On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old woman was brutally raped and assaulted. She died shortly after. While she battled for her life, India thronged to the streets in protest, demanding security sector reform, the drafting of new laws and their implementation, and death for the offenders. Seven years and counting, nothing seems different. A veterinary doctor was brutally raped and burnt in Hyderabad last week. December is just as cold. The pain and wounds are just as raw.
The anger is definitely raging. It is not unfounded, definitely. But what the masses and policy-makers have failed to understand are the deeper cultural and institutional problems, allowing such crimes to happen.
Trigger warning: chronicles of sexual violence
The India I know and have grown up was peppered with instances of sexual and gender-based violence. In 1973, a nurse was sexually assaulted so brutally that she lies in a coma, in a hospital, even today. In 1990, a security guard raped and murdered a girl in the flat he ‘guarded’, and was hanged 14 years later. In 1992, a woman was brutally raped because she tried to prevent the marriage of a child. In the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002, rods were inserted into women and their breasts were bitten off. Families have aborted foetuses just because they were girls – only the male child was preferred, as a girl was seen as a burden – both, in terms of tradition (it is believed by many that only a male child can carry the family name forward) and in terms of the economic burden (when girls are married off, in some customs families are forced to pay heavily in the name of dowry). When sex-selective abortions were banned to stop foeticide, they resorted to infanticide. Street children would rummage through rubbish-bins and find these corpses and mistake them for dolls. Many Indian women live at the mercy of the men in their house, where domestic violence thrive unnoticed. In 2007, a house in suburban Delhi was discovered storing many skeletons. They were the remains of several children who were lured, sexually abused and then killed. India has remained a thriving hotbed of gender-violence, propped by the perception of women as sex-objects – an extension of which has been the recent incident in Delhi.
Please bear in mind that these are only a few of many, many, many incidents against women. There are so many more incidents that have affected trans men, trans women, and non-binary transgender people in India, too.
India has an unnecessary affection for the patriarchy. Whether in its mythological stories or in its daily living, patriarchy is enforced and reinforced by both men and women. The cultural salience surrounding a woman’s honour in India is largely the reason for dominance. Male dominance stems from the notions surrounding the protection of female honour, which is inherent in so many aspects of traditional Indian culture. Women are deemed representatives of the code of honour of their families, their blood and lineage. This in turn leads to the augmented sanctity attached to the virginity, chastity, honour and “virtue” of a woman. Women themselves are brought up with the preconditioning that preserving their “honour” is non-negotiable for their and their family’s acceptance in society. A woman represents the honour of the three-tiered hierarchy that commands her life: her husband, her family, and the community she represents. A sense of zealous self-righteousness prevails among some Indian men. They dominate, violently, in the name of making a woman “understand the importance of her honour”. If a woman continues to display her vulnerability, she is welcome, she is acceptable. The moment she asserts herself, throws an open challenge to the ‘accepted stereotypes’, she sends a subliminal slap to the ego of the male.
India’s rape crisis is not a problem of law and order inasmuch as it is a problem of mindsets. We raise our girls and women to believe that they must perform safety techniques, that they must do all they can to keep their bodies from being violated. We socialize our communities into anomalizing any gender identity that does not fall within the binary. We consume ourselves with shame if the bodies of the women in our family do not act within the prescribed code of “honour.” If men perform anything short of stoic, rough, and violent masculinity, they are deemed inadequate. Anyone who falls outside these prescribed, watertight compartments is marginalized, violenced, and hated. India needs to understand that gender equality is not a bad thing, but that patriarchy is.
We know this. We do. I just don’t know what to say, anymore. I stand with her, I do. But I don't know what to say anymore.