India rape case: Will protests finally spark change?
A gang-rape in Delhi, India, that resulted in the death of a university student has prompted nationwide protests that activists hope will change a culture in which harassment and violence is said to be common.
(Page 2 of 2)
"What can you do? You have to work, you have to commute," says Yasmin Talat, a 20-year-old graduate student and career counselor in Allahabad whose parents do not allow her to go out alone after 7 p.m.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Silent no longer: India's women fight back
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Sometimes I do get angry and say something," she says, "but I'm also scared. You never know what could anger these men."
Aparna Dasa, a 35-year-old saleswoman at a Gauhati department store, said whenever she gets into a crowded bus men try to hold her hand as she grasps the overhead support bar. "They try and touch at every opportunity."
"When I'm on a crowded bus and someone says something bad to me, in my heart I want to give him a tight slap, but I've learned to ignore it," says Gogia, the New Delhi receptionist. "What's the use? All the blame always comes back to the woman.
"We stay silent from a sense of shame," she adds, "or are made to stay silent."
The harassment and violence faced daily by millions of Indian women is a deeply entrenched part of a culture that values men over women.
The mistreatment starts early — with sex-selective abortions and even female infanticides that have wildly skewed India's gender ratio. India's 2011 census showed that the country had 914 girls under age 6 for every 1,000 boys.
Indian movies and television shows routinely trivialize women. In the often suggestive songs and dances of Bollywood films, it's not unusual for the leading man and a gang of his buddies to chase a coyly reluctant actress, touching, pulling and throwing themselves on top of her.
On television, the most popular soap operas show the ideal Indian woman as meek, submissive and accepting of her traditional role inside the home.
Any discussion of sexual violence has so far been taboo. In the past, politicians have said that women should dress modestly and not stay out late to avoid rape and molestations.
But following the New Delhi gang rape, a usually lethargic government machinery has responded more quickly, and with more empathy than before. Perhaps sensing the intensity of public anger — some activists and protesters have demanded that all rapists be chemically castrated, given the death penalty or even lynched in public — the government has vowed to enlist more women police officers and toughen sexual assault laws.
The public outpouring of anger and support has made many women across India feel like their fears and concerns are finally being heard.
Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research and a longtime women's rights activist, said the fact that boys and men had joined the protests "gives us hope."
"Then it becomes everyone's issue, and not just a women's issue," she said.
But no one imagines that change will be quick.
"The process is gradual," Kumari said. "Extremely patriarchal societies don't change in short bursts. But this movement will certainly not go to waste."
Associated Press writers Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, Aijaz Rahi in Bangalore, Indrajit Singh in Patna, Wasbir Hussain in Gauhati and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Allahabad contributed to this report.