Jyoti Singh Pandey: Why Her Tragic Death is Just the Tip Of the Iceberg in India
On December 16th, a tragic and violent gang rape, beating, and murder of 23-year-old medical student who we now know as Damini, sparked protests rarely seen in post-independence India, let alone the seat of government in Delhi. The outside world and many even in India were exposed to the shameful state of women's rights in the world's largest democracy.
In the days since Damini's tragic death, protests continue, as does the uncovering of several similar rape cases and violations of basic rights. The reporting in India media has been consistent, but the exposure those stories have gotten has increased dramatically. So many stories of girls, women, and mothers have emerged that in conversations with people on social media, there's often confusion about which details match which story. As I have written before, this is the angry irony of a country with any number of Hindu goddesses, deified Bollywood actresses, and even a leader in Indira Gandhi.
Here's a roundup of some events associated with the protests:
— The Times of India, considered a reputable publication with a strong and still-growing readership, posted this on their website. At first, I was absolutely shocked at the stark callousness and absurdity of the post, but upon further reading I realized, in that context, it's almost necessary to ask such basic, idiotic questions. They are starting at the beginning. When a country does that, and the media becomes a manger of information instead of just reporting it, these are the kinds of questions that get asked. Blatant and open is the Indian-style of going about sensitive matters in many walks of life.
— As Soutvik Biswas writes for BBC, "The city police commissioner told a news channel that even men were unsafe in Delhi as 'their pockets were picked'"
— India's Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, in charge of police, was one of the earliest government officials to comment on the anti-rape protests. After peaceful protesters were charged with batons, water cannons, and tear gas, Shinde compared the youth protesting to violent Maoists, thus justifying police violence against the crowd.
— It took an entire week of angry and violent protests for the subdued and some would say, infuriatingly quiet, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to address the crowds on his doorstep, being hit with tear gas. When he did, it was to tell them to calm down.
— The Curious Case of the Missing Gandhis. Sonia Gandhi, the Italian by birth and Indian political power by marriage, is arguably one of the most powerful women in all of South Asia. She didn't meet with protesters until the crowds garnered national and international television coverage, after they chased and heated with police batons. Playing to the camera is one of her strong suits, but many women were outraged at her lack of direct and immediate support for rape laws and revised police procedures for rape victims. As we see the 113th Congress elect the most women ever in the United States, it makes us wonder why female politicians in India have not more vocally fought for such rights all along.
— Then there is her son, Rahul Gandhi, a self-proclaimed leader of the youth in a country where a growing portion of 1 billion is under the age of 25. When many of the protesters, and the victim herself, are young or college-age citizens, where has their "leader" been save for a boilerplate statement? Forget morality, in political terms, it makes no sense for him to ignore the largest part of his supposed constituency. As the future of Indian politics, it is cause for worry for many Indian women.
— On the simply dangerous and factually incorrect front, RSS (akin to a national volunteer organization) Chief, Mohan Bhagwat, stated that there is a difference between India and Bharat, the Hindi name of the country. He furthers the damaging school of thought that calls for a return to traditional values because rapes only happen when women are exposed to modern culture in cities. Given Bhagwat's age, we can assume he did not live in pre-colonial India or even in pre-independence days.
— On January 4th, the government once again makes a case for harsh critics. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports: (the reference is to this interview given by Damini's friend and witness to the crime).