I read a lot. I read about what’s happening in the world and I’ve been monitoring what’s been happening in the country from where my ethnicity arises. Where my cultural roots are. India is touted as a country rich of culture, full of vibrant colours, history and people who smile at you. Yet I see this country being maligned day in, day out and feared because of issues related to sexual violence against women in India. Dare I say it, people have started to detest the country and are questioning the morals and values of the people who reside there. Back in 2012, the story of Nirbhaya who was gang raped on a bus and died as a result of her injuries, highlighted a problem that has existed for centuries. Where are we now more than a year later? What has changed? Can anything be changed?
A woman was subjected to a gang rape for having an affair with a man in West Bengal following orders given by village elders who disapproved of her relationship. The story itself yields so many questions, that I myself don’t know where to start. Who gives these elders the right to dictate whether a relationship between two people is acceptable or not? How dare they think that they have the right to go ahead and give such inhumane orders on the basis that because the girl had a relationship, she was promiscuous and therefore it was acceptable to subject her to sexual violence? Why is there a caste system still in place in India? Why can two people from different communities not have a relationship?
Instead of addressing why such incidents are still occurring despite tighter laws placed by the Indian government, a female politician comes forward and asks “Did Nirbhaya really have to go and watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend?” Asha Mirje, a Nationalist Congress party (NCP) leader in western Maharashtra state, further went on to say, “rapes take place also because of a woman’s clothes, her behaviour and her presence at inappropriate places.”
Thus, in spouting such benighted comments, Mirje highlighted exactly where the problem lies in tackling the problem of sexual violence in India. Let it be known that this issue could become one of the contributing factors that leads to a complete tarnishing of India’s reputation as a great country.
Tradition will always remain a part of a tribe, culture and country. Everyone has a tradition that is followed. But when that tradition leads to murder and sexual violence, then that tradition needs to change. If the majority of men and women in rural and perhaps urban areas do have a view reflecting that of Asha Mirje’s, then it needs to be reversed. A woman should not have to feel that she shouldn’t be wearing a top and a pair of jeans, or a knee-length dress, because it’s not right for a woman to do so. That wearing such ‘western clothes’ means she is inviting men to sexually assault or rape her. A woman should be able to enjoy a movie with her friends at 11pm. She shouldn’t fear stepping out of her house in the evening. However, as much as I wish for changes to happen, I do feel it’s a tough ask. It’s calling to change a complete mindset. How do you educate people into adopting a different mindset? How do you reach out to rural areas and seek to implement a way of life where women are treated equally as men? How do you make men realise that women are not objects to be used and abused?
Earlier this month, the Indian Ordnance Factory in Kanpur manufactured Nirbheek, a firearm designed for the first time for women in India. The gun has come under fire for being named after Nirbhaya and for proposing a ‘violence against violence’ stance which some people believe is not the answer. However, comments by this female politician has made me wonder whether women will have to ultimately resort to using weapons to defend themselves. I don’t believe violence is the answer to anything. Yet it does make me question that if things don’t ever improve, then what choice will women have? What choice will women have, when another woman stands up and questions whether Nirbhaya should have been out with her boyfriend in the first place?