After the brutal gang-rape of an Indian female student in Delhi, marking the 637th recorded case this year, India has been forced to confront the darkest elements of it's cultural history. Though little information that has been released, women across the subcontinent have organised in protest against an inherently misogynistic culture that has seemingly legitimised such actions, at the expense of their dignity. As more women have spoken out of their own experiences in the past few days, many of the protesters have encouraged the end of a passive culture of acceptance, in which females are systemically degraded and reduced as human beings.
Such horrific events might be viewed as uncharacteristic, particularly in a modernising metropolis, notorious for eulogising notions of love. Indeed, India's long-concealed history of gang-rape and molestation provides no better a juxtaposition to the bastions of romance exhibited by the Taj Mahal or the booming Bollywood industry. Yet, behind these romantic fantasies, exists over a century of culturally-induced sexual repression, affecting the most vulnerable in Indian society. Indeed, as the writer Arundhati Roy has noted, India's toxic rape culture does not simply expose the crudest forms of sexism, but, in turn, also reveals the cynical corruption of the apathetic political class.
Accusations of an institutionalised 'rape culture' is not novel. One only has to look at the unreformed 1860 penal code that views rape as an 'outraging' of a woman's modesty, an association that immediately affiliates the female body merely as a constituent within a masculine-dominated cultural system. Additionally, the law professor Upendra Baxi noted in 2002, that the legal and political systems of India limited the abilities of females to report sexual violence, and in turn reflected a political system in which collective sexual assaults on women could go unpunished. Baxi also highlighted that police authorities often neglected, if not participated in, the phenomenon of 'eve-teasing' - a crude form of sexual molestation that has more than quadrupled over the past decade. Indeed, despite the rapid economic prosperity India has enjoyed since it's independence, little has been achieved to in terms of effective protections for females.
Prime Minister Singh must realise that attempts to codify greater legal protections will benefit only a minority of women, most of whom are concentrated in affluent, urban environments with means to afford security. Despite the basic protections in place, there have been countless occasions where police officers have been accused of actively endorsing such activities.
Officers in New Delhi alone have stated on record, that "male agression is a natural instinct of sexual attraction" and possibly more mortifying, that young girls who share telephone numbers and dances with young boys, indicate legitimate consent. If law enforcement cannot understand the distinction between rape and consensual sex, or even empathise with the vulnerability of young females, then even the most intricate of legal systems will have little effect on rapists and molesters.
What must be realised, is that India should be proactive in challenging certain elements of traditional culture, if it truly wishes to succeed in securing the rights and liberties of its females. One of the most powerful messages held by a young protester this week read: "We live in a society that teaches women not to get raped, instead of teaching men not to rape". Simple as it may be, this statement truly reaches at the crux of this problem.
For the true injustice lies in how women are still recieved in Indian society. Despite phenomenal acheivements in education, professional and public life, women still find themselves devalued within archaic, patriarchal communities where family units unconditionally adore their sons.
Certainly, the denigration of females is often articulated in terms of sexuality, whereby the functions of females are seen merely in bearing and raising children. Further, the lack of sex education in public schools, combined with the staples of brutish masculinity and the fragile damsel within Bollywood cinema, are fundamental in defining gender relationships between males and females. Indeed, such misappropriated fantasies contribute significantly to both the devaluation of sexual relations, as well as fueling an insidious culture of victim-blame.
In justifying their actions, the rapists argued that it was necessary to punish the victim for deviating against societal expectations. In taking lessons from this, Indian autorities should realise that rape is a culturally imbedded problem. To truly defeat it, they must first work to reform the cultural dynamics of society itself.