ARTICLESBoston Globe | Salem State University | 2015-04-10
Too Many Bystanders to India’s Culture of Rape | Boston Globe
"I had one strike against me the moment I was born an Indian girl. Now, as a young adult living in the United States, I question how the devaluation of females in India can still persist, and why so many males in the growing country refuse to act against it."
Last month, the male-dominated Indian government once again attempted to silence discussion of women’s issues by banning “India’s Daughter,” a stirring documentary that revisits the savage 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old Delhi woman. The government action came weeks after President Obama delivered a moving speech in New Delhi on India’s Independence Day, urging the country to embrace gender equality.
The documentary, produced by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin, tells the story of what began as an ordinary Sunday night and ended in horror. After going to watch a movie together, software engineer Avanindra Pandey, 28, and medical student Jyoti Singh, 23, boarded a private bus to go home. Five minutes later, the bus lights went out and the doors locked. The sickening crime that followed resulted in Singh’s death, a critically-injured Pandey, and — eventually — five death sentences for the assailants.
The incident attracted worldwide attention, but what happened is not all that uncommon in India, where — according to the latest government statistics — a woman is raped every 20 minutes. In an effort to understand the thinking of Singh’s murderers, Udwin spoke with one of them, Mukesh Singh. “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night,” Singh said. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal.”
Clips of Singh’s comments leaked before the film premiered on March 8 — International Women’s Day — leading to the ban. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu called the film “an international conspiracy to defame India.” Since then, there has been much debate about the documentary and the government’s attempt to keep it from being seen. Thankfully, many people have called on the government to better protect women.
Some Indian men insist on blaming women for bringing rape upon themselves. That is despicable, but I do not believe these slanders are the primary reason why attitudes and behaviors toward women are not changing fast enough. The problem may be India’s bystanders. These people do not necessarily witness rape and fail to act — although that happens — but they have long been standing on the sidelines of the national discussion. By doing so, they help the culture of rape continue.
Just a few weeks after the 2012 Delhi case, a 17-year-old Indian girl who was gang-raped committed suicide, apparently because police would not file an official report on the attack. A year later, a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped, set on fire, and two months later died of her injuries. During those two months, the police did not file a crime report. More recently, The Indian Express reported that a 6-year-old girl was sexually assaulted with an iron rod by a security guard.
Often, women who suffer violence stay silent because they have no faith in India’s justice system. And even when they do raise their voices, the government deals with them on a case-by-case basis rather than as an issue that is endemic to the nation.
The country can boast an accelerating economy that is lifting many people out of poverty, but it is not nearly enough. By treating half of its population so poorly, India can only operate to half of its potential. Hundreds of millions of bystanders to relentless mistreatment are slowly killing off what matters most in a civilized society.