Delhi. The gang rape.

Hello my dears.

I know I should put up some form of Christmas greeting, and spread merriment and cheer, and so on. And yes, this has been an adventuresome year for me, and there’ll be more changes in the next year. I’m looking forward to 2013.

But this is a different kind of post from me. I’m not one to talk much about politics. Everybody has an opinion, and their own soapbox, and venturing into blogging about politics on the Internet, well, it can easily become very very messy. I have my own opinions, and while I talk about them with family and friends, I chose not to share them online. My policy is that I have my opinion, you have your opinion, and while we may or may not agree, I respect your right and your freedom to think differently than I do. It is not my right, nor my position to try and force anyone to think as I think. (I have plenty of friends and relatives who act differently).

Yet this is a story that has moved me deeply. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m of Indian origin, although I haven’t grown up there. Over the past few days, I’ve very much gotten caught up in the story of the young 23-year old Indian woman, who was trapped, beaten, and gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi, and then thrown from the moving bus. There’s more detail available about the rape in plenty of the news media (it really is horrible, read at your own risk), but I’ll just leave it at that the rape was so terrible, they had to remove most of her intestine save for 5% of it (She wouldn’t have been able to eat solids for a very long time). She suffered severe brain damage, organ failure, heart attack and infections. They ultimately moved her to a hospital in Singapore, but her condition was too severe and she passed away on today (Saturday, local time).

Delhi protests. Image via soumyaroup

Kolkota candle march against the Delhi rape case. Image by soumyaroup via creative commons

The brutality of the rape is shocking. But the even more tragic thing is how often sexual violence occurs in India. The rape, particularly the brutal violence of it, has been the straw that broke the camel’s back and has led to wide-spread demonstrations by people across all segments of society and statements of support. The government has instituted special commissions. And yet, even now, in the aftermath of the rape, misogynistic comments are still flying around, especially by politicians. Yes, by the political leaders, those that are charged by creating laws and causing their implementation that should prevent just such mistreatment of women. Comments include the “she’s responsible by being out after dark” (it was 9:30pm when she boarded the bus with a friend), or “she should have submitted to the rape then she wouldn’t have lost her intestine.” And lest you think these comments are the exception, just spend a bit of time google-ing and you’ll find many many more hair-raising statements aimed at women, regardless of the status in society.

Candle in the wind

Image by Felix Francis via cc

In the wake of the rape and the public outrage it has spawned, I think it’s important to talk about gender violence and gender politics, and how much they are a problem within Indian society. We’re privileged in that our view of India is mostly of that we visit India and see the parts that we chose to see. Our exposure to India, and its ills are limited. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a city (New Delhi), where 80% of women say that they fear being sexually harassed or even assaulted. We are privileged middle class, we – and our friends and relatives – have the means to take certain precautions reducing the risks that things like that don’t happen to us. We are not forced to take public transport and endure frequent groping or worse. We don’t have to travel third class on the train. We are not forced to be vulnerable to harassment due to working long hours and thus being out at late(r) hours. And we are very much shaped by our Western views and the enforcement of women’s rights as we know them.

And yet, there is no precaution that protects you 100%. No matter where you are, there are plenty of reports of women being assaulted by men in their closer social circle, ranging from family members to extended family to friends. In fact, most of the sexual assaults come from people known to the victim. But in India, societal pressure and the value system stack the odds against women. There is even a term called “eve-teasing” – a term that is an euphemism for sexual harassment, groping and molestation. There are still plenty of women that are stuck in bad marriages, suffer abuse at the hands of their family, are married off way too early. Plenty of women are sent back by their own family to their husband and their in-laws when they try to complain of mistreatment. Burning, attacks with acid, and girl infanticide still occur (Estimates are that up to 12 million female babies have been aborted over the past 30 years).

Police and other authorities serve to reinforce cultural mores. It makes it so hard for women to even dare to come forward to file reports, and then to be harassed by the police, potentially be threatened by the rapists, to be pressured to accept financial settlements, or even worse, to marry your own rapist – that’s just torture. No wonder that rape and sexual violence is severely underreported, and the fact that conviction rate has shrunk from 44% 30 years ago to about 20% now – how shameful. Plus, keep in mind that there are 15 judges per 1 million of Indians. It can take forever for a case to be resolved. Shame.

Delhi protesters (via @HistoryNeedsYou on Twitter)

Shame on our pride to be the biggest democracy but to fail to protect half of our population. This is not the India that our founding fathers envisioned. These are not the values that Hinduism, that religion teaches us. This is not what an enlightened society is about. This is not the India that I know and love. It’s no good to write about equal rights, to anchor these in various laws, in the Constitution, and then fail splendidly in their implementation. Let’s hope that her death was not in vain and that public discourse on the role and rights of women occur, and that real changes happen.

There are some very good observations in this opinion article from the Hindu on “how we contribute to rape“. It asks some very pointed questions, and makes very apt observations on Indian society. I finish with the final paragraph from this New York Times Op-Ed:

India, a rising economic power and the world’s largest democracy, can never reach its full potential if half its population lives in fear of unspeakable violence.

featured image photo credit: ruminatrix via photopin cc