By: Pooja Gundimeda
India is undeniably facing an epidemic which has taken the lives of thousands of women, both young and old. Daily rape and sexual assault is plaguing the country, and has become increasingly common in recent years—gradually embedding itself into Indian culture and social norms. According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2013 report, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012, and that number has increased with an average of 92 rape cases filed each day in 2015. In 98 percent of these cases, the victim knew the perpetrator. And, more commonly than not, a family friend or relative was responsible for brutal assault of the woman. India’s history of misogyny may be a contributing factor in why many Indian women are treated as if they are mens’ property; this trend is not only reflected in Indian culture, but is also seen implicitly in the lack of laws that could hold perpetrators of rape and sexual assault accountable. However, the presence of sexual assault and rape has become such a common occurrence that even the Indian government has taken notice.
Recently, the story of an Indian sexual assault made international headlines. Priyanka Reddy, a veterinarian, was gang-raped by four men and then later strangled to death. To cover their tracks, the men dumped her body under a bridge and lit her on fire. As the news of this horrendous case spread, thousands of citizens were left outraged—leading to protests all over the country.
Even though countless women come forward and report cases like this to the police, the police often fail to act on the information and the perpetrator gets away unscathed. Because of this lack of consequences, a pattern has formed and sexual assault is becoming more common in India. Unfortunately, if the police do believe the victim, they are limited in what they can do because of the lack of laws pertaining to assault. Rape is not punished severely, which continues to fuel the cycle of rapists walking freely. In order to change this, the police must start to believe victims of sexual assault, and new laws must be implementated by the Indian government. These new laws must hold the perpetrators of sexual assault more accountable for their actions. Such laws could include the introduction of longer prison sentences, as a deterrent to further instances of sexual assault. To stop the cycle of victim blaming, these items must occur simultaneously.
Outside of implementing more stringent laws relating to sexual assault, India still needs to focus on changes within its society moving forward. Although victim blaming and vague laws cause many of the issues, the root of the problem still needs to be addressed: India needs to shift cultural attitudes towards women.
Promisingly, the government has made multiple attempts to help women feel more safe. One of these methods is through an app called Himmat that connects Indian women to the local police using chat features. The app includes technology that allows the user to take pictures in the moment to document the crime. Unfortunately, though apps like these do their best to connect women to the police, there is poor connectivity in many regions, which makes the apps less reliable. Another attempt to help women feel safer is an initiative to prevent women from working the night shift, in response to data showing that one third of women feel unsafe working during the night shifts in industrial jobs in India. By not allowing women to work the night shift, these women would not have to travel at night, when crime is known to be higher. However, Indian women are not in favor of these changes and are angered by this policy because it exacerbates the gender inequality they feel in the workforce. Though these attempts have been made to make women feel safer, they fail to target the main problem at hand: the general treatment of women in their society.
Studies have shown that rape and sexual assault cases decrease when the quality and quantity of male sexual education increases. Countries like Sweden and the Netherlands have mandatory sexual education, and the results show that rape and sexual assault rates decrease significantly. Therefore, an increase in male sexual education could potentially help target the rape culture that has become the norm in India. Currently, India is choosing to “fix” the female side of the problem, instead of trying to stop rape and sexual assault from occurring. The focus on limiting women rather than reforming male attitudes toward women is extremely problematic.
While the elimination of victim blaming and creation of stricter sexual assault laws will help with rape culture, nothing with change until men’s attitudes about women in countries like India are changed. As proven in other countries, rape and sexual assault levels decrease when there is an increase in sexual education. If implemented in India, not only would the normality of rape culture significantly decrease, countless lives would be saved. The Indian government’s strategy for combating rape is further limiting women. But, considering that women are the predominant victim group of sexual assault in India, the government should be trying to remedy this problem by focusing on men and changing their both their view of women and their attitudes about rape and sexual assault. Although Priyanka Reddy could not be saved, through men’s sexual education and changing perspectives, countless other women in the future can be helped.