If you had asked me a year ago what came to mind when I thought of India, I would have said catchy Bollywood songs, yoga, colorful clothes, and maybe one or two scenes from Slumdog Millionaire. Sadly, I know this is not at all accurate. I’m guilty of letting a vibrant and colorful curtain of a culture that fascinates me trick me into forgetting what’s behind it.
A 2013 study by the World Bank ranks India as the second fastest growing economy. However, the country is still home to one-third of the world’s poorest people. There is a huge gap between the poor and the rich, the latter being the only groups benefiting from the country’s rapid economic growth.
Unfortunately, the economic gap is not the only one. There is another fissure in India’s society that today has gained national and international attention. It is the gap between the genders that has opened India’s flamboyant curtain and allowed me to see what is truly behind it.
Last month, I read a BBC article titled “Woman gang-raped on orders of ‘Kangaroo court’.” The piece told the story of an Indian woman who was raped by a group of men as punishment for being involved in a relationship with a man from a different community. This spine-chilling story is part of a series of rapes that has developed in the country over the past year.
Although the government has presented plans to help end these crimes, it is not resolving the core issue, and its plans will fail.
India passed stricter sexual assault laws last year, setting longer prison terms and death sentences for repeat offenders. The government created Fast-Track courts to deal exclusively with sexual assault cases. State governments installed better security systems, increased street lighting, and established a help line for victims. They have also announced plans to create women only spaces in parks, buses, and even hotels. According to The Times of India, officials unveiled a $2000 .32 caliber revolver called the “Nirbhaya” for women to keep in their purses for self-defense.
Neither the harsher punishments, the separation of genders, nor the “Nirbhaya” will keep rapes from happening. The punishments will be for few, while many others will still be out there muting their victims with fear and shame. The creation of women-only spaces will only isolate women and keep them from being equal members of society. Inserting a gun in to what is already a very violent act is counter productive.
India’s economic growth has in part modernized the country, but there are still many who stick to their centuries old misogynistic and patriarchal thinking. To stop the new rape “trend,” the problem has to be attacked from its root: the discrimination of women. And education is the key to change the built-in conceptions that lead to it.
Education should be targeted toward small children to prevent the behavior from surging in the first place, and ideas from reaching the future generations. The image of women needs to be strengthened in both the home and school setting.
Parents must treat sons and daughters equally. They should keep a healthy relationship between them regardless of their marital status. That would set an example for how their sons should treat other women, and how their daughters can expect to be treated by other men. Schools should encourage relationships between boys and girls while promoting the values of respect and empathy.
Aside from educating children, some adults need to revise the way they perceive and position women in the Indian society. Social media can play an important role in that task by filling its venues with rape awareness and prevention messages. In addition, the government should bring women to the center of India’s most important affairs and make them as “indispensable” as men are today.
But most importantly, women must come together and make their voices stronger so only they can decide what to study, where to work, who to love, and who to marry.
As for the rest of us, we must keep in mind that this is not just India’s problem. If, like me, you were tricked by its beautiful curtain, open it and don’t ever let it close. If we cover our society’s problems, we leave them alone, ignored, and free to grow indefinitely.