As India grieves the death of the young medical student who was brutally gang raped on a moving bus December 16th, 2012, a historic movement continues to develop demanding justice and action from the government. But leaders and legislators have come across as indifferent, unresponsive and out of touch with the reality of violence against women as thousands turn out to demonstrate and march in the streets of Delhi. “The incident has raised the issue of declining public confidence in the law and order machinery in the city,” a National Human Rights Commission statement said. “Especially, in its capacity to ensure safety of women as a number of such incidents have been reported in the national capital in the recent past.”
Groping and sexual harassment of women is often referred to as “eve-teasing” and is attributed to the natural response of men to the behavior of women.
Some policy makers and government leaders have made statements revealing their traditional bias against women and their acceptance of all that eve-teasing implies. Statements like, “Skirts should be prohibited keeping in view the rise of social crimes against women.” Or “I think that girls should be married at the age of 16, so that they have their husbands for their sexual needs, and they don’t need to go elsewhere. This way rapes will not occur.” And “One of the reasons behind the increase in incidents of eve-teasing is short dresses and short skirts worn by women. This in turn instigates young men.”
These attitudes are deeply engrained in the fundamental social expectations of men towards women throughout India, to the point that women at demonstrations demanding equality and protection have been victims of groping by men attending the same demonstrations.
As a result of these pervasive attitudes, survivors of rape are often blamed for the sexual assault. They are said to have brought it on themselves by being out alone, or dressing provocatively or becoming too “westernized." In a recent article, Dr. Kumari, who is featured in It’s a Girl, said, “Normal changes in [Indian] society are seen as a challenge, and that’s why women are blamed more if they are expressing themselves freely, are mobile or wearing what they want to,” Kumari says. “This environment, sadly, is not seen as enabling women and making them strong but rather seen as reasons for such attacks.”
The shame associated with being a victim of sexual assault or violence in India often places women who have suffered injustice in a position of social ostracism. In one recent case, an 18-year-old girl committed suicide 44 days after she was allegedly gang raped, and the three accused were only arrested after her death.
Women who suffer the violence of rape in India rarely receive justice. Only one conviction has resulted out of 635 reported cases of rape in Delhi in 2012. And when cases do make it to court, the victim often finds herself on trial instead of the perpetrator.
Human Rights Watch claims these attitudes towards women effect how rape victims are treated by authorities, citing the “Two Finger Test” as an example. They describe the test as follows: ”The practice, described in outdated medical jurisprudence textbooks used by many doctors, lawyers, and judges, involves a doctor inserting fingers in a rape victim’s vagina to determine the presence or absence of the hymen and the so-called ‘laxity’ of the vagina. These findings perpetuate false and damaging stereotypes of rape survivors as ‘loose’ women.”
Like gendercide, rape and sexual harassment are rooted in the devaluation of women and are simply different forms of violence against women – though equally horrific. As I have been closely following the events of the past month in Delhi, I have been enraged by the miscarriage of justice that is so often the plight of women who have become victims of sexual assault and violence. At the same time, I have been encouraged to receive requests to use It’s a Girl as an educational tool by those in India who are battling this injustice.
Here is a segment from one such recent email from Shobha: “…its high time for India to address violence against girls and women… It's important for us to develop programmes which will empower our teenage girls. You may heard about recent developments in our capital and also all over country. There is a huge demand on justice in the case of atrocities against women. Rape, sexual assault or abuse has become very common in our capital cities as well as in rural suburban areas.”
We at Shadowline Films created It’s a Girl for Shobha and others like her who are fighting the battle for justice and equality for girls in India! We are excited to see the film becoming a crucial tool to educate and mobilize a new generation to demand an end to eve-teasing and the devaluation that underlies sexual assault and violence against women in India.
I invite you to join me in standing with the protesters in Delhi. Sign the petition by the 50 Million Missing Campaign demanding fast action from the government to end rape and violence against women. Also, Sign the petition demanding world leaders take action to end the female gendercide in India, and bring It’s a Girl to your community by hosting a screening in your home, church or local theater. Together, we can raise the level of awareness of the plight of women in India and bring an end to sexual assault and violence once and for all.
- Originally posted in Evan's personal blog