victim who had been out to watch a film with her boyfriend, others to voice anger at the government.
Stringent security measures that have seen government offices and other public areas sealed off in New Delhi to prevent protests have been seized on by critics as further evidence of an out-of-touch government bungling its response.
From Counterfire, a radical left website advocating for social change:
This horrific incident comes at a time of growing outrage in India about how women are treated and about the prevalence of rape and sexual assault. Demonstrators have repeatedly taken to the streets, to be met with tear gas, water cannon and attacks from riot police.
Police are guarding the presidential palace, parliament and war memorial in an attempt to deflect the rage which so many people feel not just towards the perpetrators of this and other rapes, but towards the government and police who are regarded as at best complacent – and at worst as colluding in growing numbers of attacks on women.
Sexual violence and official complicity
The government was silent for days after the attack. It has done little to challenge the climate where sexual attacks are widespread and offenders walk free. It is now proposing naming sex offenders, which may make some small difference but is hardly likely to alter the fundamentals of society where women are often not believed and where, if they are known to have been raped, they face social stigma and are unlikely to get married.
In a recent case, police jeered and laughed when a young 17-year-old woman in Punjab tried to report a gang rape. She was urged to drop the case and either marry one of the perpetrators or accept cash compensation. She committed suicide by taking poison.
Official figures show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year in India were against women.
Campaigners are demanding tougher sentences and better policing. Many will realise, however, that such demands will do little to stop rape and that there need to be fundamental changes in society if women are to be able to move freely around the streets and to have the right to live, work and study without the threat of sexual violence.
Broadside has readers in India.
I need to hear from you now.
What is going on?
Why are Indian women such objects of contempt, loathing and derision?
How is this considered acceptable by police, the judiciary, feminists, the press and the government?
- India reports 25 rapes in week following Delhi gangrape (ibnlive.in.com)
- How Many Rapes Go Unreported in India? (washingtonmonthly.com)
- Death of India rape victim calls for more protection from sexual violence (charlotte.news14.com)
- India gang-rape victim’s family want killers executed (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Six face death penalty for bus gang-rape after victim dies (independent.co.uk)
- India Gang-Rape Victim Commits Suicide (eurasiareview.com)
- Gang-rape epidemic: India mourns victim, proposes chemical castration for offenders (sott.net)
- Extremely Gross ‘Two-Finger Test’ in India Still Apparently Counts as Admissible Evidence in Rape Cases (jezebel.com)
- India gang rape: why women are needed as justice officials (csmonitor.com)