Analysis: India’s Sexual Violence Problem and the Absence of Media

In 2012, there was a vicious gang rape on a bus in Delhi, India that shook the international community at it’s core.

The Delhi gang rape brought the sexual assault of women to the forefront of India’s crime problems. While there have been calls to action on social media, as well as an internationally acclaimed documentary called India’s Daughter, the national media outlets have yet to call attention to this nation-wide epidemic.

From 2012 to 2014, there were a total of 70,442 rape cases recorded by India’s National Crime Records Bureau; however, this large number does not include the full amount of attempted rapes or sexual assaults against women.

In 2013, the year following the Delhi gang rape, India responded with changes to its laws regarding crimes against females. These legal reformations broadened the definition of rape, sexual assault, and general crimes against women and officially included stalking, spying, and the disrobing of women without consent, cases that previously were not seen as crimes in the judicial court.

Even with the passing of these laws, India has seen little change in the number of rapes reported. In fact, in this year alone the Agra region, where the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort are located, has experienced 33 cases of rape against minors, the most recent of which occurred in late-August.

These statistics illustrate the dangers women face on a daily basis in India, just walking down the street from their home to a store, or in Jyoti Singh’s case, on her way home from the movies. 

In the documentary India’s Daughter, viewers are shown what happened to Singh, how her body was so ravaged by a group of six men who disemboweled her and then threw her and her male friend off the bus. Singh died from her wounds and thus became an icon of India’s debate on rape culture.

The film interviews the lawyer of the rapists who clearly describes how women are looked at in India’s society, especially in small villages and regions of the country. “We have the best culture. In our culture there is no place for women.” This statement, paired with the opening of the documentary discussing how boys were looked at more favorably than girls right from birth, sums up India’s cultural views women and their capabilities.

After years of public outcry, India’s tourism minister, Mahesh Sharma, stated last week some of the tips given to visiting women in their welcome kits when they arrive in India include “Don’t wear skirts” or “Don’t go out at night alone.” These kits include safety tips and tourism tips as well as some common phrases of the local language.

Many of these tips given to visitors by the foreign minister’s office were met with uproar within the Indian community. Many women, such as Sapna Moti Bhanvani, commented on how the Foreign minister’s tips tell women how to live their lives rather than telling men to stop their crimes against women.

Due to the social media backlash, foreign minister Mahesh Sharma tried to renege his comments, stating, “I am a father of two daughters […]. I would never tell women what they should wear or not.” However, Sharma continued to stand by the idea of women being cautionary and taking safety into their hands. This has been the rhetoric of the Indian government’s approach to rape and sexual assaults since 2012.

Much of what the government has adopted in terms of laws for crimes against women are taken from the United Kingdom’s recommendations given to travelers going to visit India. In other words, the Indian government has failed to create a set of policies regarding sexual assault that would help create a safer environment for their citizens and visitors alike, and the Foreign Minister’s comments only reinforce the idea that the burden of assault lies with the victims in India, rather than the perpetrators.

Ramesh Srivats, founder of the popular fantasy sports site, joined the twitter backlash as well. His tweet is a reflection of the general sentiment on the issue that mocks the “Don’t wear skirts” or “Don’t go out at night” rhetoric. For example, this tweet by the account “History of India” uses a picture from the movie “Satyam Shivam Sundaram,” to display how women are constantly sexualized in Bollywood yet do not have the freedom to wear or walk around neighborhoods at any time of the day or night.

Sharma’s tips for women are part of the problem regarding the rape culture in India. The ideology of women being submissive to men has been part of the reason why their protests continue in India. After 2012, India has seen a rise in such protests, social media activism, and the continuous push for action to bring justice to victims of violence.

Currently, only 25 percent of rape cases lead to convictions. The recent responses on Twitter regarding Sharma’s tips are just a part of how India’s millennials have taken to social media to spread awareness.

Though there is growing attention about rape and crimes against women, there has not been a significant fall in those crimes. Rather, India is still at a crossroads regarding equality and basic rights for women. The core issue is perception of women, whether they be foreigners or nationals, has not changed much since Jyoti’s murder. As noted by the jail’s therapist in India’s Daughter, there are men who believe they are much more powerful than women.

If India has learned anything from the Delhi Gang rape, it is that change is needed. The brutality brought forward by the Delhi Gang rape is extreme, but the ideology of the rapists involved is one that is shared by the majority of Indian men – as shown from the commentary in India’s Daughter.

A woman is raped every twenty two minutes in India, and yet the Indian media still struggles to cover issues of sexual violence against women fairly. Almost four years after Jyoti’s death, the role of public opinion and the power of social media is starting to turn the tide of how Indians approach sexual assault and gender equality.  

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