The Delhi gang-rape

Battered, raped and killed and all we say is “rest in peace"? Shame on us.

By MERLIN FLOWER
December 31, 2012 21:16
4 minute read.
Rally to show solidarity with rape victim in India

Rally to show solidarity with rape victim in New Delhi 370. (photo credit: reuters)

 
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After 13 days of struggle, the victim of a gang-rape in Delhi succumbed to her wounds today. “Terrible loss...” said the prime minister, “she is a true hero and symbolizes the best in Indian youth and women.”

Battered, raped and killed and all we say is “rest in peace"? Shame on us.

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Perhaps this is the first time in India’s history that the nation has witnessed protests, widespread and in record numbers, over the gang-rape of a woman, a woman who in this case has now been dubbed “brave heart.” Calls have been raised for more stringent rape laws and castration for men convicted of rape. That the attack took place in a moving bus with tinted glass, at the relatively early hour of 9:30 p.m., has angered people, who are raising questions over the security of women in the country.

When the protests broke out, as usual the government chose to remain silent and focus its efforts on containment.

When some of the protesters turned violent in India Gate, Delhi, the police took to tear gas and batons, wounding innocent protesters instead of the violators. After a week, the prime minister took the unusual step of addressing the nation, assuring that “all possible efforts to ensure security and safety of women” were being made.

With the girl’s death (she cannot be named for legal reasons), anticipating trouble, the army has flooded Delhi, the metro train stations have been shut down and the politicians have appealed for calm. Isn’t there any place for protests in democratic India? When safety concerns crop up, when violations become the norm, people will protest. Not that India has been safe so far, only that events have gone from bad to worse. To hell. For its part, Delhi is known locally as the “rape capital of the world.”

WHEN I received a delicious job in the city, my dad wouldn’t let me go. “Delhi is unsafe for women,” he kept saying. So, should one sit at home under a burka and cook soup over the fireplace? “If you go to Delhi, I’ll never talk to you in my life” he blackmailed. That worked, I am ashamed to admit.

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Having worked there for nearly two decades, he considered Delhi the worst city in the world for girls. Well, which Indian city, town or village isn’t? Last July, in the northeast, a teenager was groped and assaulted on the street and a local journalist passing by started to record the molestation instead of informing the police or asking the men to stop.

According to the Home Ministry, India saw 18,359 rape cases registered in the “first three-quarters of this year,” next only to the United States and South Africa. India’s National Crime Records bureau reports that one woman gets raped every 22 minutes in India. Thanks to the harassment faced from the police, health professionals and the society itself, not many women come forward to report instances of rape and sexual assault. So long as the victim becomes the accused, the real culprits will walk free.

Like how one of the police commissioners asked Indian women not to venture out at night to prevent being raped, schools to prevent boys talking to girls, and parents to teach their daughters to be careful and vigilant instead of asking their sons to respect girls. I’ve been on guard since before I was 10.

Should a day pass without lewd comments, stray jokes or fondling, that day would have to be December 32. There’s a widespread misconception in India that it is right to tease a woman wearing modern clothes. Of course, any type of clothing gets an equal dose of lewd glances and inappropriate touches.

SO WHAT is it? A patriarchal society, the preference for male offspring, the baggage of dubious tradition, the need to establish male authority – or is it just the mindset of the people that has led to the daily sexual harassment of women? Where else will you find parents killing their daughter for falling in love with someone outside the caste? India is a glorious country where women have to pay money (aka dowries) to buy husbands, and must marry a man of their parents’ choice. Not to forget the female infanticide and foeticide still practiced in many parts of the country.

Laws can be strengthened, the police can be to handle rape cases with greater sensitivity. But what to do about a society with space only for men? Who will teach the boys to respect women? In spite of all the protests, after a few weeks, this case too will drop into our collective “forgetfulness.” The country will continue to have archaic rape laws and will continue to assault women.

The shame will continue.

Merlin Flower is an independent artist and writer.

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