A month ago, I had the opportunity to visit my motherland of India on my own, without my parents, for the first time.The time of my visit coincided with a time of severe social unrest and turmoil in India, surrounding the gang rape and eventual death of a young woman in Delhi. While the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey by six men on a moving bus in India’s capital occurred over a month ago, the incident is still making makes headlines in the country. Pandey's death inspired mass protests in Delhi, as men and women alike demanded justice. The protests expanded to such a large scale and created so much unrest that when I cancelled my trip to Delhi (for unrelated reasons), I was told that it was "safer" that I hadn't gone.
Not long after this case, the news of the Steubenville, Ohio gang rape began to slowly circulate in the U.S. media. However, it was not publicized anywhere near the scale of the Delhi gang rape. In fact, while many of my friends had commented to me about the gang rape case in India, most of them did not know about the Steubenville case when I mentioned it to them, even though it had happened in August, showing an appalling lack of public awareness.
Is Steubenville any different from Delhi? Why are so many men — and even women — in this country unwilling to discuss the issue of violence against women? Moreover, why have we not realized that, as men, women, and transgender or genderqueer people are victims of sexual violence, that this is not a "women's issue" or a feminist issue, but an issue for humanity?
India has finally woken up. It has recognized that the patriarchal mindset and rape culture that perpetuates violence against women is a human rights issue, not just a women’s rights issue. It is India's former mindset that has allowed these heinous acts to be committed time and time again, and has allowed the shaming of sexual assault victims, forcing them into silence. By labeling sexual assault as an issue for all humans, regardless of gender, India has broadened an almost imperceptible discussion to the entire country. There is a huge public awareness in India on the Delhi gang rape case, and there's a huge awareness in the world, yet there are many people in the U.S. that still don't know about Steubenville.
If the gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey has created such an outrage in the world, and has even become a huge story within the U.S., why is so much of the public still ignorant to Steubenville? If India, a "third world," "backwards"country has woken up, why hasn’t the U.S.?
Yes, the legal system in the U.S. is very different than that of India. In the wake of Pandey's death, India has passed a new ordinance that allows for capital punishment for rapists in cases where the victim dies, a punishment not many in the U.S. would condone. Moreover, this ordinance failed to outlaw marital rape, further highlighting differences between the legal treatment of rape in India and the U.S.
But despite these obvious differences, we cannot point one finger at India and the prevalence of their rape culture without the other four fingers pointing back at ourselves. We cannot allow the story of the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey to blind us to our own issues regarding patriarchy and rape culture within our own society. We cannot remain silent in the wake of these same atrocities within our own nation; we cannot allow this lack of public awareness to continue.
As millennials, we are always asking why, questioning the basic foundations of our society, while trying to figure out what we can do to progress into the future. Therefore, I urge all of you to take the time to ask why this violence continues to occur not only to women in India, but women everywhere; ask why we aren’t having a more open dialogue in the “freest country in the world” about this violence. Most importantly, I urge all of you, as millennials, to take the time to ask what we can do to dismantle the pervasiveness of this rape culture.