This story is part of World Pulse’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women. These testimonies, along with hundreds of others, were delivered to the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
INDIA: War Against Rape
Following the now infamous New Delhi gang rape, Stella Paul is simultaneously horrified and encouraged by her community's reaction.
It has been more than a month since the December 16th gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi. Since then well over a million people—men and women, young and old—have taken to the streets to condemn the rape and demand justice.
They have marched in silence, holding placards with messages like “Death to the Rapists,” “Save Our Women,” and “End Rape Now.” The protests have taken place in almost every city: Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, and Kolkata. Even small towns like Lucknow, Ahmedabad, and Pune have been a part of the action. In my own city of Hyderabad in the south of India, women have for the very first time taken part in a midnight march to claim their rights to be out on the street at any time. In Bangalore, men marched on the streets wearing skirts—their way of showing that a woman’s choice of clothing does not cause a man to rape.
Every day, I see photos of protest marches on my Facebook feed, and Twitter-users have generated well over a millions tweets with hashtags like “delhigangrape” and “braveheart”—the name the media gave to the anonymous rape victim.
As yet another Indian woman who has experienced molestation and sexual harassment early in her life, I have found these developments both sad and electrifying. Sad because a woman was tortured and murdered, but also sad because this was probably the 5,000th time I heard of a woman in India being raped. Statistics from the National Crime Record Bureau of India show that since 1953 there has been an 873% rise of rape cases in India. In 2012 alone, we have seen horrific rape cases involving four-year-old baby girls and eighty-year-old women. But never, ever have I seen a group of even 100 people come together to protest these acts.
Nor have I ever seen citizens from all walks of life voice their opinions on issues related to women, especially issues related to women’s safety or dignity. For that matter, I have never seen Indian media dedicate hours of airtime to cover anti-rape rallies or broadcast interviews of people who advocate against gender-based violence. Rape or sexual harassment has always been seen by Indian media as a ‘soft’ issue, and the only times the media has highlighted a rape or molestation is when the accused is a high-profile politician or celebrity.
As I watch television and read newspapers where most of the headlines are about violence and women in India, I feel as though I am watching a billion people wake from a deep slumber. It’s as though a silent, voiceless India has suddenly found its voice. We are doing what we should have done long ago: speaking out against the atrocities women face every day.
And yet—I strongly believe that something is missing from the conversation. It is the courage and willingness to own responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in. A hundred reasons for rape and sexual violence have been pointed out, but we have yet to hear someone come out and say the words that could set the ball of change rolling: “We take responsibility for this mess.”
The unwillingness to own responsibility begins right at the top. Every time a rape or a case of sexual violence against women has come into the open, law makers, politicians, and even religious leaders have held women responsible, blaming them for everything from ‘provoking men to rape’ to ‘failing to beg for mercy.’
Here’s an example: Right after the Delhi gang rape happened, Neeraj Kumar, the Commissioner of Police in New Delhi, gave an interview to a local TV channel where he blamed society at large for the increasing number of rapes. According to the Police Commissioner, over 70% of rapes in India happen at home and therefore, it is wrong for citizens to blame the police.
Coming from the head of the police department of a city that is often called the ‘Rape Capital of India,’ this statement is not only audacious, but also extremely irresponsible. It reflects a man’s unwillingness to accept his own failure to do his job, which is to provide basic security to women.
Even Abhijeet Mukherjee, a parliamentarian and the son of the President of India, went on record mocking all the women who protested the gang rape, calling them ‘painted and dented ladies.’ Though he later withdrew his statement following a public outrage, Congress (I), the political party that he represents, maintained a stoic silence on the issue, not bothering to comment, let alone criticize the MP. The party also kept quiet when another one of its senior party leaders in Hyderabad said that women must not be out on the street after midnight if they want to be safe.
If India wants to win the war against sexual violence, it will be imperative for those in the power to stop making statements that are irresponsible and derogatory. But for that to happen, it is important that political parties take responsibility when one of their members—irrespective of rank—dishonors women. They must take punitive action against him. . . .