On December 16th in Delhi, India, a 23-year old female student and her male companion boarded what they thought was a public city bus. The unauthorized driver and his five friends were the only other people aboard, and they are now being charged for the brutal assault, rape, and murder of the woman. The details of the attack were beyond gruesome, and this case has sparked public outrage in India as people have taken to the streets by the tens of thousands to demand justice and equality. As sickening as this individual case is, it has thrust women’s issues to the forefront and has forced India to search internally for why the rape, violence, and sexual assault on women is something to be put up with rather than reprimanded and prevented. Here are some of the issues that one will find.
Patriarchy – India is a deeply patriarchal society, and women are viewed as lesser value than men. As proof of this, sex-selective abortion and female infanticide are widely practiced and have skewed the gender ratio in India significantly. This can have dire consequences, as having fewer women causes increased trafficking for forced marriage and prostitution – and so the cycle of abuse continues. As an article in The Guardian put it, “There is therefore a huge need for a change of attitudes across society starting, with how families regard and protect their women and how old traditional societies can be weaned away from male domination. That will take a long time.”
Blame the victim – It is common in India for the media and government officials to blame the recurrence of rape on the decisions of the victim. For example, a state legislator from Rajasthan suggested that one way to stop rapes would be to change girls’ school uniforms from skirts to pants. Many have also said that women should know better than to be out so late at night. Since women are now becoming more economically equal with men in India, they are showing new independence in their careers and liberated private lives – yet they should be covering their legs and staying inside after dark? These are the types of conflicting messages that are finally being questioned.
The “Shame” factor – Due to the patriarchal attitudes and traditional caste hierarchies present in India, when a woman is raped she is viewed by society as used, ruined, and a disgrace to her family. As a result, sexual assault is often minimalized and goes unreported. In 2011, 80,000 rape cases were reported in Great Britain, population 62 million, where 24,000 rape cases were reported in India, population 1.24 billion – You do the math.
On that note, the victim’s father bravely decided to release her name to the public yesterday, with this statement: “My daughter didn’t do anything wrong. She died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”
Her name was Jyoti Singh Pandey. She is a symbol for this movement, but one of many. And we can only hope that her case has been the desperately needed spark that can ignite true, deep, thorough change in gender equality in India. Time will tell.