Six arrested in second Indian bus rape
Six men are accused of another gang rape of a female bus passenger in India.PT0M0S 620 349
Nearly a month after the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi protests still rage in India. Every turn of this story incites a new wave of demonstrations. Most recently, anger in the streets was directed at the defendants' lawyer, who blamed the victims for the assault.
But as abhorrent as his comments are, the street protests aren't necessarily helping. In Australia we have clear expectations about what a protest involves. In most cases we imagine a peaceful demonstration with speakers and placards, a blocked off street and a march, some angry shouting, men and women standing in solidarity, then everyone goes home.
Not so in parts of the developing world. The protest culture in India is markedly different and it makes protesting about crimes against women incredibly difficult. Think effigy burning, rampaging groups of men, violent slogans and damage to property. This is the reality of demonstrations in India.
The woman's rape and the attack on her male companion was said to wake the Indian middle class from their apathy. India's educated women have often been characterised as indifferent to civil action and plagued by inaction. But the reality is that it's near impossible for women to be heard above the din of men behaving violently and the chant of revenge slogans. There have even been reports of women being groped at anti-violence protests.
A student prays during a vigil for a gang rape victim in New Delhi, who died as a result of the attack. Photo: Reuters
The difficulties for Indian women being heard on the streets is symbolic of the challenges of being a woman in Indian society. While India has made tremendous economic and social progress in the past 20 years, it's still named as the fourth most dangerous place in the world to be born a girl. Bride burning, acid throwing, female infanticide, human trafficking and domestic violence are all illegal, yet still prevalent in India.
So far, the anger voiced in protests and on social media petitions have been squarely aimed at government and politicians – accusing them of inaction on gender issues and appealing for harsher sentences for sex offenders. But governments can easily become scapegoats. They're easy targets when the problems are deep-seated in a society, entrenched in centuries of patriarchal history and culture.
Governments in India have actually shown leadership on gender issues, but largely, Indian society hasn't followed suit. For example, practices associated with the caste system were outlawed in 1950, yet citizens still identify themselves within it. Dowries were prohibited in the 1960s, yet the practice is still widespread and women still die in ''kitchen fires'' – a euphemism for bride burning and dowry deaths.
In the 1990s, the Indian government passed a law forbidding parents from finding out the sex of their foetus in an effort to stamp out sex-selective abortions and female infanticide. In practice, the law is widely ignored and there are an estimated 50 million girls missing from the Indian population as a result.
In response to community outrage Indian authorities have set up ''fast-track'' courts to respond to rape cases more quickly. Legal proceedings for rape trials have been changed so that a woman's claims of rape must be believed.
Even after the incident in New Delhi, the parliament chose to suspend all other business to take action against the crime. Yet the anger of Indian protests is still directed at politicians.
Blaming government and authorities is easy. Changing a culture that doesn't value women is not.
In order for any meaningful move towards gender equality to take place change must happen in the hearts and minds of Indian people, in particular in Indian men. Fathers and sons must commit to standing against harassment and violence in their homes and on their streets. All citizens, men and women, must stand against victim blaming. The men of India must identify and stamp out eve-teasing (harassment and groping) wherever it occurs. This will not happen through a change of laws or as a result of a few protests. This requires change on an individual level, which is arguably the hardest change to make.
But change is possible. India is a proud country that wants to be seen as modern, democratic, progressive and cosmopolitan. They are conscious of their image on the world stage and want to disassociate themselves from their neighbours, who they see as their backward regional counterparts.
Pressure from the international community does help the women of India. And by getting involved in the discussion we remind ourselves that there are women around the world, including here in Australia, who live in fear of harassment and violence. And we commit to ending those atrocities too.
Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer in Social Science Education at the Australian Catholic University and member of the Indian Australian community.