A series of horrible sexual assaults and gang rapes near New Delhi is, according to the New York Times, highlighting class tensions as India modernizes and gender norms begin to shift. The pattern in these brutal attacks seems to be the same: the victims are young, educated women who have begun to work outside the home, while the assailants are young men from the surrounding villages who see the women as depraved and thus deserving of harassment or assault. These attitudes also lead people to defend men who are accused of rape, blaming the women for inciting men to “make mistakes.”
A devastating survey shows just how dangerous New Delhi is for women: 80 percent of women reported verbal harassment, and almost a third had been physically harassed. Almost half the women reported being stalked. These atrocities are occurring as India’s economic boom has brought women into the workforce in unprecedented numbers. And many of these crimes go unreported, despite more aggressive attempts to decrease violent crime against women who take jobs outside the home.
Many blame the culture clash between the city, where gender norms seem to be breaking down, and the surrounding villages, which still tend to be quite conservative. “There is a lot of tension between the people who are traditional in their mind-set and the city that is changing so quickly,” said Ranjana Kumari, a women’s rights activist. “Men are not used to seeing so many women in the country occupying public spaces.”
Disturbingly, the men don’t seem to see the violence as crimes, and according to the police, they expect to escape with impunity. In some cases, the perpetrators are convicted, but in other cases, the women themselves don’t want to proceed with rape charges. This is despite the fact that according to women’s rights activists, more convictions are crucial to making sure that these actions are seen as what they are: crimes.
It’s hard to know what to make of such a disturbing news story, especially since the problem is so deeply ingrained. But it’s also a chilling reminder of the way that rape can be used to silence and disempower women, especially in places where women seem to be rapidly gaining freedom.
Photo from the U.S. Military.