One of Us: Women Left Behind on India’s March to Modernity

an Essay – Published on Spiegel Online International, by Kishwar Desai, Jan 10, 2013 (Photo Gallery).

The case of the student gang raped in Delhi reveals how deep-seeded misogyny remains in Indian society. Even as women are encouraged to study and join the work force, prejudice is rampant. It is time for change.  

In the past few weeks, something has happened in India that we never thought possible: We have seen an unprecedented show of solidarity and anger over the horrific gang rape of a 23-year old woman, who later died of her injuries. The brutal killing of this nameless student – an ambitious young woman from a small town who worked hard to train as a physiotherapist and was a role model to her two younger brothers – moves us because she was one of us, a sister, a daughter and a wife.

For years, I have been writing about rape and abuse, about the killings of female fetuses, of girls and of women in India. But when I heard about it happening right in the middle of Delhi, in the heart of our capital, on a public bus, it felt like it happened to me. Fortunately, I have never had to experience rape myself. During my growing up years, however, I of course experienced molestation and verbal abuse by males. And even as a working woman it was part of my life – as it is part of any woman’s life in India. Friends of mine have experienced much worse, and they have been traumatized by it.
The young woman has been called “Nirbhaya”, the fearless, by the press, and she has become a symbol of India’s terrible misogyny. India’s middle class has held protest meetings and candle light vigils in many cities all over the country. The anger, despite reassurances from the government, refuses to die down. Even more unexpected has been the sight of young men pouring onto the streets, expressing their personal sorrow over escalating gender violence, as this emerging “superpower” becomes increasingly unsafe for women.

The response from the government has been slow and callous, with its clumsy attempt to squash the protests. This lack of empathy within the ruling coalition, and its inability to understand or comprehend the betrayal that Indian women feel today has left many aghast.

… A Few, Shocking Hours:

As Delhi was converted into a fortress to prevent protestors from assembling near the iconic India Gate, it was pointed out that most of the women parliamentarians who shed tears and spoke passionately about the gang rape victim lead extremely well-protected lives. Surrounded by security guards and the comforts of power, they have no idea about the daily humiliation and struggle of ordinary women. The disconnect between the hard working middle classes and their elected representatives was never more apparent than when the police was ordered to crack down on unarmed protestors recently. In those few, shocking hours, it was difficult to believe that India is a democracy.

It also showed the contempt with which India’s rising urban masses (especially women) are treated by the government, whose chief preoccupation seems to be that of winning elections by throwing money at voters, particularly in rural areas. The government has spent much more time in recent weeks on explaining “direct cash transfers” to the poor in the countryside than on the alarming status of Indian women.

The government would have been content to ship the rape victim abroad for “treatment” (though she was already slipping into a coma) and secretly cremate her in the early hours of a winter morning so that people would forget her. But none of the diversionary tactics have worked. Thanks to the power of the Internet and the media, the memory of the gang rape victim and what happened to her continues to grab headlines, forcing the government to take at least this one case seriously.

The continuing outpouring of grief and rage has completely surprised the patriarchal system, especially because gang rape is nothing new to post independence, “modernizing” India. It has been used as a weapon of oppression for years, including during the partition of India and thereafter. Today, increasing numbers of young men are migrating to the cities for work, bringing sexual frustration and personal alienation with them — along with a deeply ingrained misogyny. This has perhaps led them to target vulnerable women like the one in Delhi. Gang rape has become an increasingly worrying phenomenon and, with a slow, inefficient judiciary, perpetrators are assured of walking away without suffering any consequences. Indeed, it is often the victim who is forced to live with the stigma and in some recent cases, the woman has killed herself due to unending humiliation at the hands of the police, the courts and even the rapists themselves. In a very few instances, victims have taken revenge themselves, having given up on the system completely.

Much Needed Reforms: … //

… (full text).

Links:

Jean-Jacques Crevecoeur: Créer une meilleure vie;

Those laboring days, on Intrepid Report, by Linh Dinh, January 11, 2013.

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