Women in our country have come so far. They have achieved so much. We had a female Prime Minister, the head of the government, way back in 1966. Indian women have reached all spheres of life. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, bureaucrats and what not. Women in our country hold many top political positions. Even in the rural parts of the country, women are providing for themselves and have emerged as small entrepreneurs.
In spite of all of that, women have never been safe anywhere in India. According to Thomas Reuters Foundation in 2012, India is the fourth most dangerous country for women right after Afghanistan, Congo, and Pakistan and just ahead of Somalia. Oh, don’t lose your heart on that yet. We are ranked first among the world’s worst countries for women among the G20 nations. Now, let us all take a moment to rejoice or we can argue that it was way back in 2012 and in three years we have come so far. Have we?
On 17th December, 2012, India woke up to the shocking death of 23 years old, Jyoti Singh in the capital- the Nirbhaya case. Thousand of citizens came out to the streets, protesting with candles and placards and demanding justice and tougher laws. In response to the outcry, India toughened up its anti-rape laws and also passed a legislation lowering the age to 16 at which someone can be tried for rape and other crimes, which is all very commendable for us.
But yet again, three years since the 2012 incident, we are faced with another brutal and heinous murder of a 30 year old in Perumbavoor, Kerala, the state that boasts 100% literacy. Excuse me, if you misunderstood that rape occurs in India only once in three years. A Times of India report says that in India, rape occurs in every 29 minutes. This is a gruesome reminder of the rot that runs deeper in our society.
On April 28, 2016, Jisha, a 30 year old law graduate, was raped, brutally stabbed on her head, chest, chin and neck, hit by an iron rod and strangled to death at her own home. According to the autopsy report, she is said to have sustained 30 injuries on her body and her intestines were pulled out with a sharp object. While I am equally shocked at this barbaric crime and see that the social media has rallied up and many have taken to the streets seeking justice, I cannot help wonder, will India unite and take up Jisha, just as they did during the Nirbhaya case?
India is one among the ten countries in the world where rape is punishable by death (under special circumstances, of course). Laws do have a great role in protecting women. But I do believe education and changing the mindset of the people have an even greater role to play. To end rape culture we should start by listing the real problems than blaming the clothes, alcohol or the victim and finding excuses for the rapist. Violence against women develops with the urge of men to assert power and strut ‘masculinity’ as defined by the patriarchal culture. With the implicit acceptance of misogyny, we welcome the degradation of women and justify sexual violence against women.
We know the cause; it is time we act on it. Victim-blaming, slut-shaming and sexual objectification is not okay, nor is laughing at a joke that makes light of rape. By doing that you are telling someone that rape is entertaining and you are actually enabling a rapist, even though you condemn any act of sexual assault.
Today, we are left with so many questions. Will our daughters ever be safe? How many more victims will it take for this to stop? Do the women in our lives have to live in constant fear? Will there ever be a day when our parents at home, doesn’t have to worry about their daughters in school or at work? Will there ever be a day when we can stop worrying about our mother, sister or wife alone in the ‘safety’ of our own homes?
The 2012 Delhi gang rape, the 2014 rape and murder of two teenage cousins in UP, the 15 year old raped and set on fire in UP, the teenage girl kidnapped from home and raped repeatedly by three boys, the Jisha case and many other reported and unreported cases of sexual assault are not individual acts of sexual violence, but a disease, that we have allowed to spread as silent spectators. This disease has to be treated holistically and it is we who can and should be doing it.