People in India and across the world are horrified at the attack. Photo: divinenephron, under a CC License.
I seem to be returning to the theme of rape so regularly, it makes me quite sick. But though I had many other ideas and thoughts for this blog post, a terrible incident forces me to revert to the theme of rape and violence against women.
On the night of 16 December 2012, six men – including the bus driver – attacked and brutally gang-raped a 23-year-old girl while they drove a bus around Delhi for an hour. The horror story began in a chillingly ordinary manner. The girl was waiting with a male friend at the bus station around 9.30pm, when the men called out that the bus was going in her direction.
After the duo got in, the group began making lewd remarks about what she, a young girl, was doing late at night with a man. When he told them it was none of their business, they pounced on him. The girl protested and tried to save her friend. This enraged the men. They attacked the pair with an iron rod, then dragged the girl to the cabin, tore off her clothes and took turns raping her. When she tried fighting them off, they grabbed the iron rod and repeatedly hit her with it. Finally, an hour later, their lust apparently satiated, they threw the near-naked pair out onto a deserted Delhi street and drove off. The couple were rushed to hospital, where the comatose girl is still in a critical condition. The violent attack with the iron rod apparently caused serious and irreparable damage to her stomach and intestines. As I write this, the doctors who have been battling for her life for over 24 hours are not optimistic about her chances of recovery.
The story has rocked the nation. It’s the first time a rape story has made headlines with entire pages dedicated to it. Jaya Bachchan, respected Bollywood actor turned politician, made a dramatic plea to parliament for stronger action to protect our women.
‘Let’s not turn her [the victim] into merely another rape statistic. Let’s do something to stop rape and violence against women,’ is a slogan being taken up all over India. Some ministers and women’s groups are calling for the death penalty for rapists, as well as fast-track courts to deal with rape cases. An online poll by The Times of India ranks readers’ responses to how rapists should be dealt with. Top of the list is a life sentence, followed by the death sentence, bobbitization* and, lastly, chemical castration. New Delhi has earned itself the unenviable title of ‘rape capital of the world’. All over the country, women and students are assembling in front of various parliament buildings to protest, in solidarity with the young woman now struggling for her life.
To me, knee-jerk sensational responses don’t help, no matter how outraged and angry we are. We need well-thought-out solutions. We need to change the culture where women are so easily branded ‘cheap’ or ‘easy’ on the flimsiest pretexts. We need our society to stop pampering our sons, giving them a feeling of entitlement, where it’s easy to rape a woman and escape with impunity, especially for the rich and powerful. It’s a complex cultural problem too, as India juggles its feudal past with its globalized new present. In cities and small towns, on television and in films, there’s the ‘old versus the new’ battle, both in terms of outward appearances – clothes, modern fashion versus traditional customs – and internally, where old values and customs are thrown out overnight, whether it’s arranged marriages versus falling in love, parental authority or societal pressure.
We need better policing and a thorough revamping of the feudal mindsets of most police officers. A recent Tehelka newspaper sting revealed most policemen thought the victims were ‘asking for it’, or ‘cried rape when things turned sour’. They think that women who dress differently (by which they mean not traditionally) deserve what they get. Unless we can get protection and action from the police force, we cannot really bring down the rape rate or get more convictions.
With the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign well on its way, we need to fight on many fronts if we want change to happen. Our campaigns, unfortunately, won’t help the poor girl battling for her life, but it may make our streets safer for future generations of women.
*castration; a term coined in 1993 when Lorena Bobbitt cut off her husband’s penis after he allegedly raped her.