Sexual harassment of women -- known in India by its euphemism, "eve-teasing" -- is widespread and includes behaviors ranging from lewd remarks to physical assault. In a recent Hindustan Times survey of 356 New Delhi women who take public transport, 78 percent of them reported having been sexually harassed in the past year.
According to the New York Times, rape in India has risen about 25 percent
over the past few years; increased reporting partly explains that rise;
but some have speculated that it is also driven by the realities of a
modernizing society that brings women into public spaces and
professional life in greater numbers, phenomena that some young men view
as threatening. Interestingly, a 1960 Time magazine article describing the "eve-teasing" problem also cited a society in transition as a contributing factor.
While 24,206 instances of rape were reported
in 2011, one nonprofit leader estimates from her field work that only
ten percent of rape cases see the light of day. Rape is a crime in
India, but when women do come to the police with a rape charge, the authorities frequently encourage them not to file their complaints. Last week, a 17 year-old girl
in India killed herself by ingesting poison. She had been gang-raped in
November, and when she brought the case to the police, they urged her
to withdraw the complaint, encouraging her instead to marry one of her rapists or figure out a monetary settlement with them.
Despite the laws on the books, violence against women is so lightly
condemned that over the past five years, India's political parties have nominated
260 candidates waiting to go on trial for various crimes against women.
A handful of state- and national-level lawmakers currently in office in
India face charges of rape or other crimes against women.
India's current public outrage might begin to chip away at this culture of impunity around rape. The Home Secretary has pledged more security on buses, and several fast track courts to adjudicate cases of violence against women, including the recent bus assault, are being set up; this program should be expanded throughout the country.
Such procedural improvements are welcome, but India needs a broader
cultural shift that revalues the lives of girls and women. Appalling
levels of female feticide, female illiteracy, child marriage, and
condoned violence against women are the harsh reality that Indian women
confront, and unless addressed, will hold the country back in the 21st century.
This post appears courtesy of CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.