Monday, 31 December 2012

Rape - not a serious crime in India

We’re about to celebrate the beginning of 2013, but I’ve read today that celebrations of the New Year in India are being scaled down. This is because of the horrible events which led to the death of a 23-year-old Delhi medical student.

The woman, whose identity has not been released, was gang raped on a bus with a metal bar. The injuries to her body and brain were so horrific that she died on Saturday, nearly two weeks after the attack. 

Measures to make Delhi safer for women have been announced, such as police night patrols and banning buses with tinted windows. These are not to be sniffed at – they may prevent the same thing happening to other women. But the real problem in India is not protecting women from men, but making, or helping, men to see women as human and equal.

Women in India

According to official figures, a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours, while women across the country say they are frequently subjected to sexual intimidation and violence. And that’s just the official figures. In a country in which women reporting rape or sexual assault are often at best ignored and at worst blamed, the reality is bound to be much worse. 

It is well known that women are valued less highly than men in Indian society. Female foetuses are often aborted, and baby girls killed. This is just another side of that coin.

Political parties in India have put forward 27 candidates for state elections who declared they had been charged with rape (and what about the ones who haven’t declared it), and there are six elected state legislators who have charges of rape against them, according to a report out this month. The implication is that rape really isn’t considered a serious crime in India.

I also read a newspaper article that pointed out that the woman is referred to as the ‘daughter of India’, that women are always wives, daughters and sisters, never independent people in their own right. Until this mindset changes, and women begin to be seen as real people, it is difficult to see how any meaningful reduction in the numbers of rapes and sexual assaults can come about.

This story reminds me of tales of the Holocaust, with the way Nazi guards treated Jewish people in concentration camps, seeing them as inherently inferior, and less human then themselves, and therefore able to inflict all kind of atrocities upon them. 

Extra security might protect women in public, such as in this case, but many of these cases will take place behind closed doors. What it needs is to understand that women have rights as individuals, that violating these is not acceptable, and those who do won’t get away with it, whether they are members of the political elite or the poorest of the poor. 

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