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‘There is a tendency to blame the victim’: More needs to be done to solve India’s rape epidemic

Jessie Williams – The Independent

Synopsis:

I wrote a long read for The Independent on India’s rape epidemic to coincide with the eighth anniversary of the horrific Delhi gang rape (also known as the Nirbhaya case, meaning ‘fearless’ in Hindi, as Indian law initially prevented the press from publishing the victim’s name). The case galvanised India, leading to nationwide protests demanding an end to the normalisation of sexual violence, culture of impunity, and victim blaming. Many saw this as sparking India’s #MeToo revolution: Indian women had spoken, but would they be listened to?

I investigated what changes have occurred since that fateful night on 16th December 2012 and asked whether rape culture is still a problem in the country. I found that despite genuine commitments by the government to improve women’s safety after Nirbhaya, rape cases are still high. The latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau reveals that India recorded 32,033 rape cases in 2019 – an average of 88 rape cases every day. Campaigners say that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as many more go unreported. The conviction rate for such cases is shockingly low at only 27 per cent, despite charges being filed 85 per cent of the time. While 2019 also saw over 400,000 reported cases of crimes against women up from 2018 and 2017.

I spoke to experts, activists, service workers, and survivors who told me that India is becoming increasingly xenophobic and discriminatory – and the people who bear the brunt of this are often the most marginalised, such as Dalit, Tribal, and Muslim women. Out of all the reported rape cases during 2019, 11 per cent were from the Dalit community (almost 3,500). Dalits – formerly known as “untouchables” – are considered the lowest in the Hindu caste system and endure regular social ostracisation, despite laws against it.

Several case studies confirmed to me that victim blaming and shaming is still rife across India – meaning that women are less likely to come forward if they are raped for fear of bringing shame on their families. I also found out that the support promised by the then government after the Nirbhaya case is not adequate in many states. Most shocking was the inexplicable link between the ruling BJP and the increase of violence (often sexual) towards minorities, which must be called out and addressed by prime minister Modi.

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Impact:

Although I have no evidence of policy change because of my article, I do know that it reached a wide and varied audience who may not be aware of this topic and inspired dialogue around this sensitive, taboo issue, which needs to be discussed further – not just in India but around the world.

The response to the piece on social media was very positive. I have over 1,000 views of the article post on Linkedin. On Twitter, my tweet sharing the article received 2,480 impressions and 250 total engagements, along with many likes and retweets. On Instagram, my post sharing the article garnered 1,374 impressions. I also received several comments from Indian people who told me they were really glad I was shining a light on this issue and they had shared my piece with their families and friends back in India. Some of the people I interviewed got in contact after they had read the piece to tell me that they were happy with it. For example, Dr V A Ramesh Nathan, the general secretary of the National Dalit Movement for Justice emailed me to show his appreciation of “your effort to write a detailed article with substantial evidence of the incident and the impunity of the state with various actors. I hope this will impact positively on the lives of Dalit women as well as the eradication of Caste-based discrimination in the country.”

Several men who read the piece also got in contact to voice their shock at the treatment of women in India, so I hope my article will help them to understand the experiences of women and perhaps they could help to educate more men about this. After all, education and attitudes towards women was something I highlighted as needing to improve in order to combat rape culture, so this can be seen as good steps in the right direction.

As The Independent’s readers are mostly based in the UK or the US, they may not be aware of the Nirbhaya case or just how prevalent rape culture is in India or about caste discrimination. According to statistics from Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/380695/the-independent-monthly-reach-by-demographic-uk/), The Independent was the seventh most popular newspaper in the UK in a 2019 survey, with middle class adults aged over 35 reading it the most. This demographic is not likely to be well informed about this particular topic – an example of this would be the reaction of my parents, who were both shocked when they read the piece. I hope this means I have contributed to educating people about this important topic and in turn this will eventually lead to action

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