I was shocked to read about the recent rape in Delhi, although I’m afraid to say that I wasn’t surprised. After a recent trip to India I was amazed to see how women were treated. On the rare occasion that women are seen in public, they are isolated from the mostly male dominated population.
We noticed that on all forms of public transport women are kept segregated from men. Women have their own separate carriages on the underground system, on ferries there is a separate section for women, and on buses women are given priority for seats. They are even segregated when buying tickets as there are separate queues only for women. However we witnessed very little women using these queues as buying tickets is obviously a ‘mans’ job.
At first glance this may seem great for women because in a population of 1.2 billion women always get a seat on a train, bus, or ferry. However, upon closer inspection and with a better understanding of the Indian culture this is really just a means for men to control women, and it creates a society in which women are seen as ‘untouchable precious things’ and are therefore objectified by men.
Whilst travelling around India and visiting many different sights and attractions we began to notice groups of Indian men visiting these attractions, but we would never see groups of women doing the same. The only time we saw women were when they were on a family day out with their husbands, it is obviously not a normal occurrence for groups of women to go out together. This creates a dangerous environment when men and women do not mix or socialise together as equals. It also means that any women that are seen by what can only be described as ‘packs’ of men are subjected to glares and sniggers. As a western woman I was subjected to this, but I can only guess what the men were saying.
We even noticed segregation in the police force, women officers patrol only with other women officers, and they only deal with women criminals and trouble makers. This again creates a severe divide in society as there are no women police officers with authority over men. The Indian government has stated it will recruit more women police officers as a result of pressure following the Delhi rape, however this is simply not enough. More women police officers stood around together in groups is not going to help the situation. Women police officers need more power and real power will only happen with a change in social attitudes, otherwise they will continue to be belittled and only be there for show.
The recent Delhi rape was only one of many that occur frequently all over India, however the only reason why this recent rape has become worldwide news is because she was educated and from a high caste. Many rapes go unreported for fear of retaliation, or because of family shame, and those that are reported are likely to be swept under the carpet by the police force due to the low status of women in society.
Whilst visiting Goa in November 2012 we witnessed something truly shocking. Whilst sat on the balcony of our bungalow we saw the male owner of our guesthouse hitting his wife very violently in front of two male members of staff, neither of whom reacted to what he was doing. He only stopped what he was doing when we both shouted at him to stop. We were both deeply stunned, not only at him hitting his wife, but the fact that the staff stood by and did nothing, like it was a typical everyday occurrence. Later that evening, a member of staff came to speak to us and just laughed it off as just a husband and wife fight, although we didn’t think it was a laughing matter.
After seeing this I began researching domestic violence in India and read how widespread it is, even though it is illegal. Rape is also illegal, but it is still prevalent in Indian society. It is therefore not the law that needs to change but a colossal shift is needed in the mind-set of not only the male, but also the female population.
Women in the western world fought for women’s rights 100 years ago and continue to fight today for equal pay and conditions. They suffered public shame and violence but believed their cause was worth the danger. The only real change that can occur in India has to be driven by women, or men will continue to use their positions to their advantage. Women need to stand up and say enough is enough. We should not forget that western women were just as suppressed as Indian women, being brought up in a similar way to ‘know their place’ and be ‘home makers’ and never question male authority. Isn’t it time for Indian women to do the same? They need to realise their collective power and act together to make their voice heard, because this is the only way real change will occur.
Women make up 50% of the population and would be a strong force for change, however most are currently invisible in society. In order to drive change forward, the education system needs to empower women to believe they are more than just objects for men, or simply ‘baby makers’. Women need to believe they can be doctors, lawyers, accountants, or politicians and apply for senior roles.
The only way for this to work in practice is for a new law to be enacted stating that every listed company and government organisation needs to have a certain percentage of women employees in senior positions. A change is also needed in the police force so that women have the authority to arrest men and to therefore normalise the ‘women in power’ aspect at ground level.
New laws and stricter punishments alone are not enough, only when there is a shift in mind set will society stop condoning domestic violence and rape. Until then it will continue to be a regular occurrence and part of everyday life for Indian women.