NEW DELHI, INDIA—The city exploded in fury on Wednesday at the news of the savage rape and beating of a 23-year-old student.
Incensed protesters, mostly young men and women, surrounded a police station, blocked a major highway, set up roadblocks in the capital. India’s Parliament erupted in condemnation. There were calls for fast-track courts for rapists, and to make rapists eligible for the death penalty.
“We want people to feel the pain of what women go through every day,” Aditi Roy, a Delhi University student, told the Associated Press.
On Sunday at about 9 p.m., a student and her male friend were on their way home in south Delhi after watching a movie. As a bus pulled over, they stepped in, believing it was public transit.
It was a private bus taken for a joyride by the driver and five friends.
One of the driver’s friends soon got into an argument with the woman over why she was out with a man at night and the men on the bus decided to “teach her a lesson.”
The young woman suffered severe injuries to her head and intestines, and required multiple surgeries.
While the fury is unprecedented, crimes against women aren’t. Newspapers in India are full of such stories every day.
Two weeks ago, Delhi newspapers reported that a young, married woman was murdered because she rebuffed advances by her husband’s male relative. She was bludgeoned to death in her home.
A 32-year-old woman was beaten to death in a village earlier this month in Bihar, one of the most populous and poorest states in India. According to reports, she was allegedly having an “affair” and the village panchayat — a local government at the village level — gave the “death sentence.”
But one of the most shocking stories came out in June when newspapers and TV broadcasters extensively reported on a man in Indore in Madhya Pradesh state who kept his wife’s genitals locked. The man, Sohan Lal Chouhan, 38, reportedly pierced holes on either side of her genitals and before he went to work every morning, he would insert a small lock and take the keys with him.
Is India no country for women?
There is no simple answer but India has been labelled the worst place to be a woman among the G20 countries, due to infanticide, child marriage and dowry deaths, a poll of global experts concluded in June. (The same poll put Canada at the top.)
In another poll by Reuters, India was ranked the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women, behind Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan and ahead of Somalia.
The statistics are troubling:
• More than 12 million girls have been aborted in India in the past three decades because parents prefer sons and do not want to pay a dowry, according to a study by medical journal the Lancet.
• 47 per cent of India’s women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the legal age of 18, according to UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children report.
• Crimes against women are on the rise, according to the National Crime Records Bureau in India. There was a 7.1 per cent hike in recorded crimes against women between 2010 and 2011. A story in the Hindustan Times on Dec. 5 said 580 cases of rape had been reported as of Oct. 24 this year, up from 482 in the same time period in 2011.
• As many as 57 per cent of male adolescents and 53 per cent of female adolescents believe a husband is justified in beating up his wife under certain circumstances, according to a UNICEF 2012 report.
• In New Delhi, local police have been quoted in the media saying that a woman is raped every 18 hours and molested every 14 hours in the capital city. Hundreds of other attacks are never reported.
Women are discriminated against at every stage of life, from the time they are conceived, says Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a lawyer and women’s rights activist in Mumbai.
“If she is not aborted, she is in for a tough life where she has to fight for education and faces Eve-teasing (catcalls, groping and other public sexual harassment), rape and molestation,” she said. “If she falls in love with the wrong guy, there is honour killing. When she is married, she could be killed for bringing inadequate dowry.”
India is the world’s largest democracy. It is where Indira Gandhi made history as the country’s first female prime minister in 1966. Today the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi is the president of the Indian National Congress, one of the major political parties, and chairwoman of the ruling coalition. Three other powerful women — Jayalalitha Jayaram, Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati Kumari— lead their parties.
But India is also a patriarchal society where violence against women is rooted in age-old beliefs that they are not equal to men. Despite the country’s remarkable growth as an economic power in the past two decades, women are still largely seen as objects and treated as such. As more women leave their homes to join the workforce, crimes against them are increasing.
Uma Chakravarti, a professor at Delhi University who has written on gender issues, blames it on growing intolerance by men. She says men need to be gender-sensitized.
“From the time they are born, boys are made to believe they are superior,” she said. “If there is a son and a daughter, they are not raised equally, not even in urban areas.”
Urvashi Butalia, a well-known Delhi author and women’s rights activist, says improving the country’s infrastructure will help keep women safe.
“Good transportation systems or well-lit streets will make a girl feel safer while travelling on her own. That is what the state can do.”
Addressing cultural baggage is important and it is possible through education, says Butalia. But that is something families should do with their children, she says.
“They have to be educated, right from when they are kids, that girls and boys are equal.”
Despite the grim statistics, Mahabal sees hope for India’s women.
“Women are coming out and reporting now,” she said. “Yes, there are more reports of rape, sexual harassment, demands for dowry. I see that as empowerment — it was something they didn’t do two decades ago.
“They are standing up against tyranny and for themselves.”
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old victim of the brutal gang rape on the bus is still fighting for life.
Four of her alleged rapists have been arrested; two are on the run.
Filed under: World