It still surprises me to see such an openly diverse country such as India where people never forget their common identity makes them all the same—Indians. Everyone seems to accept one another for many of their differences, and it also appears that relationships break boundaries between social constructs. The population varies between Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, North Indian, South Indian, but it does not matter. From spending four months here, I have seen how Indians have learned to accept each other under a common identity, but sometimes I have to remind myself how my perspective has its limits. The common identity of an “Indian” doesn’t extend across all boundaries. In other words, India still struggles significantly from extreme levels of oppression unlike any other country across the world despite its extremely high reverence for diversity. Specifically, India has a large problem regarding sexual violence.
Sadly, sexual violence has a universal existence across the world. People find it hard to define exactly what sexual violence looks like, because sexual ethics takes different shapes across countries, cultures, sexual orientation, social constructs, and age structures. Different parts of the world have also addressed the problem in different ways and at different levels. Currently, the concept of openly speaking out about sexual violence has recently developed in more progressive western cultures, and people have begun to fight for women’s rights and fight against rape culture across the world. However, Sexual violence still remains an immense problem in India which stems from male dominance in society, only recently have many social movements stood up to advocate justice for rape victims. Currently some progress has proposed changes in legislation, but the main focus has now turned to maintaining accountability in the legal system and reconstructing Indian cultural outlook on gender equality:
Gender Structure and Sexual Violence in India
In general, India’s gender dynamics absolutely create uneven balances of power. The estimated sex ratio points out that for every 1000 males, India has only 930 females (John 2017). So, male dominance in Indian culture has a strong physical presence. In many households, females represent a financial burden, and their existence shifts under the control of one male to another— the father to the husband— without any space for independent growth in between (Sharley 2017). Male psyche assumes that women have vulnerabilities that males can control, and as a result, this opens the door for sexual violence. One of India’s most extreme and memorable cases of sexual violence occurred on December 16, 2012. On this date, one female, Jyoti Singh was brutally gang raped by five men inside of a bus. Singh died after critical injuries, and since then, the voice for social change, justice, and gender equality has heard an uproar across the entire country.
Immediately after the Bus rape of 2012, former Indian Chief Justice Verma put together a judicial committee in order to amend rape laws by providing sterner punishments for the crimes . They also sought to fix much of the constitution’s language discussing crimes for sexual assault. Much of India’s sexual violence policies were written under Victorian principles and in outdated language, refusing to confront details and realities of all the possible forms of sexual violence. The committee took on 80,000 suggestions for outside amendments as well, many of which proposed including definitions of stalking, voyeurism, and intentional touching as forms of sexual assault. They also sought to legally define “gang rape” in the constitution as well, since no clear definition existed. By initiating this movement, Justice Verma took the first step in tighten all the loopholes that would hinder justice for rape victims.
Many women’s organizations have come up with additional steps towards changing the rape culture as well. Much of their work provides a voice that points out vulnerabilities that allow sexual violence in India’s political and cultural structure. For instance, The National Commission for Women provided immense support and aid to Justice Verma’s legislature review by identifying many flaws in the outdated language. They also demanded that marital and incestualized rape be included as forms of sexual assault. Other groups have come forward to create a system of accountability with the Delhi police. For example, AIDWA has mandated that police should complete all SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for sexual assault within a designated time frame. They demanded that law enforcement automatically register a rape once it reaches the station, and that the station send a complete medical examination team to the victim, where all evidence and clothes can be collected right away for analysis. If police do not follow such a protocol, they also insisted on enforcement of repercussions. In all, it’s not easy to confront government protocol, but the public continuously speaks out to identify the truth, it will make everyone accountable for their actions.
Many women’s organizations also seek to educate. The Vishtar Institute in Bangalore represents a group committed to raising awareness about the importance of feminism in Indian culture. Vishtar also provides consulting resources to women’s organizations across India in order to provide them with tools to educate the public on why feminism has an important role in Indian society too (Selvaraj 2017). They also do their own outreach work by providing resources to oppressed women in the Devadasi system of religious sexual enslavement. They help children of Devadasis afford an education, and execute awareness campaigns addressing the unethical nature of religious sexual coercion that occurs with women from Dalit castes (Selvaraj 2017). Very similarly, another organization, Sakshi Violence Intervention Center in New Delhi seeks to confront issues on sexual violence by hosting educational workshops. In these workshops, Sakshi has created a safe place for women to offer testimonies. Also, they have used these workshops to create a method of retaining data on sexual violence in India and the different forms in which sexual violence arises. Data can be used as a more tangible resource for educating the country about high incidence of sexual violence.
As many movements across the western world have pushed to expose unethical abuses of power like Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and Kevin Spacey, countries like India have struggled to face the simple truth that sexual violence in their country creates a big problem. Fixing this problem starts with uprooting such a deep history of traditionalism that emphasizes male dominance. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. Currently many groups and organizations have taken the right step forward in attempting to address this issue in India following the tragedy witnessed across the country in 2012, but because cultural influence has such a dynamic impact in different places across the world, issues like sexual violence cannot be solved with a universal formula for change. This process will take time, and it will require a learning curve.
- Economic Policy in India. David John. Women’s Christian College. 2017.
- Gender Issues and Development in India. Sharley. Bishop Heber College. 2017.
- Vishtar Institute Overview. David Selvaraj. Vishtar Institute. 2017.