Delhi gangrape and Women’s Issues

Reconstituting Home: An OCI’s re-appropriation of his Indian identity

buddhavarapus

Sharat Buddhavarapu | January 8, 2013



In the two weeks leading up to my arrival in India, I followed the story of the high-profile gang rape in Delhi with horror. The sketch of the crime left little doubt about the excessive violence involved in it. However, in the days after the initial reports my greater interest has been in the silence of the media on the victim’s identity and the tenor of the public protests. The government’s justification that this silence was necessary to protect the victim and the media’s easy acceptance of that justification surprised me. This compliance suggests to me that the attitude is that the blame for the rape still lies with the woman, an attitude that I would have hoped India had shed by now. Still, I cannot accuse India of being much more backwards than the United States of America in this case.

During 2012, women in the US saw attacks on many important fronts: from Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s attempt to cut off their grants to Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides sexual and reproductive health care for women, to the Republican Party’s multiple gaffs in the lead-up to the presidential elections in November, through which they showed how out of touch they were with the women of the nation. The fact that it was an election year in the US and the media’s quick and competent response to the ignorance led to Barack Obama’s victory, largely due to high voter turnout among women. Thus, the anger that women and supporters of women’s rights felt found expression through traditionally acceptable means: they were empowered in this particular year to influence elections and the elections in turn sublimated a great deal of the public anger.

In India, however, lacking media support and facing an outmoded government, the populace has turned to protesting in the streets. As Ashis Nandy, a leading commentator, said in his interview with Governance Now, the protests put on display the ugly side of “modern urban semi-educated India,” who came out with slogans calling for torturing the rapists in addition to hanging them. This high-profile case has confused two issues: justice and public safety. The protesters who flock to the streets with such signs are not searching for justice to the victim, no matter how vehemently they claim this purpose.

Justice, if it is to be carried out according to the rule of law, cannot bend to the whims of individual cases. The protesters are raising hell in response not to this isolated incidence but to the larger trend of violence which has Delhi billed as the “rape capital of India.”

Thus to me, the correct response of the media would have been to report the woman’s name. The government, in turn, should have committed to an internal gut check to evaluate its fight against sexual crimes perpetrated against women. It also should not have attacked the media for doing its job. Moving from that point to create policy in a transparent manner over the next several months and openly reporting the results of these policies over the next several years, the government might begin to address the reasons for the protesters’ anger. Might.

My impression of the whole saga leads me to conclude that the Indian government is sadly out of touch with its people, and it has a long road ahead of it to prove its relevancy. From their point of view failure is not an option: “failure” being the normalization of the protests seen in Delhi these few weeks, which are themselves resonant with instances of public unrest around the world such as the Arab Spring. If these issues remain unaddressed and civil unrest ensues, the public will have been in the right to revolt against government.

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