The recent protests in India are very different from those of a generation ago, in the 1960s-70s, when protesters, mostly from the slums, shouted ‘Roti, Kapra and Makan’, which means “Bread, clothes and housing”.
Today, India is an economic giant embracing modernization. The middle class has exploded due to technology and globalization. The protesting youth are educated and aware that India’s accelerated economic power commands attention. These sophisticated youth refuse to tolerate that one of their own has been raped and murdered.
On December 16, 2012, 23 year old Jyoti Singh Pandey, a young medical student, boarded a bus on her way home with a male friend after watching a movie at a mall. Six men drove the bus around New Delhi for two and half hours while they raped her with an iron rod. Jyoti died thirteen days later.
The rapists saw themselves as enforcers of social norms that link sexual purity with honour. Her male friend, speaking to the media for the first time, reported that the rapists felt that it was unacceptable behaviour on the part of the victim to be out with a male friend at night and she deserved the brutal treatment as a result. Joyti’s father, ironically, trusted his daughter and gave her permission to have a male friend.
The new and modern India needs to eradicate the ingrained patriarchal power that is bestowed upon men from birth, which sets the stage for such horrors to take place. Indian children are socialized from birth into patriarchal norms reinforcing that women are the property of their men. India needs to start bringing to court lawmakers and those in positions of authority who are charged with rape.
Kavita Krishana, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association quotes the Commissioner of Police as telling protesters that “women should carry hot chilli powder to protect themselves from attackers or not leave home without a male relative to accompany them.” Kishana goes on: “Every female born in India learns early in life that she cannot seek assistance from the police or anyone else if she is sexually molested. We live in a culture of the “blame the victim because she is a female. Every female needs to be taught from birth that she has equal rights.”
The Association for Democratic Reform in India, an organization that tracks criminal records of politicians, reports that there are six sitting Members of Parliament currently facing rape charges. In total, there are 260 serving politicians who have been charged with sexual assaults against women. Many of these charges were laid decades ago but remain unaddressed. Rapists in India go about their business in confidence because they know they will never have to face the courts.
Media reports have identified victims who sought assistance from or did report being raped to the police but were then raped by police men. Police and politicians state publicly that it is the victims who must be held responsible for the assault. Unable to get any support from authorities, their families or the communities at large, thousands of young women commit suicide.
Violence against women and rape of women in India is not a new phenomenon. According to official reports, a woman in India is raped every 20 minutes. These crimes occur in public places and in urban centres, not in villages. 80 per cent of the rapes are not reported. Indian governmental statistics indicate that in 2011 more than 220,000 cases of violent crimes against women were reported. These are conservative figures because 80 per cent of the rapes and other crimes are not reported. The National Crime Records Bureau of India recorded 572 rape cases in Delhi in 2011 and, by mid-December in 2012, 635 rape cases had been reported. UNICEF reported in 1997 that 60 million women are missing due to gender discrimination and that this figure is expected to grow to 100 million in few years. Half of the missing women are from South Asia.
This is why Kavita Krishana, also believes that “changing the culture of rape starts with holding politicians and religious leaders responsible for their actions and changing their attitudes, and that this change has to come from the top.”
The millions of people protesting are demanding stricter laws and the death penalty for the 6 rapists. Certainly stricter laws are needed, but stricter laws will not be implemented unless Indians who now enjoy bread, clothing and housing decide that they must uproot the assignation of low status to women and their degradation permeating every level of caste and class, and until they decide that the laws ought to apply equally.