- Posted August 30, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
The India story that's being ignored
Last December something horrible happened in my city. A girl was tortured to death. As she battled for her life, the streets of New Delhi exploded with the kind of rage and public demonstrations at a scale rarely seen in India. The story didn’t stop there. It was taken up by global media and India went through a period of intense scrutiny which revealed its terrible record of sexual violence and daily, casual and unremarked misogyny.
As an Indian male born and brought up in Delhi I suffered a double whammy of acute embarrassment, quickly followed by anger and (though it sounds terribly petty), annoyance at the men on the streets of my city who make me feel unnecessarily apologetic about my entire upbringing, my whole way of life. I come from (by most statistics) the most unsafe city in an unsafe country for women. ‘Delhi male’ had suddenly become an insult.
Since then a lot has happened, more rapes, more protests and India’s ‘rape epidemic’ seems to be quite the flavour of the month for parts of the media worldwide. I’m writing this not to put down or in any way dismiss the crimes my country’s women are subject to. In fact, I didn’t write something like this for a long, long time because I felt it would be viewed as the whining of a wannabe victim. I just feel there are some angles that don’t seem to be discussed at all. Just some things I feel, about a topic close to my heart.
1. This is not a new development, not an acute crisis; there is no ‘cover’ that has been blown:
I feel a bit bemused by how much of the reporting about this issue seems to report it as something Indian society has desperately trying to cover up, something which this event has forced out into the open. Now this is partly right in the sense that never before has there been so much media coverage of the issue of women’s equality and what some activists have taken to calling the ‘gender terrorism’ prevalent in our country. But mostly, it’s wrong.
Indian society has always known that its public spaces are unsafe. This has been drilled into generations of Indian women. It has also been drilled into generations of Indian men. As a direct result, Indian women have been forced to limit their personal freedoms, their careers, their education…just about everything, in order to feel a bit safer. Indian men have been conditioned to watch out for their female relatives. When an Indian girl asks her brother to accompany her to the neighbourhood market after dark it’s not acceptable for him to frown and suggest she goes on her own. He shuts up and goes along.
This behaviour is not correct, it is not acceptable. Our mothers, our sisters and daughters have given up too much because they feel unsafe. But to suggest there was some sort of state of denial about this problem in Indian society is laughable. Though misguided, and counter -productive in the long run, the steps I’ve talked about above are what a deeply concerned society does to protect its daughters when they do not trust the system to do it for them. ‘India is not safe for women ‘ is only news to people who don’t live here.
2. There is room for optimism:
Negativity sells. I get it. But the more I read the papers the more I feel they’re missing something. Things are getting better. There are more and more men who are embarrassed about our poor record in terms of gender equality. There are more and more men who are struck by how unfair it is that they get freedoms their female relatives will never be able to access. There are more women refusing to let a hostile environment keep them down. People seem to forget why this story became so huge in the first place; the reason it became a story no global news outlet could ignore: one of the largest and most sustained demonstrations against sexual violence the world has ever seen. This was followed by intense public dialogue about the problem which continues to this day. This is the new development, not the sexual violence that is endemic in India. In the wake of the Delhi gang rape, a gang rape survivor whose article about her experience went viral online commented about how she never thought she would see the day when thousands around the country took to the streets to protest rape. I feel (hope) that our society now has a critical mass of people who are motivated and interested enough to keep this dialogue going. Rapes have not stopped happening. But responses have become more nuanced and less ‘zinda laash’ (Indian readers would know what I’m talking about). There is increased reporting of sexual harassment, gender sensitisation of the police is being looked into seriously. I think this is the start of a new era. So keep calm (stop hysterical reporting) and keep fighting.
3. It’s probably a good thing the West knows about this now:
Foreign tourists in India seem to think this a bit of a spiritual la la land where extraordinary people lead extraordinary lives all the while deeply connected with nature and the people around them. I haven’t really had an in depth interaction with too many of them, so this is almost definitely a generalisation, but that’s the image that comes across. Well it’s a bit dangerous. India is a fascinating country with so much to explore. It is not, however, a society without deep problems that we have yet to come to terms with. It is a Third World economy; its citizens have little trust and no respect for the official apparatus and some parts of the country are worse than others. Most of all , it is not anymore the ‘Land of the Kamasutra’. As a society, by and large, India takes a lot of effort to keep sexuality (particularly female sexuality) hidden away. I believe too many people come here without this essential knowledge. It’s not their fault; the ‘mystical wisdom of the East’ schlock has been around for too long. The whole concept of single female traveller is a bit of a surprise to Indians. Our women would never do it because they have been conditioned from birth to think of it as taking an ‘unnecessary risk’. This is not to dissuade you female solo travellers. Many come, and many have an awesome time, this is just to tell you that what you are doing may seem so commonplace to you but is radical and revolutionary here. Before you come here, please do realise that some freedoms you take for granted will need to be restricted(I’m not just talking about clothing here), I’m not going to bother defending these restrictions but they aren’t going away in a hurry … Inconvenience regretted, work in progress
4. All Indian men are not the same:
This is so obvious, it’s almost embarrassing I have to say this. Half of a population of 1.2 billion cannot be grouped together. Stop talking about the many wonderful, supportive, completely non rapey Indian men you know. They are not a rare find.
5. Delhi gets a raw deal:
Delhi is often targeted as the most unsafe city for women in India. Well, women definitely feel more unsafe here than say Mumbai. But I would not say it is anywhere close to being the ‘rape capital’. Delhi gets a lot of civil society and media attention. Rapes which happen here get politicised and picked up by the media much more often. Though this does lead to a a feeling of panic amongst its women (and their families), it also means that more rapes get reported and get acted upon. As a metro it also has a large number of women who are not locked up inside their houses after sundown. I don’t think any second tier city in India would be safer for women at night if compared to any of the metros. It is such a wonderful city with so much charm, culture and heritage. Don’t look at such a remarkably multi-faceted city through only one angle.