No Justice For Women in India: The Toughest Battle is Changing Old Attitudes
Rape, like all sex crimes, is ultimately a tool of terrorism and power. While rape occurs all over the world, few places suffers from a greater rape crisis than India. In 2016 alone, there was a 12 percent increase in the incidents of rape.
It is one of the most pressing women’s rights issues today. Why has rape become so prevalent in India, and what can be done to address this crisis before more innocent women and children lose their lives?
Rape is always horrifying, but what makes these acts of violence even more heinous is that they are often perpetrated against children.
One such rape, the rape of 8-year-old Asifa, sparked outrage against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Asifa suffered a horrific gang rape which spanned several days before she was beaten to death with a boulder. Modi failed to condemn the act immediately, leading to a public outcry.
Sadly, Asifa's case, as horrific as it is, is far from unusual in India. Critics of his regime accuse Modi of failing to condemn the rapes as acts of violence against minorities in India, noting that he only publicly commented under pressure from the international community.
How much Modi's nationalist government is to blame for the rise in rapes is unknown, but the damage continues to be done, and women continue to suffer and die.
the rise of rape in India lies with an imbalance between men and women in the culture
Nirbhaya, whose legal name is Jyoti Singh, was raped and murdered on December 16th, 2012. She and a girlfriend were riding a bus home from the theatre when six men attacked them. Nirbhaya's friend was knocked out, and the men then dragged Nirbhaya to the back of the bus and viciously raped her. The youngest among them, a juvenile, inserted an L-shaped tire iron into Nirbhaya, violently twisting so hard that only 5 percent of her intestines remained inside her body.
The other five men were sentenced, but the youth, due to his age, was confined to a juvenile facility. During his stay at the facility, the boy expressed no remorse for what he had done. Despite this, he was released only months later once he turned 18, sparking a national outcry.
One of the factors complicating the rise of rape in India lies with an imbalance between men and women in the culture. While gender-selection abortion is prohibited by law in India, preference for sons has led to a ratio of 112 men for every 100 women in India, far from the more normative 105 boys for every 100 girls. Not only does this ratio mean there are fewer brides to marry — which is deemed as the only culturally acceptable way to have sex — but it also teaches women from their birth that they are less important than males.
rape victims in India encounter much of the victim blaming that occurs elsewhere in the world
This gender-based harassment extends even to victims of rape who chose to report the crime. Police, and even emergency hospital workers, often utter cruelties that only compound the shame of the victim. Some have gone so far to ask crying victims why they weep, as they were “only raped.” Even health care workers have shamed rape victims who have come in bleeding and crying from their attacks.
In addition, rape victims in India encounter much of the victim blaming that occurs elsewhere in the world. Beliefs that a woman's clothing can provoke a rape, or that a woman who doesn't fight back against her attacker wasn't truly assaulted, run deep in India. These attitudes take time to change, and requires support from all levels, including the government. While India's laws are technically aligned with international human rights standards, enforcement has been lax. This is slowly changing.
The move towards true gender equality in India is dishearteningly slow. Despite some changes, rape remains common in India, so much so that only the most heinous cases catch the eye of the international community.
Legislative action on the part of the Indian parliament to enact stricter sentences for rape is only half the battle. The toughest part of the fight in India, as in many places, will be changing the cultural attitude towards women that regard rape as something a woman can bring on herself.
About the author
Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Kate Harveston is a recent college graduate and an aspiring journalist. She enjoys writing about social change and human rights issues, but she has written on a wide variety of other topics as well.
She blogs on social and cultural issues at Only Slightly Biased.
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