Thursday, October 22, 2015

Time for action on rape culture

Enough is enough. The rape of a two- year-old child in New Delhi is horrific enough, but the ritual finger-pointing and blame-shifting that followed is almost as sickening.

Indian leaders need to wake up to the fact – and wake up fast – that the rape culture pervading their nation is doing irreparable harm to its international standing and needs to be addressed, not with pious words, but with action. 
The abuse of the tiny girl has focused the world’s attention on a problem that seems to be endemic among Indian male society. In one seven-day period there have been reports of a nine-year-old girl gang raped and murdered in Jharkhand, an eight year-old raped by her uncle it Utter Pradesh and the gang-rape of a 20-year-old women in an outer suburb of New Delhi.

And these are incidents that have been reported and which received a degree of publicity. Others - many others - are either not reported at all, or are buried in police files.

And there lies another problem. In a further report, a 15-year-old girl from the city of Bangalore who said she was assaulted by a gang of youths on her way home from school who stripped her and took photographs, later committed suicide. Her family claimed they had made several complaints to the local police but nothing had been done.
The police later admitted they had done nothing other than telling the family to go away and settle the matter themselves.

Complaints of police inaction are common, usually when the complainants are Dalits or low cast. New Delhi has one of the largest police forces for a city that size in the world, but still seems incapable of halting a steady stream of incidents that has India’s capital also branded as the rape capital of the world.
So far all the authorities have done is play the blame game. The capital is run by the Aam Aadmi Party whose Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, blames the Bharatiya Janata Party national Government which has control of the capital’s police force.

Members of the Opposition Congress Party held an outraged protest outside the Chief Minister’s office, conveniently forgetting that one of India’s most publicised cases – the rape of medical student Jyoti Singh on a New Delhi bus in 2012 — occurred on their watch.
Demonstrations and angry words will be forgotten tomorrow if they are not followed up with action. India’s politicians have to accept they are all to blame for years of tolerance and neglect. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was right when he said that while parents have traditionally kept their daughters under strict control, they have allowed their sons to roam wild.

Boys have grown up in the belief that any girl out on the streets at night must be of loose morals and therefore fair game. That was exactly the defence put up by one of Ms Singh’s rapists.  
After that incident the penalties for rape were increased, but in its wake rapes and assaults have actually risen, largely because the gangs and individuals that commit these crimes know they have a good chance of never being apprehended.

Police forces throughout India have to be instructed in no uncertain terms that every incident, every report, has to be vigorously pursued. Potential rapists must be made aware that they will face justice.
This should be supported by a national campaign of education, aimed not just at young people but also their parents, stressing equality for men and women under the law and the constitution. This admittedly will take time to change engrained attitudes, but it is far better to light the candle than curse the dark. 

If India portrays itself as a modern industrialising nation, there is no place for the medieval attitude of one half of its population towards the other.

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