NEW DELHI — In India, a woman is reportedly raped every 15 minutes. The statistics on crime against women are even worse; every two minutes, a woman in India is the victim of a crime. This ongoing issue of violence against women and the culture of rape in India raises legitimate questions about human rights in the country.
In December 2012, 23-year-old physiotherapy intern Jyoti Singh and her male companion boarded a chartered bus in which a group of six men, including a minor, beat her unconscious, penetrated her with iron rods and proceeded to rape her. Singh later succumbed to her injuries and died 13 days later on Dec. 29, 2012. The brutal attack shocked the world and exposed the culture of rape in India.
The story broke the pervasive silence surrounding rape in India and opened up a much-needed communication channel. As thousands of women took to the streets protesting for stringent laws, the country saw its perceived weaker sex rise to protect their dignity and bodily integrity.
Following the attack and the scathing international and domestic criticism, the Indian government set up a judicial investigating committee to report on the causes of these crimes and suggest amendments to the existing laws. The report indicated that failures on the part of the government and police were the root cause behind crimes against women.
Suggestions included maximum punishment for rape as life imprisonment. The suggestions were brought into an act in 2013. In addition, the law now recognizes acid attacks, sexual harassment, voyeurism and stalking as criminal and punishable acts under the Indian penal code. Though the laws show the government’s desire to be tough on crimes against women, the crimes continue today.
In 2015, the BBC made a documentary based on the 2012 Delhi rape and murder case titled “India’s Daughter.” The documentary was banned in India and labeled as an “international conspiracy to defame India” by its Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. However, the film only exposed what is endemic in the Indian society. It categorizes India’s out-of-control rape epidemic as a product of poverty, deprivation and a culture of masculine privilege in India.
It is not uncommon to hear things like “decency,” “honor,” “if they stayed home nothing bad would happen” and “her clothes provoked him” as arguments in defense of these heinous crimes. These comments bring to mind a statement made by the Grand Mufti of Australia, who, in 2006, compared women to a plate of uncovered meat. “If only they stayed indoors,” he argued, “nothing bad would happen to them.”
However myopic this theory, it is not the reason for this modern disconcerting culture of rape in India. A widely referenced 2002 study “A Surplus of Men, a Deficit of Peace” contends that a gender imbalance plays a pivotal role in the high rates of crime, including rapes by unmarried men. The statistics are alarming – India has 37 million more men than women as per 2011 census data. Seventeen million of those men commit crimes, a figure that increased from seven million in 1991. Violent crimes in India rose nearly 19 percent from 2007 to 2011, while kidnapping of women increased 74 percent at that time. If the conclusions of the study are correct, given the current demographics of India, the situation will only get worse.
Gender inequality is only one part of the puzzle; unemployment and illiteracy are others. According to a United Nation’s labor report, as of 2017, unemployment in India stands at 17.8 million while illiteracy is at a staggering 74 percent. These factors coupled with ages-old misogynistic attitudes, endemic caste system and the idea of a man’s entitlement to commit crimes against women from lower castes make India an easy prey to social denigration.
Although the statistics create a sorry picture for India, the 2012 Delhi rape and murder case resulted in more women coming out and reporting the crimes committed against them. The amendments to laws relating to sexual violence against women show the seriousness of the government in fighting the culture of rape in India. The media coverage and conversations around the topic are also helping to eliminate the stigma around rape and sexual victimization.
Campaigns working to create awareness and raise funds to fight sexual violence against women and girls include #shameTheRapistCampaign, Priya’s Shakti, StopRapeNow and #HerVoice. Maps4Aid is another such campaign which uses SMS and emails to report violence against women. The technology aims to take the project from “documentation to implementation” by mapping the most dangerous streets across India and pressing authorities to provide extra security measures in these areas.
While progress is painfully slow, it is heartening to know that steps are being taken in ensuring that the movement for women’s dignity and integrity doesn’t hit a roadblock and the conversation is kept alive.
– Jagriti Misra