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Ending India’s Culture of Rape



Ritu Sharma - published on 03/10/15 - updated on 06/07/17

From sex-selective abortion to rape, women are victims of violence

When a 23-year-old medical student was brutally gang raped on a bus in Delhi in December 2012, it sparked outrage across India and around the world. Large crowds, buttressed particularly by the youth, took to the streets and demanded justice for the female victim, forcing the government to rush in stricter laws against rape.

That was then. More than two years later, what has changed? In February, nine men allegedly gang raped and killed a 28-year-old Nepalese migrant worker in the northern Indian state of Haryana. A Japanese woman accused her tour guide of raping her in Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh, two policemen are accused of raping a pregnant woman at gunpoint.

Those were just three incidents that hit the headlines in February; there were many more that failed to catch the eye of the media or were not reported in the first place. According to 2013 data by the National Crime Records Bureau, 93 women are raped in the country every day on average.

In 2013, the year after the rape of the medical student, more than 33,000 women were reported raped across the country. That represents a staggering jump over the 24,000 rapes reported the year before. The capital, Delhi, remains unsafe for women, with annual reported incidents of rape more than doubling over the same period, to more than 1,400.

We can protest until we are hoarse about violence against women. We can demand harsher punishments for perpetrators. We can blame our leaders for not ridding India of the scourge of rape. But the persistence of rape in our society comes down to a simple truth: In India, a woman’s problems start from the moment she is conceived. Her fault is simple: she is not a boy.

In Indian society, boys are preferred over girls; men have the upper hand, always and everywhere. In the case of sex-selective abortions, the female fetus is killed inside the womb. If she manages to escape, she is killed just after birth. If she still survives the murder attempts and progresses into childhood, she faces the threat of "Eve teasing" and rape.

As she grows up, a girl has to withstand many forms of sexual violence, in her work place, in the market, and even inside her home. If she is attacked, the girl is told to keep quiet and to not tell anyone about the sexual violations — that could bring a bad name to the family.

If anyone had doubts that these conditions are entrenched in Indian society, they were put to rest by filmmaker Leslee Udwin in her documentary India’s Daughter.

The film, which was banned this week by an Indian court, includes extraordinary and chilling footage of a prison interview with Mukesh Singh, one of five men convicted of the rape and murder of the 23-year-old medical student in 2012.

In excerpts from the interview published by the BBC, Singh expresses no remorse for the savage rape and murder, even suggesting that the young woman would not have been killed if she had submitted peacefully to the violation of her body.
The film also includes an interview with ML Sharma, one of the defense lawyers for the woman’s attackers.

“You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society,” Sharma explained in the film.

“We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”

There could be no clearer statement about the moral or cultural disadvantages faced by women in India.
Recently, I spoke with an old woman in a Haryana village about the rape of the Nepali migrant there. Her thoughts should have been shocking, but they came as little surprise to me.

“This is what happens to a girl as she grows up,” the woman told me. “One has to be very cautious about her safety and security until she is married off. Parents cannot follow a girl wherever she goes. That’s why it is better to have boys. They can be carefree.”

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