Rape in India up 25 percent. Why?

Rape (Photo credit: Valeri Pizhanski)

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.

From news.com.au:

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?

45 thoughts on “Rape in India up 25 percent. Why?

  1. My partner and I in Australia have been hearing the reports of this on the radio over the past few days. We were both shocked and saddened, but agree that perhaps the number of men to women is significantly unequal. Apparently the male population is at 72% (this was in 2001). I feel awful for the women, and others in India (and world wide) who suffer. I did hear today that the government might tighten it’s fist. Those convicted may receive 30 years sentence, and chemical castration. I’m still sitting here wondering what I can do with this information, and how I can help women so far away…

    1. Thanks for weighing in.

      I wonder what — if anything — women living far from India can do to support women there. It seems to me that a weak government, police and judiciary have a major role in this; if Indian women can’t trust them to terrify would-be rapists out of that choice….?

  2. These stories make me so angry and there isn’t anything I can say that hasn’t been already said. However, there are organizations that are working on these issues, such as Safe World for Women, Equality Now and Human Rights Watch – worthwhile to check out and get involved in if your anger is, as mine, too much for words.

  3. I don’t know enough about the current political climate and culture in India to volunteer any informed thoughts, but this is horrific. I thank you for posting about it, and I’m going to follow the links above and do further reading.

  4. Steve

    You won’t like the answer but issuing about two hundred million concealed carry permits ought to do the trick. Women don’t stand a chance physically against a man and a pistol will work every single time to even the playing field. When a society becomes uncivilzed towards it’s weakest citizens and the government judicial system fails to protect it’s citizenry by the enforcement of it’s existing laws, the citizenry has an obligation to do it themselves. “When injustice becomes law, then resistance becomes duty” Thomas Jefferson

    1. Actually, this was exactly my thought. I did handgun training for my first book and have been a crime victim as well — I’m very aware how women are de facto viewed as weak (physically), unprotected and therefore perfect victims. There, as here.

      I wonder what would happen if an Indian woman did shoot dead a man who tried to rape her. The problem would be the aftermath — as it’s clear she would likely be killed within a few days by a culture that doesn’t like women much (yes, that is a generalization) and a system that does little-to-nothing to fight for their legal and moral rights. There are days I think I can’t watch the news anymore. It makes me physically ill to hear of women being raped, beaten and shot — India, Afghanistan and Pakistan — for daring to exist beyond the confines of what men think they should.

  5. passionwriting

    yes, indeed am from India and it is shame and terror to hear such cases…we live in constant fear and we are baffled and ashamed and still nothing much happens to better the situation..!

    1. Is there not any sort of organized (even online?) Indian women’s movement or group of feminists fighting this? (Or is this a really silly question?)

      Thanks for commenting. I am very curious to hear more!

      1. passionwriting

        people take initiative however it only peaks after a case hogs the limelight and as days pass by…things once again resort to what they were….people are doing their bit but it is nowhere near to what is desired..!

      2. I suspect the parallel is that with how things are here in the U.S. with mass shootings here. Both seem to be a product of deeply rooted cultural behaviors (and systems that support it) so change is unlikely to happen any time soon. Which is deeply frustrating!

      3. passionwriting

        yeah…the system is flawed everywhere…however, the victims are we commoners…no matter how hard an individual tries…the scenario remains grim..!

      4. passionwriting

        yep…a nice suggestion…however, i really do not know if i can be the wind of change that can make it all happen..!

      5. passionwriting

        indeed…ur initiative and concern is appreciated…it feels good to have international support for such matters:)

  6. As always, I love how you are able to do such fine research; you can do research as a side job if you wanted to.
    That being said, I think it’s plain awful, but India is still catching up to the 21st century in some respects. Not even the British and Anglophilism could change tradition. It’s just like in certain parts of the Middle East, where women are still considered tools or property. Until the women gain more power and more of a voice, change will still be very slow in India. Thankfully the amount of protesting shows that the common people are at least headed in the right direction. What happens next though is anyone’s guess.

      1. Rami, Googling a few links is about as difficult as breathing. Real research is much more difficult…today’s journos have NO idea what it means for us oldies who began our careers and spent most of them actually having to find real sources all on our own. Gasp! 🙂

        Keep your eyes peeled for this coming Sunday’s NYT, with my latest front-page business section story. I really like the variety of sources I found, from Vegas to Islamabad.

  7. Jueseppi B.

    I wish you, your family & friends a wonderfully joyous and healthy, safe, fun Happy New Year….See you right back here next year….Namaste.

  8. Jueseppi B.

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    Girls stop wearing skirts to school is the Indian solution to the raping of it’s Indian females? Are you serious? Thank you for posting this Ms. Kelly, and I wish you, your family & friends a wonderfully joyous and healthy, safe, fun Happy New Year….See you right back here next year….Namaste.

  9. In cultures where infant girls are disposed of because raising sons is looked upon as honourable, respect for women is lost. India is not the only culture where this happens. It boggles my mind that humans are not treated equally. Values are harder change than laws. Until women become valued as humans, change will be slow.

    1. “because raising sons is looked upon as honourable”

      Yes, but it’s also economic. (I am NOT defending this, clearly.) Daughters are seen as costly (they cannot work [even if they can and want to], there are limited means available for education/clothing/food etc. I agree with you.

      Women in North America still face some serious challenges as well. But being killed before birth just for being female? It boggles my mind, too.

  10. i’m not happy to say this, but i think this is partly – repeat, partly – the result of men who know they can act with impugnity. impunety. knowing that they’ll easily get away with it. this is partly the result of a system that does nothing to hold men responsible. and i’m not happy to say that if this type of system were in place in america, the statistics would be the same. in any country, the statistics would be the same.

  11. Absolutely true. There has actually been a call for the death sentence for the six men involved in this specific rape, and it has shocked India, where the death penalty is very, very rarely used. I think using it might send the right message — you attack and savage women, and it results in their death (!?) and you will pay the ultimate price.

    Another problem, which is also getting press attention, is the Indian police force is overwhelmingly male, and officers dismiss or mock women who have the guts to even press charges. They call harrassment “Eve teasing”, which makes a joke of real fear and intimidation of women.

    I wonder how many Indian women study or know self-defense…although being attacked by a gang makes any defense probably impossible.

    My NTY story this weekend includes a Western woman, 58, living and working in Pakistan — who cannot even go out for a walk without an armed guard.

  12. Nemesis

    Dipankar Gupta was correct, Ms. Malled… but it would be better to accord “unmet aspirations” its proper name… anomie; which is sociological shorthand for asocial modal adaptions/expressions arising from the subjectively experienced stress/vicissitudes of the real [and/or perceived] ‘reasonable expectations vs. lived reality gap’… Ok, that’s more enough social science for one paragraph – but it was an essential introduction to what follows… which I believe you may find useful in unifying the strands of several recent posts here [and their embedded/underlying questions] …

    From enraged/maladapted American youths run amok with assault rifles… to couples obliged to exchange credit scores with one another before proceeding to the hors d’oeuvres/flirting… to the savage pack behaviour of sexual predators on the SubContinent (aside: remember “wilding”, CentralPark?) … it’s all about the same thing. And entirely predictable…

    At least, in this instance, the ‘girls’ didn’t just get mad… They got even.

    [DissidentVoice] – The Women Who Set Fire to Their Boss

    “Two days ago 1,000 tea workers in Assam state in India surrounded the bungalow where their employer Midral Bhattacharya and his wife were staying and set fire to it, resulting in their deaths. There has been pitiful little US coverage of this industrial dispute. What little there has been is disjointed and devoid of context…

    …Although India’s 1951 Plantation Labour Act 1951 requires owners to pay minimum wage and to provide basic medical care, clean drinking water, sanitation (toilets) and a “provident fund” for workers who become unemployed, none of these conditions are enforced despite decades of unionization. At present, the average wage of the majority of tea pluckers is less than 55 rupees a day (US$2), as against Assam’s minimum wage of 100 rupees per day.

    As Gothoskar explains in her article, most unions in India, including those representing the tea estates, are affiliated with and controlled by political parties. Even though women workers constitute the majority of the tea plantation workforce, the top union leadership that sets policy and participates in collective bargaining consists almost entirely of non-tea worker, middle class men. She also notes that although physical and sexual violence against women are extremely common on tea plantations, union leaders refuse to recognize it as a union issue.

    A Virtual Death Sentence

    Reports from UNICEF and other human rights organizations document the routine malnutrition and starvation-related deaths that occur on the Assam tea plantations. It’s no stretch to see how two months non-payment of sub-subsistence wages could amount to a virtual death sentence for many of the MKB tea workers and their children.”….


    [NoteToMs.Malled: I would take exception to author Bramhall’s contention that it is “impossible to justify what the women did”… What other choice did they have?]

  13. The change–much like it was here not too long ago–is in the attitude towards it and not in the commission of the crime itself. Rape–anywhere–is nothing new. Gang rapes in India are also nothing new–thousands of women were raped during Partition when a half a million people were murdered, something the oldest generation in India lived through as children but never, ever talks about. It doesn’t help that trauma is transmitted generationally, and a significant portion of the population either survived or committed genocidal acts (or both), including rape. So, you have a nation heavily influenced by the damage of trauma that has done little to address it other than recreate it.

    What’s new is societal openness about rape–both in terms of the openness of the crime and the openness of the response. The change is that 10 years ago, a young girl like the one who was jeered at by police would never have reported the crime and she and her family would have done their best to keep the fact of it a secret.

    A third factor in this is the general corruption and incompetence of the police force, which nearly everyone is frustrated with. Although many officers work hard and are reasonably honest, corruption, lack of training, and lack of resources make the promise of better policing sound absurd.

  14. Just quickly, because I’ve come to the conversation late in the piece, I wanted to give you this Indian journalist and commentator’s address
    She has a whole slew of articles and reports I’m sure you’d find interesting – in fact I think you’ll find her blog interesting.
    Happy New Year to you and Jose too 🙂

  15. I cannot describe the mash of emotions that run through my head every time I’ve watched/read some news story relating to this one young woman, except that there is a lot of anger and a deep sadness. As an Asian woman, I have experienced the misogyny of my heritage (from the ), although growing up in Singapore and then living in Australia, they’re more momentary lapses of ignorance than anything serious.

    I don’t possess enough depth of knowledge about the underlying issues to comment on this situation at all, so I won’t. I’ve never lived in Delhi, or any place where my sex is a threat to my life. I have no idea what that sort of experience does to a person (have been watching the HBO Witness series of late. My god).

    It is TERRIBLE.

  16. Pingback: Breaking the Silence of Rape and Sexual Abuse | Heal Now and Forever

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