Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Indian students protest against the gang rape of a young woman at a demonstration in Jammu.
Indian students protest against the gang rape of a young woman at a demonstration in Jammu.

Rape outcry shines light on India's 'misogyny'

Misogyny remains widespread in India where sex assaults are often dismissed as 'teasing' and victims find themselves blamed for attacks, observers say.

NEW DELHI // Despite an outpouring of anger at a student's gang-rape, observers say misogyny remains widespread in India where sex assaults are often dismissed as "teasing" and victims find themselves blamed for attacks.

The Sunday night assault on a bus in New Delhi, which left the 23-year-old victim fighting for her life, has triggered nationwide revulsion and protests.

But campaigners say India has been slow and complacent in its response to what they call a rising tide of sexual violence against women.

Official figures show rape cases alone more than doubled between 1990 and 2008, though part of the rise could be attributed to better reporting.

"Our streets reflect an extreme misogyny," Brinda Karat, a Communist Party lawmaker, said.

"Women are objectified, harassed or sexually assaulted all the time, but no one does anything about it.

"Why should it take such a horrendous crime to wake us up to the fact that crimes against women keep increasing while conviction rates remain very low?"

National crime records show that 228,650 of the total 256,329 violent crimes recorded last year targeted women, with conviction rates for rape cases at 26 percent.

Campaigners say such figures are a direct consequence of a failure to tackle a culture in which sexual harassment is often dismissed as little more than a joke.

For example activists say "eve-teasing", a phrase widely used to describe harassment ranging from obscene comments to molestation, obscures the depth of the problem and creates an impression that victims are only being "teased".

There have long been complaints that police in India are dismissive of sexual harassment as a serious crime and campaigners have steadily attacked authorities for their lax and often insensitive response to victimised women.

An account published in the national newsmagazine Tehelka this month by a rape survivor illustrated the routine treatment of victims of sex crimes.

In it, a 23-year-old student at Delhi University recollected her ordeal, from the violent rape and beating to a brutal medical examination at a government hospital to a courtroom trial where she was questioned several times about the fit of her jeans and her "provocative" underwear.

Although Indian law requires that any rape victim be shielded from public view during a trial, no such screen was provided during her initial court appearances.

Her family received anonymous threatening phone calls every time she turned up in court. Last week, three years after the attack, her alleged rapist was cleared.

"Rape is a crime unlike any other. You have to live with your violated body, you have to live with the memory of what was done to you, and you have to live with the fact of your own helplessness," she wrote.

In response to widespread fear among women of sexual harassment, trains in Mumbai and Delhi run segregated women-only coaches.

India's top court directed all state governments last month to put female police officers in all public spaces including markets, parks, beaches and public transport.

A traditionally conservative country, India's rapid economic growth has thrown open new job opportunities for women and increased their financial independence.

But activists say that many men see the trend as representing a threat to male dominance.

"Today we are seeing a real battle between a violent patriarchal mindset and a surge of empowered women who are very visible in urban India," Hindol Sengupta, co-founder of Delhi-based non-profit Whypoll, said.

"Female empowerment is totally unsettling to many men in this country, it has shaken up their sense of entitlement and their response is violent and volatile."

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world, April 15

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National