Delhi: The Rape Capital Of India?

 

A few years ago, I stayed in Delhi alone for a month working on recording tracks for an upcoming album. I was lucky enough to work with two well known  producers, Karsh Kale and Gaurav Rainia. At that time, I didn't give much thought to my gender and what it meant to be a woman in India. I was an artist working in India. It was that simple to me. A driver picked me up every day and took me to Gaurav’s music studio. When I finished working, he would then take me to back to the apartment I had rented not too far away. My mother, who had organized her trip to India to coincide with mine, stayed with me for a week.   During that time, she warned me nearly every day about the dangers that lurked for a   woman alone in India, especially Delhi.

photo courtesy of Mira Veda

I was never to travel on a bus, a train or any public transportation unless it was a private car   approved by a reputable company. I was never to travel late at night without male companions (she meant relatives).     Actually, it was better that I just stay home and not go out at night because Delhi was dangerous. Her assessment seemed incredibly restrictive and unreasonable since I was in a “New India”. A more global, open India that wasn’t as misogynistic and backwards as the one my parents had known while living there. Or was I?

The gang-rape murder of 23-year-old   woman by six men makes me think that perhaps my mother was right and India has just gotten worse for women. This gang rape is not an insolated event. Men molest, cackle and constantly disrespect women in public places all the time in India. Unfortunately, this is a known fact to a lot of Indian women who have either traveled or live in the country.

The reality that any woman has to fear getting onto an overcrowded bus or train filled with men because she feels she will be touched inappropriately says something about the lack of protections, legal and otherwise, for women in Indian civil society.   Men are not punished for sex crimes or sexual harassment. Instead they are protected by a corrupt unsympathetic government. Had the explosive international attention not shamed India for its twisted politics and lack of policies protecting women, this 23-year-old   gang-rape victim would have died quietly, like all the others whose attacks have gone unnoticed . If there   are no real consequences as a result of a lack of leadership, corruption, cronyism, sycophancy due to class and caste and all around lawlessness, then obviously there will be men who wield their power by abusing and assaulting women.

 

The wider problem is the one that needs resolution. How do you change deep-seated societal misogyny? The 2011 census in India made obvious the level of female feoticide, citing 914.23 girls were born for every 1000 boys. Indian attitudes   about what it means to have a girl have not changed. Men and women inside and outside of India still feel   disappointment when a girl is born. Now there is the real rub. Killing a girl   just for being born a girl is both the beginning of preferential treatment for boys and the beginning of a misogyny that is sure to break down all levels of respect for all women. If there is no respect for the life of a female infant, then surely there is no respect for the life of the woman who gave birth to her. It’s cyclical.

 

Evidence shows the sex selection law is broken because everyone seems to believe the same thing from doctors to government. ”The use of ultrasound and abortion for sex selection has been banned since 1994 in India.” There is no enforcement of laws intended to protect either baby girls   or adult women from those who want to harm or kill them. It seems that public institutions like hospitals and schools that are suppose to protect actually make it easier for anyone who has fame, power or money to execute their will and hide. There is no equal treatment under the law because in practice, India has no law. The laws are made by the wealthy and executed by those who have elite lineage or political connections.

 

Case in point, the 23-year-old rape victim.     Her case was woefully mishandled both by the police and the hospital staff. It was only the   outcry of anger that encouraged the country to act with some modicum of respect for the victim. It’s almost a guarantee that, had the media not exploded the story, both the DNA evidence and the evidence that makes clear the trauma the woman suffered would have disappeared. In fact, I have heard similar stories about intentional mishandling of   DNA, hospital staff failing to collect DNA samples from victims or ignoring victim statements outright. This is not to say that this does not happen in the US and other countries, it is just not considered the norm.

 

It will remain to be seen if India can truly get   its act together   and make the country safe for all women. Right now, I don’t think I would feel safe traveling in Delhi, which is known as the rape capital of India. And after this latest incident, it's hard for me to imagine any woman feeling truly safe there.