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Why ignoring Indian culture does a huge disservice to Indian women

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Originally published for Liberal Conspiracy on 04/01/2012


Many commentators have written about the Delhi gang-rape case but, in my opinion, very few of them have alluded to the cultural aspects. We cannot just sweep it under the carpet.

While Owen Jones was right to point out that “rape and sexual violence against women are endemic everywhere” and that a third of Britons blame the victim, at least women in western countries are not conditioned to be raised as potential mothers and wives, with this notion of shame constantly hanging over them.

In the UK, no sane person would dream of telling a rape victim that she must marry her attacker. In late December, another Indian girl, who was gang-raped, committed suicide after police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers.

In 1997, Bollywood released a well-known film, Raaja Ki Aayegi Barat, in which a young woman is raped; the court then compels the rapist to marry the woman because, as she says, “who will marry me now?” (Just Google Bollywood rape scenes and you will be presented with hundreds of links to sleazy scenes where we are invited to ogle at ‘hot babes’ being raped.)

Skewed attitudes towards the other sex develop from a young age. A female child is made aware of her differences by her parents and relatives who constantly belittle them compared to men. My brother is always given preferential treatment to me, and I am told that “It’s different for him, he’s a boy” or, my personal favourite, “A man can go out and come back with shit-faced and sit at the dinner table without any problems. You’re a woman, it’s different.”

I’ve been told horrific stories of Asian women who have been raped by their husbands and told by their mothers that it is their “duty” to submit to their husband’s will. Having honour is often the most sought after, protected and prized asset that speaks to the status and reputation of a family within their community.

I was stalked by a man for two years and did not report the incident to the police for fear I would be told by my family that their “honour” would be at stake if others knew. I have been harassed and molested in public and private, and have never told them, precisely because of this stigma.

This from a British-born Asian – imagine how worse it must be for those living in the subcontinent? There, females are neither safe inside the womb nor outside it.

Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling Congress Party, described Damini as a “cherished sister”. I really wish people would stop suggesting that if everyone treated women as their own sister or mother, there would be a reduction in harassment or rape. The fact that many of these men do not even respect their ‘own’ women, and view them as inferior, can be seen as a reason for why they commit these awful crimes in the first place.

To deny the impact of culture on this crime is doing a huge disservice to Indian women and ignores its overall impact. It is tragic that a woman had to be gang-raped to awaken something in the Indian mentality. However, let us hope that this is the beginning of a new wave of change and reform.

Written by Iram Ramzan

January 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm

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