Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

India, from the outside in

  • Print
In this May 31, 2014 file photograph, members of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) shout slogans during a protest against the gang rape of two teenage girls, in New Delhi, India.

ALTAF QADRI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

In this May 31, 2014 file photograph, members of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) shout slogans during a protest against the gang rape of two teenage girls, in New Delhi, India.

India was outraged again this month, with a new case of rape in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where two young girls were sexually assaulted, then hanged from a tree.

Shortly after, the home minister of a neighbouring state said rape was "sometimes right, sometimes wrong." Another politician noted rape was never deliberate, "it is committed by deceit."

After the highly publicized 2012 Delhi rape case, mass protests forced the government to tackle the widespread problem of sexual violence against women. New laws were brought in with tough penalties for rapists and fast-track courts for sexual assault cases.

Yet comments like these from politicians in India remain common, and the rapes go on. They remain mostly unpunished, despite the laws -- at first, the police refused to even register a complaint for the two girls hanged from a tree.

What's up with India? Why do police and lawmakers still hold such cavalier attitudes towards rape? Part of the answer may lie in deep-seated views on morality and the role of women many Indians still hold.

A good example is how Indians perceive their countrymen who have moved abroad, or Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). In one of the country's many contradictions, Indians yearn to move abroad and admire those who have managed to set up new lives in the West -- yet they expect those NRIs to hold on to "Indian values," usually much more restrictive for women than men. Scan the matrimonial ads in any Indian newspaper, and you will find a familiar pattern under the 'NRI' section. No matter how long the prospective NRI bride has lived abroad or how many foreign degrees she has amassed, the ads always make it clear she has "Indian values." Some ads make it even clearer: She is "homely," they say.

Bollywood, that final arbiter of Indianness, also loves to depict the hard-partying, decadent lifestyles of NRIs, yet makes a point of showing how empty their lives are without the traditions and religiosity of the motherland.

The movie Cocktail (2012) had a familiar storyline: NRI boy in London had to choose between an NRI girl who drinks and goes to nightclubs and another NRI girl who dresses modestly and prays every day. While he sleeps with the former, he chooses the latter for marriage.

An exposé last year by Tehelka magazine, a muckraking weekly based in New Delhi, saw reporters go undercover and secretly record police officials throughout the city talk about their views on rape. They caught 17 senior police officers in the Delhi area blame rape on everything from staying out late to drinking to working with men.

These biases go deep in Indian society, and while they may not explain the high incidence of the rapes themselves, they do contribute to why lawmakers and lawmen still tend to blame victims instead of prosecuting these crimes in earnest. Victims are asked not only about whether they were drunk or what they were wearing but also why they were working late or with a man at all.

While stronger laws are helpful, India will never be able to tackle its epidemic of sexual violence if its lawmen don't enforce those laws. That means Indians collectively will have to change their views on how women are 'supposed' to behave.

The mass demonstrations are reassuring to NRIs like me, who see them as a sign things are changing. Seeing women's rights activists take to the streets makes us believe many Indians are changing their perceptions.

Those attitudes were the reason why many NRIs left India. An ad in the matrimonial section asking for a 'homely' bride does not sanction sexual violence, but it does represent what the public, the politicians and the police believe is the 'right' place for women.

Until those perceptions are changed, India will remain a dangerous place for women.

 

Inayat Singh is a Carleton University journalism student interning at the Free Press. His parents moved to Dubai from India when he was five.


A NEW ASIAN POWER

William Pesek examines "Chindia," resurrecting the idea China and India might join their economies.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2014 A15

History

Updated on Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 9:01 AM CDT: Adds photo, adds link

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Keri Latimer looks for beauty in the dark and the spaces between the notes

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • The sun peers through the fog to illuminate a tree covered in hoar frost near Headingley, Manitoba Thursday- Standup photo- February 02, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Geese fight as a male defends his nesting site at the duck pond at St Vital Park Thursday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 08- May 10, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will you miss Grandma Elm?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google