Unlike some optimistic observers across the globe, I do not expect an overnight improvement to the quality of life of Indian women because of the extent of social reaction and protests against the recent horrifying gang rape in New Delhi.
However, I am deeply hopeful that a long-run essential shift around the sex crime discourses both in "private" and "public" levels will come about. The heart-breaking story of the "daughter of India" is not an isolated silenced crime much like thousands of others happening daily against women not only in India but all over the world.
Contrary to other similar situations, in this tragic event not only was the female sex crime victim not "dishonoured" by her family or the society, but in fact she was "honoured" both on private and public levels. Unlike past events, the sex crime perpetrators were not permitted to justify their act of violence by blaming the female victim and her lifestyle.
"The daughter of India" was not blamed by her family or the public for being on the bus late at night accompanied by a male friend. Her painful death was not viewed by other Indian families as a terrifying warning to justify employing more control on young women. Instead, people stood together to "honour" the victim and her life and "dishonour" the sex crime and the perpetrators.
I believe the exact moment when the notion of "honour" and "dishonour" switched in the public's eyes, we became hopeful for gradual fundamental changes in women's lives. When the female victim no longer loses her honour as a result of the crime of a male perpetrator, we can talk louder about gender violence which has been considered a "private" matter for centuries in "public" and ask for more changes.
Sex crimes are among the most "hushed" subjects; they take an enormous number of female victims all over the world. In many societies, women who are subjected to such inhuman crimes (rape, sexual assault, sexual torture) are twice victimized: once by the crime and once by the repeated and constant punishment such as lifetime imposed blame and shame, forced isolation, forced marriage or even being murdered.
Women's bodies are being identified as the "honour" of the male members of the society who invent, implement and guard the gender-controlling regulations and norms. Therefore, women have no ownership over their own bodies and sexualities. If their bodies are attacked, tortured, assaulted or raped they have no right to ask for justice.
Any consideration bestowed is not for the victim of the sex crime but rather the male members of her family and the society who are considered as the main victims because they lost their so-called "honour". Therefore, the female victim of a sex crime has to be punished as she damaged the family or the community's "honour".
Today in India, the historical notion of "honour" and "dishonour" switched. The "daughter of India's" father permitted the media to use her real name in public to "honour" her.
The public does not blame the victim for her private choice of staying out late or hanging out with a male friend or for the way she dressed but they blame the perpetrators for their despicable crime with no acceptance or tolerance for justification. They also ask for immediate response from the public authorities, police, health care providers, legislators and the legal system to change their view about sex crimes.
Now, both women and men have unified their slogan and asked for punishment for the perpetrators as well as honor the sex crime victim. They say, "do not tell me how to dress but tell them not to rape." They say "do not tell your daughter not to go out, tell your son to behave properly."
This is that historical moment when the notion of "honour" and "dishonour" switched; when the hidden "private" becomes the visible "public". Fittingly so, the voices behind these changed slogans are those of both female and male members of the society.