- Posted December 27, 2012 by
Indian Youth React to Rape Epidemic
iReporter Robert Campagna reporting from Mumbai, India 12/27/12
For over a week it has dominated the newspapers. A 23-year old paramedic student is gang raped in Delhi sparking uproar from the nation's youth. Due to the excessive brutality of this rape, in what has now become a far too common headline throughout the nation of India, the recent case is so over the top that new legislation is being pressured on parliament. Although lawmakers have often shed tears for victims, they have done very little in terms of changing a judicial process in which perpetrators slip through a flawed and often corrupt legal system. It often takes years for the culprits to face punishment if ever at all. The emotional drain on the victims, who often never see justice, has now become the focal point of a nation that in many other respects has so much going for it.
This topic has been front page news of TOI for the past week and counting. Rape is a plague that does not discriminate between rich or poor, black or white, and anything in between. However, the rape culture that goes on in India is especially appalling in the sense that the monsters who commit such acts often do not receive the punishment they deserve.
There are many different theories as to why rape in India is so different from rape committed in Western countries. In many respects it's truly a societal dilemma and cultural sociologists have many different perspectives on the issue as well as how to correct the rising epidemic. For example, Mumbai, which had been known as progressive safe haven for Indian women, has witnessed a spike in rapes, which have risen an astronimical 39% from last year, according to a report released by the TOI last week.
If a rise in any crime had skyrocketed exponentially in most Western countries, drastic measures would be taken in order to ensure an immediate reduction. However, the number of increased sexual assaults may actually be a blessing in disguise, inasmuch as many locals are convinced that the occurrences of rape have not actually increased to that degree, but that the victims are now overcoming social stigma and reporting these injustices against Indian women.
Nonetheless, it is a staggering figure, and the recent gang rape in Delhi has been the focal point of the Indian media. In addition, last week, an Indian woman was raped three times in one day by three separate men on three different occasions. An elderly man that I spoke to in an affluent suburb of Mumbai was enraged. "It makes my blood boil. I am a religious man who believes in compassion but I want an end to this. Whether it be the death penalty or castration, I don't care. I'm fed up." Such sentiments are echoed by many Indians persuant to a poll conducted by TOI that included both (death penalty and castration) as potential punishments with regard to dealing with gruesome rapes such as this one.
Women's rights groups were quick to rebut the proposal saying that the death penalty for rape would actually put the victims in greater danger since the attackers might be tempted to kill the women to get rid of the most incriminating evidence, the female testimony itself. Castration however, is certainly another option for this society. Although 'physical' castration is not a step that an increasingly progressive Indian society would wish to take, chemical castration seems to be a option that must be considered. In Western nations, in order to curb the libido of pedophiles who commit heinous acts chemical castration has been adopted in certain jurisdictions throughout the United States and the European Community.
Oftentimes, such heinous crimes bring a nation together as citizens grieve for the victims. However, the day after the Delhi incident TOI reported equally disturbing headlines. A dancer hired for an event in Odisha was gang-raped. Furthermore, a 2 year-old was raped in the Gujarat district by a house guest who tied her up and committed the atrocity in an open field.
Unfortunately, unless significant legislative measures are introduced, history tends to repeat itself. The Oklahoma City bombings preceded 9/11. Columbine was also a precursor to the Virginia Tech shootings and more recently the tragedy in Newtown, CT. Just four days after the the 21 schoolchildren were shot, another shooting left four more dead at a church in Pennsylvania. While these tragedies have sparked debate, government is often guilty of reacting with passion rather than reason and due process.
A prime example is the Patriot Act after the attacks on the Twin Towers. Certainly legislation to protect citizens against terrorism was the aim of the government, but the Patriot Act which was passed in an extremely expedited timeline, took away many civil liberties that the ACLU is still fighting to restore. In fact, conspiracists will argue that oftentimes governments use such atrocities in order to legislate their personal agendas. The aim of the Patriot Act was to use our technology in an effort to curb terrorists acts. However, more often than not, the Act was used to tap the phones of criminals such as drug dealers who the DEA was investigating. When their leads are wrong, innocent, law abiding citizens have their constitutional rights infringed upon by encroaching legislation.
In the long run, only time will tell if the above-mentioned measure was good for the American people. As the ACLU and libertarian minded politicians like Ron Paul (R-Texas) fight to mitigate the consequences of the Patriot Act, while still preserving the safety of the American public, our nation must now facilitate a tempering of the anger of the American people who demand justice for the slain school children. As expected, the NRA has now launched a counter attack to keep guns legal and available and only the democratic process will decide how public opinion and the 2nd amendment can be reconciled. Most likely a ban on assault weapons, similar to that which was instituted in 1994 will return.
The challenge that India now faces is how to protect their women while making sure not to take a step back in terms of human rights and civil progressivism. In the editorial section of the Times of India, I read a very short but concise letter from a man named Hansraj Bhat of Borivili. His answer to the atrocities of December 22nd is straightforward. While he agrees that the incident in Delhi is only the tip of the iceberg which stretches into the countless horrors that occur and go unreported in remote villages, his call for action is on the opposite spectrum of many progressive Indian groups promoting women's rights. "All such skin shows should be banned legally with immediate effect." That is to say all TV shows, racy ads, and similar 'Western' consumerism is the cause of the ongoing rape epidemic. "Such obscenities incites the man of any age to commit molestation or rape." He goes on to state his belief in the death penalty for such crimes against women but at the same time, blames activists for fighting and campaigning for the rights of women to dress as they please and claim their independence.
The essence of this editorial paints a very clear picture of the division at the moment in a country that is redefining itself both economically as well as culturally. The primarily Hindu nation has seen an influx of Westernization that can be epitomized by the bagel shop where I currently write this social critique. The division of religion is evident in streets as Hindu woman walk side by side with orthodox Muslims as well as casually dressed Catholics and non practicing Hindus. From what the papers and locals have stated, it is usually progressive women, often in college, that are targeted by rapists. Sometimes after a night out drinking, the women are attacked only to be scolded by judging police telling them that they put themselves in the situation. One picture published on the front page by TOI had protesting woman holding up a sign. It read "don't get raped." The words 'get' and the 'd' in rape had been crossed out. The simple sign spoke very clear as it's aim to show the blame in society on women for rape is a very alarming matter which has lit a fire under the nation's youth.
In the United States when a girl is raped at a fraternity party after drinking too much, surely she has put herself in a compromising position but that does not deter the fact that she has had a felonious act committed against her. What is equally disturbing is the law for marital rape. Currently, legislation only protects women under the age of sixteen against rape from their spouse. When you take into account the vacancies in judge posts as well as an alarmingly low conviction rate (only 25%) for rape, you face the eye of the storm which has culminated in the atrocities that were committed last week on a public bus. Neighboring societies such as Singapore, Hong Kong and many other have seen a decline in crimes against women from change in their judicial system. When people see the law come down hard against a crime they respond.
What Indian sociologists are also trying to convey to the government, as well as the nation, is that societal views on women are another way to attack this carcinogenic dilemma. No longer can a woman wearing a short skirt be harassed as police turn a blind eye. And equally, society should not be so quick to think of it as immoral when an unmarried man and woman are out in public together. The most recent gang-rape was sprouted after the male friend the victim was with, came to her defense after the accused had made continuous disparaging remarks to her on a public bus. If you walk through the streets on Mumbai you will notice gangs of men strolling together. How intimidating it must be for a young women to walk past the knowing that she could be overpowered at any moment due to the lack of significant police presence. It's certainly a cultural element that conservatively looks down on women being approached casually as well as single women in the company of men in public. Whatever public sentiments may be, the factor they must respect the right of the law. While showing skin or public affection may be illegal in many Muslim/Gulf states that is not the case in India. And until legislation is passed that makes short skirts or opposite sex interactions illegal, the nation must respect the laws and try to be open minded in a society which is in the process of a social reformation.
From a Western perspective this is a no brainer but we must be sensitive to the strict religious beliefs are still adhered to and practiced by the vast majority of the country. The Hindu nation has certainly distanced itself from the Gulf states and neighboring Pakistan where women who are raped are often jailed and even put to death in extreme cases. However, infanticide that occurs quite frequently in the Northern region creates an unbalanced population where men outnumber women significantly and thus adds fuel to an already existing fire.
The answer to this dilemma is not one which I can currently propose. I can only observe as a foreigner who is traveling in a country that is truly blessed with a beautiful culture and history. However, it was not too long ago where blacks in the United States drank from separate water fountains and single mothers were ostracized from conventional social circles. In perspective to gay rights, the legalization of marijuana and other such social changes that are currently being fought for in our country, one can only hope that the youth of the Indian nation will take full responsibility for change when due. It may take time. As we see in our own nation, it is only now when a generation that gave us the 60's (who smoked pot at Woodstock and led a sexual revolution) are now seniors, that the tolerance to civil liberties can now politically merge with the youth who is ready to take on change.
The university students who have stormed parliament and demanded their voices to be heard are the true heroes in this case, along with the poor gang-rape victim who continues to fight for her life after her intestines had to be removed from the vicious attack. How nice is it to see the youth of a nation come together, setting religious and political beliefs aside to fight for human rights. They are not rioting due to high unemployment like we have recently seen in Greece. They are not protesting religious disparity like we see continuously in the Gaza Strip. These youths are fighting for change in a justice system that is long overdue. Some initial positions taken are that there need to be more female constables in order to balance gender corruption. Sting operations have also been talked about where a female officer would walk through a large crowd that is often guilty of groping which then can snowball into gang-rape.
Whatever the future holds for legislation, the nation of India must remember that the world is watching. One recent report from TOI that noted a half dozen members of parliament are convicted rapists. Certainly a step in the right direction would be to make sure each and every one of these elected officials are ousted. This is a country that produced possibly the greatest leader of the last century, Ghandi. There are ways to achieve drastic change without violence. Let their voices be heard through their words and non-violent actions. Allow their women to thrive and feel safe walking the streets once again. Elect public officials that deserve to be there. And most of all, follow your heart. It will rarely lead you astray.