In a poll of 370 gender experts on how well women fared in G20 countries (g20women.trust.org.), India was ranked the worst country in which to be a woman while Canada was the best. Saudi Arabia ranked second worst. – The Hindu, Ratna Kapur, Opinion
I am an only child. An only girl child. My parents were extremely proud to have had me 25 years back, for whatever reason, only known to them. They also never made a secret of not wanting another child.
There’s something special about being an only girl child. Apart from perks that the Indian government doles out that is. It trains you mentally and physically to be independent. Chores like shifting furniture, or fixing broken electronics, that guys are forced to do, were my fun hobbies.
Besides, being born to parents who truly believe in gender equality has its own benefits. My mom never bothered to teach me how to cook, because I really wasn’t a wife in training. My dad let me in on financial decisions, and both my parents pushed me into intellectual discussions, treating me as an equal, even in ecclectic circles.
Basically, I grew up to be an opinionated, extremely independent, self-sufficient eccentric, very very far from what is expected of an ideal Indian wife, girlfriend or doormat, whichever you prefer.
Everything was alright while I still lived in New Delhi, the capital of crime against women in India (if not a larger population of the world). I had given up trying to reason with girls of my age explaining the need for a liberal outlook, the need to question traditions. These discussions, I realized, very quickly deteriorated into personal attacks, that ended with a questioning of their family values, and nobody, not even the most abused are comfortable with washing dirty laundry in public.
I was used to dressing conservative, and suppressing outrage at cases like Soumya Vishwanathan’s murder for fear of being judged. I mean where did I get off yelling about a murder where the very female Chief Minister of Delhi said “One should not be adventurous” according to an Indian Express report, Oct. 2, 2008. Right?
The status quo was a very comfortable zone.
Then I moved half way across the world to Dallas, Texas. Smack in the middle of conservative United States. That’s when my head turned topsy turvy.
Here, if you walked buck naked on the streets, nobody would bat an eyelid, unless if you had a delectable body, which would obviously turn any red blooded male on. But then, just because you woke up one morning and decided not to wear any clothes, men wouldn’t assume they had the right to assault you sexually.
That’s not to say this country does not have sex offenders. It has more than its share of rapes, assaults and molestations. But there’s a fundamental difference.
It’s the mindset.
When a woman gets raped in United States, many of them do get judged. But the law protects them. The law in this nation sees it fit to allow the patient to overcome the trauma of the assault and puts them through therapy and rehab. The law enforcement officers don’t treat the victims like dirt. And all of this applies even to a professional hooker.
And you can turn to the police if you’re in trouble without having to hear how you should have dressed in coveralls, which is more than I can say about law enforcement officers back home.
If a woman gets raped in India, people try real hard to first find fault with the victim — her clothes, which lead to inferences on her character, or her sex life, or the assumption that if she sees fit to live in with her partner, she may as well as invite every man into her bed.
Look at the Pallavi Purkayastha murder on Aug. 9, 2012, for instance. A lawyer by profession, Purkayastha lived in with her partner. The fact that she wore clothes that she felt comfortable wearing, put together with the fact that she hadn’t married her partner yet, made the watchman assume he and any other man could have sex with her, irrespective of her consent.
He wanted to “only” rape her, but when she resisted, he just decided to murder her instead.
News channels kept going over the gruesome details of the murder, activists kept harping about the inadequate presence of sex, understanding of sex in Indian society, and random grandmothers, aunts, even women in their twenties — working or not — kept gossiping about how “she lived-in with her partner” and “wore revealing clothes” and maybe that “sends out the wrong signal to men.”
Wait, did I say random women? The Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Mamta Sharma, wasn’t an exception either, when she was quoted in an interview saying: “After 64 years of freedom, it is not right to give blanket directions… and say don’t wear this or don’t wear that. Be comfortable, but at the same time, be careful about how you dress…. Aping the West blindly is eroding our culture and causing such crimes to happen.”
Be careful how you dress?
Just because women have boobs that exist as opposed to men and some perverted men have negligible control on their hormones, women need to stop wearing clothes of their choice?
So every time there’s a rape, it’s the victim’s fault, because she must have done something wrong to draw a man’s attention. I’ve drooled on hunks myself before, how come I don’t jump them? It’s called self-control. Someone needs to tell our guys that.
Meanwhile, here are some comments from some very educated men studying in the United States on the issue of rape on my Facebook wall in response to a photograph I shared:
India is not a sexually inhibited society as a whole, only towards women. We don’t like to condition our men. Many mothers will have “that conversation” with their daughters on the brink of puberty, about how you don’t fall into bed with a guy because you can get pregnant and will have to take care of the child all alone, but how many Indian fathers have that conversation with their sons about how you
a. don’t fuck around with a woman if she says no
b. take responsibility for a woman if you screwed her over?
Why is it alright for a guy to brag about the ladies he’s slept with, but not okay for a woman to not be a virgin on her wedding night? Why do we still have post-marriage rituals with white sheets on wedding nights so you can detect evidence of the bride’s virginity?
Meanwhile, let’s get back to what rape victims go through in India on an average.
The first problem is reporting rape. According to an India Today report from June 2009, 90 percent of rape cases in India are estimated to be unreported, while the numer of sexual assault cases are growing at a rate of 7 percent a year. According to United Nations’ rape statistics 1.8 million women reported rape in 2010. That implies 16.2 million women did not report rape in India.
Rehab of victims is the second major challenge. Do we incentivize our women to report a rape? Absolutely not. A rape victim in India will never be able to get married and lead a normal life, there is no trauma counseling, no support from families. Victims are afraid to show up in court, and defense attorneys can be offensive and bordering on insensitive in courts, asking victims to bare their bodies to show evidence of rape as claimed, information that may easily be obtained from a medical examiner’s report. Cases of tampering with the clothing of the victim and medical reports also aren’t unheard of.
How many activists really talked about that? Not many. There is a huge fear psychosis if you’re a woman in India, because a rape is a point of no return in a woman’s life. Which is strange, because women today are more sexually active before marriage than ever before in India and a woman who had consentual sex is an acceptable bride, but a rape victim is not?
So we’ve ended up becoming worse off than Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive and must always be fully covered and Shariah is the law. Strangely, I don’t feel like questioning the verdict either. Living in two countries has made me realize the differences. The United States is a land of true freedom of expression — I can wear anything, greet strangers on the streets and enjoy privacy in my life — no one will die to know where you were last night unless you willingly volunteer that information.
In India, I lived in constant fear every time I travelled in a bus or the metro rail, I have been groped and pinched multiple times, and I have always been expected to dress down, repress myself, not talk about men’s bodies and ignore my sexuality for the best part of my life.
I can’t say that I wish to live that nightmare ever again.