This rape, the hundreds of others that are reported each year, and the many more that go unreported are mere symptoms of the bigger problem -- and that
too, only one set of symptoms. There is a long list of other forms of violence perpetrated against women throughout their lives, from the time they are yet
unborn (female feticide), to when they are young girls (a severely skewed sex ratio for children under age six), to teenagers (malnutrition, anemia,
molestation), to adults (dowry deaths, maternal mortality, abuse), to the elderly (ostracism of widows).
While people may squirm when blatantly faced with the issue, for the most part it is all accepted as being part of an ancient culture. The fear among the
truly outraged is that in a few days the current protests will subside, the people on the streets will go home and back to their lives, and it will be
business as usual until the next case of horrific sexual violence.
While more stringent laws and their implementation are definitely needed, what's more necessary is a change in attitude, a shift away from the prevailing
assumption that women are not as valuable as men.
And while people are the problem, they are also the solution. Two characteristics of this case have stirred more people than ever before: the ferocity of
the crime and the fact that the victim was from the urban middle-class. People suddenly realized that this could happen to their daughter, their sister, or
themselves. We need to maintain and use the momentum of the outraged to spur change. Even if they currently amount to just a small percentage of the total
population, given that India's population is a resounding 1.2 billion, even this small percentage forms a sizeable force. They can be used to enact several
long-term measures of education and sensitization, beginning with children.
School programs are needed to educate young boys about the damage caused by violence against women. They need to be taught to value girls as people. And
they need to understand that no matter how a woman acts or dresses, men do not have the right to rape her. School programs are also
needed to teach young girls self-defense and assertiveness. Most importantly, young girls need to learn to value themselves. Unlike what they are shown
daily on popular evening soap operas on TV, they must be taught that it is right for women to stand up for themselves and their wellbeing. It is right for
them to speak out against wrongdoing. And they should be taught that if they are raped or molested or abused in any way, the shame and the
responsibility and the blame lies entirely with the offender, not the victim. And since many teachers and educational administrators are women themselves,
they may well be sympathetic to these efforts.
Such messages also need to be reinforced at home. Women in any position of strength and independence have a responsibility to teach their sons to respect
the female gender, their daughters to respect themselves, and both that violence is not an acceptable part of any tradition or culture.