A young Indian woman’s gang-rape aboard a bus in New Delhi and her subsequent death at a Singapore hospital spawned mass protests across the country. Protests galvanized thousands of young Facebook- and Twitter-savvy Indians as they once again exposed the Indian government’s beleaguered and often-blundering efforts to jump on the social media bandwagon.
In a unique and spectacular form of protest, men from the Indian city of Bangalore came out wearing skirts a few weeks back; their demand was simple, a change. Their message simpler, “dressing a particular way does not incite rape!”
Their action was not only against the heinous crime itself, but the unfortunate responses it has been eliciting from prominent Indian figures.
The death of the young Indian woman has spurred an outpouring of grief and sadness as well as calls for action to ensure that her rapists are punished. The protestors are demanding that Indian society changes so that more women aren't assaulted, harassed and otherwise mistreated because of their gender.
Two years ago, a 13-year old girl was gang-raped by four boys. After they left her by the side of the road to die, she crawled into a brick kiln, where she was found and raped by two other men. Later, she was found and raped by a rickshaw driver, only to be abducted and raped for another nine days by a truck driver and his accomplice.
Millions of Indians continue to believe that women invite trouble on themselves by being careless. Mothers often chide daughters for wearing provocative clothing, in most cases a sleeveless garment or a pair of hip-hugging jeans.
A recent survey showed that 92% of men in Delhi knew someone who had harassed or sexually assaulted a woman. Little wonder, when a lawyer suggests that the young woman raped and tortured on a Delhi bus would not have been attacked if she were more virtuous, and when an education minister believes the solution to sexual crime is for girls to wear overcoats.
India has been labeled as one of the most dangerous countries for women. Rape is the fastest growing crime in India, up by 875% in the last four decades. Keeping in mind the fact that in countries like India, the cultural stigma keeps many victims from reporting the crime, the increased number of reported sexual crimes over the past 40 years is drastic as well as disturbing.
Seema Sirohi, of the Indian Council on Global Relations, says "There are a lot of reasons why this happens, but the patriarchal system is one, a lack of policing is another, and general treatment of women is not equal to men, even though it may be so under the law."
A hushed silence is usually the response brought about by incidents of crimes against women. This rape case, for a change, got notable personalities taking notice, condemning and promising change.
Famed Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan wrote on his Twitter account:
T 974 - 'Amanat', 'Damini' just a name now .. her body has passed away, but her soul shall shall forever stir our hearts !!!— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) December 28, 2012
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered his "deepest condolences" and said "it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain. We have already seen the emotions and energies this incident has generated," he said, “These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change. It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channel ... these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action."
The Cabinet set up a commission to look into rape cases and suggest measures to improve women's safety. The commission recommended a number of far-reaching changes. Among them were requiring police officers to register every case of reported rape; punishing crimes like stalking and voyeurism with prison terms; changing the humiliating medical examinations endured by rape victims; re-examining every appointed state police chief in the country; cracking down on extralegal village councils, etc.
A committee is also set up to study legal changes to improve women’s safety has issued new guidelines on how doctors should treat rape victims in India.
The problem is not with India lacking adequate laws on sexual violence or gender bias rather the lack of political and bureaucratic will to enforce them. Even the government shares the blame.
Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch said,“Unfortunately, the government often tends to sit on things.”
The Indian girl-child’s problems often begin before birth — sex-selective abortions are fairly common even after being outlawed. Women are killed for dowry; they lag in education, nutrition and health care and are likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse on a general basis.
The change will have to come first at home, from the family. Boys, as they grow up, will have to be taught that their sisters are not there to get the leftovers and parents as well as society must learn to give them equal opportunities, to life, education and health.
India's rape problem needs a rewiring of society's attitude and hopefully this incident will make it possible.