By Jayati Ramakrishnan
There’s been a lot of discussion in the last few months over a comment made by a convicted rapist and murderer in the now-famous New Delhi gang rape case. After a young woman leaving a New Delhi theater with her male friend entered a bus and was brutally raped, and subsequently left to die, by the six bus occupants and its driver, many Indians have attacked the subjects of rape and women’s rights with a vengeance, finally taking a stand on an insidious, but often ignored national problem. However, some of the most visible citizens of India, its leaders, have a disappointing response to the subject.
The streets were filled with protesters after the young woman was raped, demanding justice for the victim, and punishment for her assailants. A British filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, made a documentary called “India’s Daughter,”
The filmmaker interviews one of the rapists, Mukesh Singh. Singh’s comments have been widely publicized, revealing that he shows no remorse, and in fact blames the victim for being out late at night and wearing Western clothes.
While the outcry against these comments was strong, so was support for and agreement with his statement. Many Indian political leaders echoed Singh’s statements, saying that women in India are expected to behave differently than those in the West.
“Choose between a ‘promiscuous culture’ and a ‘safe environment,’” said Satyapal Singh, the Police Commissioner of Mumbai, in response to a similar gang rape in Mumbai about a year after the Delhi rape.
“Rape is a social crime which depends on the man and the woman. It is sometimes right and sometimes wrong,” said Babulal Gaur, a politician, and the home minister for the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Sube Singh Samain, the leader of the social council Khap Panchayat for the state of Haryana, claimed that marriage would prevent rape.
“Girls should be married at 16, so that they have their husbands for their sexual needs, and don’t need to go elsewhere,” Samain said.
The above quotes are a sprinkling of the myriad responses to the topic of rape in India, a staggering amount of which show that leaders, largely, dismiss rape or even blame it on the victim.
Ignoring the obviously incorrect assumptions with many of these quotes — that rape only occurs outside the home, that relatives can’t commit it, that women are responsible for the actions of their rapists, or that rapists should be absolved from their actions — the leaders in question have a troubling response simply because their visibility as political heads, religious figures and cultural leaders lends them an influence that, when they express the opinions described above, can further encourage rape and the mistreatment of women.
The quotes above are not only from educated men - and women - but from people viewed as leaders in a country that places a lot of value on the opinions of its religious and political icons. The problems with rape in India stem from a variety of sources: sexual repression and a lack of respect for women in certain communities are just two. But the response of leaders not only excuses the actions of rapists, but allows, and actually encourages Indians - both the rapists and those hearing about them - to place the blame on the victims.
It’s not enough to educate people in schools and rural communities. If we can’t even get our leaders to treat rape as it should be treated - a crime - we can't make real headway in getting citizens to act, and think, differently.