ELORA HALIM CHOWDHURY [email]
Author of “Transnationalism Reversed: Women Organizing against Gendered Violence in Bangladesh,” Chowdhury is associate professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
She said today: “The streets of India and various media outlets around the world have been ablaze the last three weeks with protests and stories about the brutal gang-rape on a moving bus in New Delhi of a 23-year-old medical student. The woman died of injuries from the attack on Dec. 29. Six men were charged with the crimes just yesterday. Some reports in the western media have been pointing fingers at Indian culture, values and attitudes and its animalistic male population. That violence against women is a global phenomenon — including in the West — of epic proportions is obscured in these reports.
“The statistic that a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours should be seen in context. As the Guardian notes, that equates to 625 a year. Yet in England and Wales, which has a population about 3.5 times that of Delhi, we find a figure for recorded rapes of women that is proportionately four times larger: 9,509. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal decries the fact that in India just over a quarter of alleged rapists are convicted; in the U.S. only 24 percent of alleged rapes even result in an arrest, never mind a conviction. Reports in the Indian media have hinted at the depravity of the young men who committed this horrific crime pointing to their squalid living conditions in the Ravi Das slum colony, their lack of education, and poverty as breeders of criminality. While a link can be made between poverty, lack of education and repressive attitudes towards women, violence against women is by no means limited to poor communities. Gender based violence is pervasive, systematic and routine and it cuts across class, caste, religion and nation. At the same time, the National Crime Records Bureau statistics suggest that the number of reported cases of rape in Delhi in the last year exceeded the combined number of reported rapes in major cities of India. Rapid industrialization, urbanization and movements of capital, people and ideas contribute to shifting norms of gender dynamics. Women seen as repositories of culture and tradition often pay the price.
“Questions have been posed in many progressive circles about the mass protests in Delhi and elsewhere in India where thousands of people have taken to the streets crying for justice and changes to archaic laws. Cynical responses to these protests have pointed to the sheer ordinariness of sexual violence in India – against dalits, adivasis, and in ‘conflict’ areas such as Kashmir, the Northeast, and in Chattisgarh. Those cases do not nearly elicit such large-scale moral outrage. Often these are state-sanctioned violence against marginalized communities and rape is deployed with impunity as a weapon of domination. In one particular case the police officer who ordered torture and sexual assault of a tribal woman was later decorated with a national gallantry award, whereas the victim remains in prison. Police officers and politicians routinely make comments that normalize violence against women and blame the victims for their ‘rash and reckless’ behavior. Laws are more concerned with regulating women’s sexuality than protecting their bodily integrity and enabling gender parity.
“Protestors are demanding speedy trials and justice for the young woman’s family [and some are calling for] the death penalty and chemical castration for the accused. While various women’s groups have spoken out against capital punishment pointing to how that does not result in decreased crimes anywhere, and that enacting the death penalty might result in perpetrators killing off the victims as a means to destroy evidence, it is equally important to talk about access and implementation of laws such that it is neither applied nor benefits [anyone] selectively. One can only hope that such large-scale and unprecedented protests lead to greater awareness and meaningful change in society.”