Jan 7, 2013
In India, a 23-year-old woman, a physical therapy student, accompanied by her companion, was forcibly carried onto a bus by a group of six men, who raped and beat her before kicking her out. She died some days later from multiple injuries.
This attack unleashed a movement of protest, which focused on the government of India’s indifference toward violence against women. The repeated demonstrations forced the Prime Minister to publicly denounce her rape.
At the end of the 1970's, a court decision acquitting police who committed the same crime unleashed demonstrations and contributed to the development of a feminist movement in India. Recently, an internet video showing twenty men attacking a young woman launched a debate about the behavior of the journalist who filmed the scene but didn’t intervene.
Today, the president of India is a woman. In the past, Indira Ghandi was Prime Minister for sixteen years. Having women at the head of state hasn’t prevented the many attacks on women, who are extremely devalued in India.
How Indian society treats menstruating women is very telling. Girls are told by their mothers, who were in turn told by their mothers, not to cook when menstruating because they will pollute the food. Worse still, women in some areas are forced to live in a cowshed throughout their periods. In many schools, at best there are dirty latrines; at worst, there are no bathroom facilities at all for girls to change themselves. Girls are encouraged to stay home and get married and thus pass on the cultural taboo of menstruation.
Even if the constitution of India pretends that women and men are equal, and even if India doesn’t have a monopoly on prejudices against women, bearing a daughter in India is considered a dishonor. Paradoxically, in the big cities and among social groups considered more advanced, the elimination of daughters is the most developed. Thanks to the modern techniques of ultrasound and abortion, pregnant women often abort as soon as they know they are bearing a female. In rural areas, where there is no ultrasound or abortion, the killing of girl babies is common for the same reason.
As a result, out of 250,000 crimes committed annually in India, 90% are aimed at women. The result is clear: The country has a lot more men than women.
An Indian feminist, Urvashi Butalia, explained to a newspaper, “rape isn’t something that occurs in a detached manner. It’s part of the ongoing violence, well rooted in our society, which targets women on a daily basis.” She rightly concluded, “To demonstrate is important. It shakes the conscience of a society and pushes people toward change.”