A 23-year-old medical student was on a bus with her boyfriend in New Delhi, and was subsequently gang-raped and sadistically beaten by six men. Two weeks later, she succumbed to her injuries and died. Despite the fact that a woman is raped every 22 minutes in India, this one has sparked outrage and protest across the country while the world looks on.
Many are surprised that something like this could happen in India's capital. A place that boasts a thriving middle class, world class shopping and an urban elite is concurrently one of the world's epicenters for rape, with mores perpetuating rape culture.
However, rape culture is not something that is confined to the boundaries of the Indian subcontinent. This past year has been a stark exemplification of the pervasiveness of rape culture in North America. From Krista Ford asserting that women would avoid rape altogether if they merely stopped dressing like whores, to the onslaught of the terms "forcible rape" and "legitimate rape" into the North American vernacular, victim blaming and the trivialization of rape is lamentably commonplace on this side of the ocean as well.
Nevertheless, India has a culture of entrenched misogyny, which has led to an endemic of violence against women, thereby exacerbating the omnipresent rape culture that already permeates most societies. Violence against women is not only something that is tolerated, but seems to be justified by the majority of Indian society, including teens.
A UNICEF report found that 57 per cent of males and 53 per cent of females aged 15-19 believed wife beating was justified. In fact, India, which is the world's largest democracy, is also the worst place for a woman to live out of all G20 countries. Between 1971 and 2011 the incidence of rape rose 873 per cent, which is 3.5 times faster than the murder rate for the same period.
Gender segregation starts very early and gender roles and stereotypes are enforced at birth, causing them to become internalized by both men and women. Giving birth to sons is seen as winning the reproductive lottery where daughters are merely a financial and moral burden. Young girls often have no place to turn as their mothers and other female relatives are either complicit or actively involved in the cycle perpetuating the notion that women and girls are second-class citizens. This preference for sons has caused a highly skewed gender ratio, daughters sold off to the sex trade, female infanticide, sex selective abortions and forced marriages.
Sons are taught that they are a blessing to be cherished and that women are there to serve them however they please. This is only echoed in Bollywood films, which are regrettably romanticized by the west, in which male protagonists depict their sexual prowess by sexually harassing the principal female character into submission. In the world of Indian melodramas, a "no" will inevitably turn to a "yes" after a few song and dance routines in the rain, of course.
Women have no ally in the legislature either, as every major political party has candidates that have been charged with crimes against women, ranging from domestic abuse to rape. Additionally, Indian jurisprudence sanctions a "virginity test" to determine the credibility of the victim's statement. In the test, a doctor inserts two fingers into the woman's vagina to determine the presence or absence of the hymen and the general "laxity" of the vagina, and presumably, the victim herself.
Whereas India boasts many high profile female politicians, authors, filmmakers and public figures, Indian culture venerates a machismo ethos in which women are akin to a property transfer, first belonging to their fathers and then their husbands.
Indians by and large will vehemently voice their objection to this assertion by listing Hindu goddesses and holidays that celebrate women, failing to recognize that women are celebrated not as equal members of society, but rather as dutiful mothers and subservient wives.
India is a nation that fails its women in its family structure, the media, in law and in politics. So while I am grateful that this incident has forced women and men out onto the streets in protest, I am pragmatic enough to know that until Indians undergo some sort of socio-cultural metamorphosis, our daughters won't be safe from our sons.