India is the worst place to be born a girl.
So begins chapter four of my new as yet untitled and unpublished novel. It is the voice of my sixteen year old protagonist who speaks to the reader about the horrors experienced by many Indian girls.
Here’s an unedited paragraph:
I mean, really, to be the biggest democracy in the world and yet we are lumped with Saudi Arabia where women can’t leave their homes unaccompanied or drive, Afghanistan where the Taliban ...well ... do we really need to go there, and war torn Congo which is the rape capital of the world. Hard to believe I know but where else in the world are girls sold off to settle a debt, engaged as toddlers and married off before reaching puberty , burned alive for non payment of dowries and sexually harassed every single day ... and let’s not forget the girls who were not even allowed to be born. There are millions of them, aborted for being an xx chromosome rather than an xy.
I’ve been researching the treatment of women in the world’s biggest democracy. The picture is not pretty. It is so bad in fact that India was voted the worse place to be born a girl in a poll of G20 countries in 2012. The poll no doubt irritated a few Indians but hardly made any headlines. A few months on and the news story splashing globally is the gang rape of a 23 year old paramedical student on a moving Delhi bus on Sunday night (16 dec).
Here’s some background: After watching a film the girl and her 27 year old male friend boarded a private bus at night outside a well-known city mall. Six men on the bus raped the girl and beat up her friend before throwing them both out onto the road. The girl is in intensive care with injuries so severe that she has had to have her intestines removed.
Scan the world section on news websites and we see an India in uproar. Women activists are demonstrating on streets, the President of the ruling Congress party Sonia Ghandi has visited the victim and there are public calls for the death penalty to be given to the accused. Amidst all this is the raging debate about why the rape occurred in the first place. Shockingly blame is being placed left, right and centre but not directly at the rapists. To list a few: Bollywood with its sexy dance numbers is ‘creating’ sexual urges in men, Indian women are aping western clothing and therefore inviting men’s advances and the most pathetic of excuses - young men marginalised by the globalisation of India who need to vent their frustration at the successful Indian woman.
Somehow the debate has become all about how women ‘tempt’ or ‘cause’ the men to commit rape as though the latter are animals with no control over their sexual urges. I won’t deny that the rapists demonstrated animalistic behaviour, but I completely reject the idea that they had no choice in the matter. They could have chosen not to rape the woman but they did.
They did it because India’s patriarchal society views its women as second class citizens and not equal human beings. Sons are placed on pedestals whilst daughters are seen as burdens and commodities. If I need to convince you of this then please re-read the paragraph from my book above.
The Delhi bus rape was not a sex crime. It was a gender crime. It was about the power and control that the privileged male feels he is entitled to. It had nothing to do with sexual urges or mental images of a Bollywood heroine sashaying to the camera.
Evidence of this can be found in the fact that the girl was violated with an iron rod. Where is the eroticism in that level of violence?