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India: United In Grief & Anger - Will This Be A Catalyst For Change?

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Logging onto my Facebook news feed yesterday I was confronted with a photograph of a young Indian girl holding up a banner, amongst thousands of protesters, with the powerful statement scrawled with red pen, "You raped her because her clothes provoked you? I should break your face because your stupidity provokes me". The anger and outrage in the message is clear and simple, reflecting just a snippet of how the media and people are responding to the atrocity committed on the anonymous 23 year old woman.

Why should a woman be blamed and 'punished' due to the way she dresses? Are these men saying that they lack any form of self control? Surely this speaks volumes about those men if they cannot resist their sexual urges - that is a simply ludicrous and pathetic excuse for committing such an offence towards a woman. Take some responsibility, for Christ's sake.

The sheer horror and terror she was subjected to is unimaginable. Due to the mindless and senseless attitudes of these men, an innocent woman on the way back from the cinema with her friend has had her life snatched away in the most horrendous manner. I imagine, like myself, people around the world have been stunned by what this woman endured because she was, quite simply, a woman. Will the worldwide outrage that this has attracted, be the catalyst to provoke those in power, who would no doubt consist of mainly men, to finally instigate change?

Change is not a simple process. Time and dedication is vital to alter people's perceptions of one another. Cultural attitudes towards women must be diminished and replaced with one of respect and equality. Those in power have to address the cultural landscape and make this a society where women and girls are not in fear. Women are not 2nd class citizens but make up half of the world and should be treated as equals. By disrespecting women mothers, grandmothers, and daughters will continue to be mistreated in a society that without them would cease to exist. We are all human, separated only by gender. Each person should be treated equally, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or race. It seems like common sense to me, and I feel so frustrated that something so simple is continuously overlooked. What is worrying is that this is not limited to India but is a worldwide issue.

Is religion part of the problem? No sex before marriage? The strict rules to live by or is it a combination of religion and social problems and the general cultural fabric? Could education be the answer? Perhaps, but should people not be able to sense what is right and wrong without being educated? Power also plays a role here: power over other people, patriarchy in society, countries demanding power over another. Power dominates our world and is something that humans seem obsessed with. Perhaps it is easy for me to criticise another culture, a country that I have never visited while I sit in my cosy lounge in the Cotswolds...

Mind you, we in the UK are not in a fantastic position to preach. A measly amount of rape cases are taken to court where the rapists are actually convicted. Women are still seen as partly to blame due to the way they were dressed or if they were drunk at the time. The common thoughts being, "Well what do you expect if you go out wearing that and get drunk?!". Hopefully those in power around the world will take note and analyse their own legislation's and cultural landscape when it comes to rape and who should be blamed. It is quite obvious to me, if someone says 'no' or is in no fit state to comprehend what is going on then it is 'NO' - not a green light to rape someone for sexual gratification. How a woman can be blamed for being raped is alarming and something I will never understand.

Reading about this attack reminded me of watching a recent Unreported World documentary; 'Egypt: Sex, Mobs and Revolution', reported by Ramita Navai. Navai uncovered the shocking revelation that since the revolution and under the Mubarak regime, paid mobs have carried out horrific attacks on women so that they intimidate them to avoid taking part in demonstrations. Navi revealed that "more than 80% of women surveyed said they'd been sexually harassed" Yet, when any women have reported their attacks to the police, they are ignored or in some cases told it was their fault for what they were wearing. One woman that was interviewed spoke of an attack and rape she endured by "dozens of men", suffering internal injuries that left her unable to walk for a week! - Doesn't that sound familiar?

Well, it shouldn't be familiar. If the Indian government refuses to take steps to change legislation and change the cultural mindset in terms of attitudes to women then this woman will have died in vain. That young girl and thousands like her, holding that banner in that Facebook photograph could one day face similar atrocities. Indian women, young and old, are finally finding their voice and being united in demanding that attitudes towards them change. If this opportunity for change is ignored or not taken seriously, I despair at what may happen in the future.