The past 10 days in India have been interesting to behold. A horrific attack on December 16th in Delhi left a young, innocent physiotherapy student fighting for her life for two weeks only to die needlessly after being gang raped on a moving bus by six men – and then by a rusted metal rod. Her tragedy has united a nation and fuelled outrage over violence against women – to a level that I personally hadn’t witnessed since moving to Bangalore in April 2011.
Over a fortnight, more articles have been published about rape than ever before, with Tweets and social media messages focused on the indignation that people feel over the treatment of Indian women. A black dot has become a symbol of protest over the recent tragedy in Delhi. The names of the murderers – because they are now murderers and not just rapists – are public knowledge. A Wikipedia page was quickly setup in support of the people’s demand for justice because even if a man is caught on tape or there was a witness to an assault on a woman, almost any man can bribe his way out of any wrongdoing. With the low 27% conviction rate, chances are pretty good that a rapist will never spend a single day in prison.
Personally, I almost cried when I read the details of the gang rape so I decided then and there to educate myself about rape in India and use my voice to help keep the conversation about violence against women alive. But educating oneself about rape is awful – no matter what country is being dissected. A part of me wishes I hadn’t learned some of the ugly truths about rape and incest in India. My open mind extends quite far, and I have a great respect for the beauty of our cultural differences. However, when it comes to women’s safety in India, even with the atrocities aside (because those happen in every country, it is not specific to India), there are realities about rape and incest in India that I am having a tough time getting my head around and understanding.
FACTS in India:
- Every 20 minutes a woman is raped in India according to the number of registered rapes (this figure it much higher as most rapes go undocumented)
- India is ranked third in rape after US and South Africa
- 228,650 of the 256,329 violent crimes recorded in 2011 were against women
- Conviction rate for rape cases is 26.6%
- Each week countless victims of rape commit suicide because of the way they are treated following the rape by the police, doctors, their own parents and the community
- While conducting medical examinations, many doctors record unscientific and degrading findings from the archaic “two-finger test”. A doctor inserts two fingers into a women’s vagina to determine whether the hymen is broken. The findings from this test are admissible in court, often blaming women’s behaviour for the offense.
- Victims are often encouraged to marry their rapists
- Police and armed forces were the perpetrators in 30 out of 600 media articles of violence against women between September 2011 to November 2011
- Over the past five years, India’s leading political parties have offered tickets to 27 candidates accused of rape and a 260 candidates facing charges for crimes against women (assault, harassment, etc.). Today, two members of parliament and six members of the various state legislative assemblies are facing rape charges, while 36 others face charges for lesser crimes against women
Here’s what I am having a tough time getting my head around and understanding:
I was sad to discover the “11% Truth” about rape in India – or what happens to a child or woman after being a victim of a rape or incest. I surveyed and asked If a girl or woman is raped in India, will she have the same chances in life as anyone else? (for example, to find a good husband, live a normal family life, etc…). A resounding 89% of Indians believe that she never will. That means that only 11% of victims will end up leading a happy ‘normal’ life if anyone were to find out that she’d been raped. In part, that explains very vividly the low number of reports filed following a rape. Keeping it a secret seems like the only chance some girls have to find a good husband later.
Unlike other countries with female officers and special police units at every precinct who are trained to deal with victims of rape and incest, the police in India seem to discourage reporting rape, even by the female officers (who are only allowed to work I hear until 6pm). If a victim gathers the courage to report the attack, she often encounters resistance and is demeaned by police. According to the BBC, a retired police officer estimated that only one out of nine cases of violence against women that is reported to the police is ever registered. The police ‘counsel’ victims and encourage them not to register the crime. Police officers “have been told by their political bosses to keep the crime figures low” (BBC 17 July 2011).
A rape victim’s life often changes for the worse by no fault of their own. In contrast, a rapist – a violent menace to society with no regard for the law or decency – seems to have a carte blanche seal-of-approval from the police…which is simply mind boggling.
Next is the unbelievable reality that Indian society will often place a tremendous load of shame and loss of status onto the innocent woman, girl or boy (because with children, boys are victims of rape and incest too) and their family. I tried to understand this but I just don’t, and probably never will.
Victims of rape were just innocently walking to work, working in the fields, waiting for a bus, sitting inside their home, or strolling through the park before being violently attacked. Their only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just like the victim of a car accident. Yet victims of car accidents are supported, treated with tender love and care … and openly prayed for by friends and family and the community. Rape victims are looked down upon. They have to find the strength both mentally and physically to recover from the vicious attack, often times only to realise that life as they knew it – or dreamed of it being – is now over.
When I asked If a girl is raped, does this bring shame – or embarrassment – onto the family of the victim? 50% of respondents answered YES. A large number of respondents left follow-up comments to that question like, “my personal answer is no, but the real answer in many Indian families would be yes.” I read countless stories of village girls and women thrown out and banned from their homes after being raped. This is done to minimise damage to the family’s status within the community and reduce the level of shame brought down upon them as much as possible. A few lucky girls find an NGO or women’s shelter where they will be safe and take classes to become a skilled labourer (sewing, cultivating mushrooms, etc.) so they can eventually support themselves and start to rebuild their life. But imagine what happens to the rest. Some are forced to marry their rapist by their own parents. It breaks my heart to think about it.
I’ve now read more backwards, uneducated, idiotic excuses and rationales for rape than I ever knew existed. Seriously! And what is even more horrifying than the excuses were the countless number of influencers saying them – including WOMEN.
In India, a dangerous game is played out each day by a shocking number of educated people of influence. When someone we look up to or admire has something to say, that opinion is generally given more weight and is deemed more credible. So it is unbelievably reckless for influencers to make public statements or be quoted even once as saying that victims are somehow or in any way to blame for rape or incest. Yet it happens every day all around the country.
On January 3, 2012, DNA reported that the police chief of Andhra Pradesh blamed “provocative dress” for the increase in rape. A female poet, author and columnist wrote about the increased violence against women, stating that “seductive advertising has unlimited influence on youngsters” as if to say that women in adverts render young men uncontrollable and – what? – unable to distinguish right from wrong, thus leading to their violence? Recently, the Sub-Inspector of Surajpur police station in greater Noida stated of a victim of rape that “She dressed in a manner that people get attracted to her. In fact, she wants them to do something to her.”
I’m sorry but … what a giant load of CRAP!
I’m from Los Angeles and I just spent the last 10 years living on the beach in Barcelona, Spain where light nudity is in advertising in magazines and television every day. In Spain, most women sunbathe topless and nudist beaches are commonplace. Women wear shorts, strappy tank tops and sundresses every day. And never once in all those years, even commuting for seven years on a train in Barcelona where everyone is packed in like sardines, was I ever groped, stared out, made to feel uncomfortable or felt in danger of being raped. Not once. Ever. No matter what I was wearing, the time of day, or where I was.
A girl doesn’t get raped because she is wearing a dress or walking after dark. A girl gets raped because a man raped her. Period.
I would think that most Indian men should be insulted by influencers making statements like those above and would want to step in to change those misconceptions. India is home to men with wonderful gentle spirits, highly educated innovators, inspirational leaders and men who are truly spiritual. My interpretation of these crazy “reasons for rape”is that:
- Some Indian men are reduced to nothing more than an animal if he sees an image of a sexy female on the net or in an advert
- Some Indian men lose control if they catch a glimpse of a modern Indian woman wearing something other than a salwar, saree or burka
Men aren’t animals, they are humans. And what sets us humans apart from the animals is an ability to make rational choices based on what is right and wrong, or what is lawful or not. A man who kills or rapes is a criminal. He either can’t tell right from wrong or he simply doesn’t care. But he should be behind bars and held accountable for his actions. Because his actions needlessly cost the life of an innocent victim. Maybe not literally as in the case of the Delhi gang rape victim but any victim of incest or rape – especially in the case of children – is robbed of virtue, their innocence and often their own spirit … because it was violently raped from them.
Personally I don’t believe in capital punishment but when I surveyed folks here about the type of punishment that a rapist should be given it was interesting to see the high percentage of men and women who want either the death penalty or chemical castration as punishment today.
Everyone always says that change takes time in India. I guess it does anywhere. But another girl or a woman was raped in India while you read this so to me it seems like time is of the essence. Who’s to say that next time it isn’t someone we love? Although it was just one of many, that single tragic gang rape in Delhi has brought together a nation to talk about change. Very few moments in our lifetime will ever have this same impact and power again and it should not be taken for granted. Force influencers to talk responsibly about rape from now on by placing full blame for rape where it belongs – on the rapist. Drive change to ensure a woman’s basic human right to safety is finally granted.
As for me, if I could change one thing, I would change society’s view on rape victims so that no girl ever commits suicide after being raped again, so that no victim is ever shunned or made to feel she’s now a source of shame to her family and so that no victim’s future is ever stolen from her again.
© 2012 Angela Carson. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce any part of this article without the author’s permission.
Stats for this article were pulled from the Government of India, India’s national crime records, India’s Union Home Ministry, NCRB statistics, news articles, etc. Some good reads and sources of information are: