From Delhi a message against violence against women in India

Women in rural India

Women in rural India

Last Sunday, a 23-year-old paramedic student was brutally assaulted and raped by a pack of cavemen on a running bus in Delhi. The girl is currently hospitalized, needs to undergo surgery for intestinal transplant and, thankfully, she’s now breathing on her own without the need of a ventilator. Yet another horrible example of violence against women in India.

This type of events are not just sad, they are horrendous, they make you wonder what on earth has mankind been doing for the last couple of thousand years if in 2012 we are still witnessing such abhorrent behaviors.

While this has been a case of violence against women in India, this is a worldwide issue that needs to be addressed properly everywhere.

Yesterday I was asked by a longtime reader, Srini, to write a post about my impressions on what happened in Delhi, possibly using as a criteria for comparison the western world I come from. At first I hesitated, as I felt I didn’t know Indian society enough to be able to say something that wouldn’t sound like a bunch of platitudes, but as Srini insisted and this is a topic I’ve already researched in the past and written about, I decided I could devote a post to it.

While Srini asked me to give my opinion as a “western” woman, I prefer to make it clear that as a “westerner” I have really nothing to teach anybody, least of all Indians, who boast an ancient culture and have had plenty of time to get where they are, but I can only express my opinion as a “woman”, independently from which nationality, and I have the firm belief that all women in the world are likely to share this opinion, and that men should, too.

This gang rape has been blamed on a feudal backward mentality still very much present all over India according to which women should be relegated to house chores and are not fit to have other “modern” jobs. As this is already enough to consider these people affected by a serious case of low self-esteem, there’s probably more to it. The violence and brutality they have used against the victim, who almost died, and her friend, is probably a sign that the pack would have acted against someone else should they have not found the two students. What’s unbelievable is that, as far as I understood, everything happened on a moving bus, apparently privately hired, and this goes beyond my understanding ability. Hasn’t the bus driver seen anything? Why did he not stop the bus?

Speaking to some Indian friends, Delhi is becoming increasingly (in)famous in regard to violence against women in India, and although I’ve never felt uncomfortable anywhere in India, I can understand where their worry comes from. In the end, even one of these events is one too many.

Sadly, these horror stories don’t happen only in India. As a matter of fact, it’s not uncommon news in Italy that a woman has been raped or killed even by her husband/boyfriend, domestic violence being one of the most underestimated crimes by the authorities and security forces. Not long ago in Sicily a young woman was murdered by her sister’s ex-boyfriend, who was stalking her, on her very doorstep, and this is not a sporadic accident. All over the world women face harassment, stalking, rape and violence of all kinds. For many reasons, the main one probably being absence of appropriate laws and lawmakers’ weak will.

What I’m led to think, no matter what country is involved, is that men’s primordial instinct of considering themselves somehow superior, stronger, more “entitled” to have a job that doesn’t involve cooking or cleaning, also leads them to justify violence against women seen as objects. In the wake of the horrendous facts in Delhi, as it usually happens in these cases, everything gets blamed, modern vs. traditional clothes, modern vs. traditional jobs, Hollywood, Bollywood and anything that can fit in. Hearing explanations like “she was scantily dressed” or “she looked like she wanted to” after a rape is no less than revolting, as there is no excuse, no possible justification for this kind of crimes and for not understanding what “no” means.

This being said, I also find offensive how women are represented in much Western and non-Western media, be it tv shows, movies, music videos, concerts. The fact that men should not get mistaken into violence, doesn’t mean that going naked on tv and being humiliated by being treated as an object is right, nor that it represents all women. Without mentioning any country I’m not enough familiar with, I’ll just refer to a reality I know well, Italy. Italian TV is sadly famous for constantly misrepresenting women’s image, giving a fake and offensive idea of modern women as objects to be used exclusively for their appearance, someone who can only have a career using her seduction tools. This, unfortunately, happens in much western TV and cinema, and it’s probably why when we go to more conservative or different societies we are seen and judged with these parameters and compared with singers, actresses, characters who clearly do not represent anybody and certainly are not the symbol of women’s emancipation.

Many Indians I’ve talked to have repeatedly told me how fed up they are about the backward feudal mentality still present in rural communities. Moreover, in India too, distorted tv and movie portrayals are not helpful. Probably in India the issue goes beyond a Bollywood movie, being local society very much tied to its most ancestral habits and lifestyles.

What I’ve witnessed from Indian media reports since last Sunday has been a massive street protest going on in Delhi and other parts of the country, like Haryana, with people showing their anger against government’s inability in facing such a serious problem like violence against women in India. With the tags #DelhiRape and #DelhiGangRape protests are raging on Twitter too. “How is it that people are arrested for tweets and posts instantly but not for rape? Do they run rape kits? Priorities are askew!” says Bharathi Kannamma; “Dear Rahul Gandhi, Nation watching you.You are supposed to be the young and future Leader of India. If you can’t speak for the people, leave politics now” says Indian journalist Narendra Nath; “It’s time self defense and martial arts be made compulsory as physical education in schools for girls” tweets Indian expat Nitisha Kashyap; “The government is like Gandhiji’s 3 monkeys: it sees nothing; it hears nothing; and it says nothing” adds Indian journalist Seema Goswami. These are only some of the tweets from India, showing a society clamoring for a change. “When they see modern women” told me Srini complaining about the feudal mindset and widespread violence against women in India, “they think they are toys. Indian society is feudal and the films where a hero is worshipped project women as entertainment objects,” he went, careless of my efforts to cling to the beautiful memories I have from my trips to India.

Without falling in the commonplace that movies should not be taken as an excuse for deviant behaviors, I myself find disturbing that women are constantly judged for their physical appearance, implicitely asked to never look old, and that public TV encourages such attitude and somehow a lack of respect, instilling even in women’s minds that we should act in a way to please men adopting parameters we haven’t chosen. So, paraphrasing Italian filmmaker Lorella Zanardo, author of the very outspoken documentary “Il Corpo delle Donne” (Women’s Body), I also wonder, why aren’t Italian women taking it to the streets to protest against the defamatory image TV gives about us? Why are we not complaining? Is this not a kind of psychological violence with the only result of lowering women’s status in the society and possible outcome of evolving into physical assault?

Probably the causes of violence against women in India and everywhere else are to be found in all these elements together, or probably in none of them, maybe it’s just a dangerous mentality widespread in most countries. Whatever the reason is, governments and people, men and women, need to approach this matter effectively, if needed, by changing a country’s mentality, by appropriate school teaching, by making everybody understand that this discriminating mindset is not only illegal, but no longer tolerated by anybody.

  1. Thanks for writing on this issue!

  2. Excellent article pour raconter hélas des faits horribles, indignes de l’être humain!Tu as été très impartiale!

  3. Quando vieni a sapere di fatti del genere provi vergogna di far parte del consorzio umano!

  4. Nothing else to say is there? So well written and you’ve addressed all the issues. Nothing to do with being ‘western.’ Violence is violence. I hadn’t heard about this story from Delhi. Just awful – and sadly, there are stories from all over the world to go with it! As you said, hope there is a common education soon that changes people’s mindset.

  5. Well written! Looks women all over the world facing similar issues. Hope these blogs cross nations and help in building a solidarity for understanding women issues and how to address them.

    Angela, Keep up the good work!


  6. Great article! You are spot on here with these points. Having just returned from India, I am also strongly of the belief that sexism is not something tied to the Eastern world, but something which lurks in the Western world too.

    I watched that Italian video you mentioned on women’s bodies, and can’t help but feel so angry at the way the entire world – definitely not just Bollywood – has degraded the image of women. This India thing has been in the media so much because words like ‘gang rape’ are good for selling newspapers, but this is hardly an isolated case, and this is certainly not the first time that women have spoken out. If we brush the issue off as being a social problem in India, then we are ignoring the fact that women are being violently abused the world over, both literally and metaphorically.

  7. Another stellar example of why you are one of my very favorite writers!

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