The Rape Uproar In India

Jan 5 2013 @ 12:49pm

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William Pesek assesses the evolving political crisis sparked by the gang-rape and death of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi:

The immediate focus is on the six men accused of torturing a medical student so sadistically that they destroyed her internal organs. The issues of women’s rights, safety and respect have seldom been the stuff of headlines in the biggest democracy. It’s also a complicated issue prone to unhelpful generalities. But the rape cast a spotlight on something well-known to India watchers but given little heed globally: how badly India often treats its women, how sexual harassment is tolerated and the extent to which backward attitudes must be stamped out. Misogynistic comments from a variety of officials suggesting the victim may have encouraged the attack based on her dress and mannerisms don’t help.

But he thinks the outrage will probably transform the country's politics:

It is telling that so many young, urban men are among the aggrieved denouncing the rapes. That is a nod to the important role that gender equality plays in eradicating poverty. But these demonstrations are also shaking the conscience of middle-class Indians who sense that their leaders have lost their way. 

Max Fisher points to other consequences of the rape problem in India:

[Y]ou don’t expect to see violence against women translate into immediate and quantifiable national economic damage. But, in a sign of just how serious India’s problem really is, that may already be happening. A study across several cities found that a staggering 82 percent of Indian women say that they are reducing their working hours, leaving the office early because they don’t want to be traveling after dark, when the risk of assault could be higher. Some quit outright, afraid that commuting has become too dangerous.

Mira Kamdar explains how the rise of women in Indian society is making their lives more dangerous:

A woman who can be seen is seen as a woman available for violation. 

Rapid modernization and urbanization in India have made women, especially young women, visible as never before. More and more women are seeking education and employment. They go out to school, to work and to socialize with friends. They, like the young woman who was gang raped in Delhi, go out to movies. Increasingly, they go out with men, and, increasingly, they, instead of their parents, choose their life partners.

The young woman who was attacked had come to Delhi from a small village where her enlightened parents had scrimped and saved to educate her. She was studying to become a physical therapist. She was making her own life on the new exciting terms offered by India's changing society. While these opportunities have increased, they can't meet the volume of raised aspirations. Competition for slots in the better schools and for jobs remains fierce. The competition for women is also fierce. In India, girls are too often seen as temporary members of their families who will one day marry and join a new family. Male children are preferred, and sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and the sheer neglect of girls have made for a growing gender gap. Too many young men simmer with aspirations and desires that are simply not likely to be realized.  

Erika Christakis elaborates on the link between sex-selection and violence:

Growing evidence suggests that in countries like India and China, where the ratio of men to women is unnaturally high due to the selective abortion of female fetuses and neglect of girl children, the rates of violence towards women increase. "The sex ratio imbalance directly leads to more sex trafficking and bride buying," says Mara Hvistendahl, author of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. A scarce resource is generally considered precious, but the lack of women also leaves many young men without marriage partners. In 2011, the number of cases of women raped rose by 9.2 percent; kidnapping and abductions of women were up 19.4 percent. "At this point, we’re talking correlation, not causation. More studies need to be done….[But] it is clear from historical cases and from studies looking at testosterone levels that a large proportion of unmarried men in the population is not a good thing," says Hvistendahl.

Update from a reader, who caught an error in the post that we immediately fixed:

The 23-year-old victim did not commit suicide. She died from her injuries, which included brain damage, heart failure, internal organ failure (including her disembowelment at the hands of the attackers), and subsequent gangrene and sepsis. It took her the better part of two weeks to die after surviving multiple surgeries, getting on her feet once, and being transferred to a hospital in Singapore where doctors thought she had a better chance. As a result of her death, the six accused men are now being charged with murder in addition to rape and kidnapping. 

You were perhaps thinking of the 17-year-old gang rape victim who did commit suicide after being pressed to drop charges and marry one of her attackers. Her suicide took place while the world waiting to see if the 23-year-old medical student could beat the odds and recover. 

One of the more interesting and horrifying aspects of the case has been the employment of euphemism to cover it. I have noticed that most articles discuss the victim "having internal injuries" or "having some of her intestines removed", but most seem to suggest that these injuries resulted from her being beaten with an iron rod. Some may, but one or two stark reports have given the full truth, which is that after being penetrated by six attackers (a horror I cannot imagine), one or more inserted an iron rod into the woman and partially disemboweled her. I can't help but think that had such treatment occurred as part of a military operation, we'd be getting the graphic details in every report. 

My point here is that as horrific as the crime was, I don't think the reporting on it has been up to the task. If we can't bring ourselves to fully discuss the violence and torture that sometimes accompanies rape – if we can't discuss what such an invasion is capable of inflicting in terms of pain and injury – how can we possibly stop it?

(Photo: Indian students of various organisations hold placards as they shout slogans during a demonstration in Hyderabad on January 3, 2013. A gang of men accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in a deadly crime that repulsed the nation are to appear in court for the first time. Police are to formally charge five suspects with rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died at the weekend from the horrific injuries inflicted on her during an ordeal that has galvanised disgust over rising sex crimes in India. By Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)