As the United States is currently polarized on the debate on guns and whether legislation may help to curb such violence across America, India is having a similar national debate. But instead of guns, India is currently battling cultural attitudes with women and rape.
Despite the economic progress in this conservative and patriarchal society, rape is a common occurrence. In December, India has been rocked by several very high-profile gang-rape cases that have, at the moment, gained momentum and in doing so, caught the attention of police and officials. Yet, while protesters have been held back by water cannons, batons and travel restrictions, this hasn’t mitigated the outrage of citizens.
As leader of the National Congress Party, Sonia Ghandi’s rare appearance on Indian national television and her call for peace and reassurance for a “swift and fitting punishment” may be of little consequence.
A 17-year-old girl who was assaulted during the Diwali festival on November 13th attempted to register her case to the police, in vain. The police officers had pressured her to drop the case and even offered financial settlement.
In another high-profile case, a 23 year-old medical student passed away in Singapore after suffering from injuries sustained in an attack on a bus from which she was thrown out of. She was a typical medical student and had just left the mall after watching The Life of Pi with her male companion. Since the public buses were few and far between, they decided to accept an offer for a ride on a bus that was stolen. The perpetrators operating the bus were intoxicated. Her male friend was overpowered by a gang of eight. While he survived, she did not.
These heart-wrenching events were met with sexist comments made by a Parliament official who also happens to be the son of India’s president. He initially termed the anti-rape protesters as “painted women,” (meaning beautiful women) who he believes had joined the solidarity protests because “it’s fashionable to attend protest marches now.” While he has since retracted his comment, it does not excuse him from holding opinions that appear to be the norm.
College students are very often the first to protest and this issue is no different. What started out as protests in solidarity on college campuses grew to include mothers, daughters, and men who are outraged at the brutality of the culmination of events. While they seek the death penalty for the perpetrators of the gang-rapes, ultimately these incidents won't stop until a major transformation of social norms takes place.
Just yesterday, it was discovered that a 45 year-old woman was gang-raped in Kolkota, and killed, while her husband who tried to intervene, was over-powered.
First Post, an Indian news portal reported that last year, more than 600 rape cases were reported in 2012, but only one was convicted. Several problems exist in India: lack of accountability of corrupt politicians and the time it takes to resolve pending cases. For the courageous few who do manage to report their cases, it can drag on for years. An anti-corruption bill meant to resolve some of these issues is currently being pending before an appointed committee to tweak the finer points of the bill. It had passed the lower house of parliament last year.
Rapists are also represented by some members of parliament. Thirty-six legislators have been charged with committing crimes against women, including rape or molestation. People feel that as long as these legislators are in power, there isn't a strong possibility to pass and prosecute tough laws meant to deter rapists.
Until changes are made, no fitting punishment will change the everyday reality that women face. Furthermore, the issue of economic and social disparities exacerbate gender inequality: “Our society is divided into a thousand classes, there are huge disparities – like mentality and access to money – between these classes, but all these layers intermingle with each other with very different mind-sets.” Why is it that corporate companies in India are able to provide its employees with security measures, such as offering drop-off transportations but others aren’t being given the same level of protection?Although the current situation appears bleak, one innovative way to create awareness for women has emerged. A crowd-sourced experiment to track assaults in New Delhi can be found here. It’s main aim to “map sexual violence and intimidation against women.” It allows women to map unsafe neighborhoods and to allow people to become more vigilant and aware. It’s a good start.