Skip to main content

Victims blamed in India's rape culture

By Ruchira Gupta, Special to CNN
updated 4:28 AM EDT, Wed August 28, 2013
Indians in Siliguri protest violence against women on July 26, calling for stricter punishments for rapists.
Indians in Siliguri protest violence against women on July 26, calling for stricter punishments for rapists.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruchira Gupta says the rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai is not surprising
  • Gupta: Women don't report rapes because they will be stigmatized and traumatized
  • When Gupta appeared in court to report an attack, lawyers held her responsible
  • Gupta: Culture of rape is ingrained in misogynistic society where men in control don't care

Editor's note: Ruchira Gupta is the president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an Indian organization dedicated to ending sex trafficking. She is the 2009 recipient of the Clinton Global Citizen Award for her work with victims and survivors of sexual violence.

(CNN) -- When I read about the rape of a 23-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai, I thought, here we go again. On December 6, 1992, when I was a 29-year-old reporter covering the demolition of a mosque in northern India, I was attacked. I wasn't raped, but my attackers sexually assaulted and then tried to kill me.

Someone dragged me to a trench outside the mosque and pulled my shirt off. But a passerby jumped in, fought off my attackers and saved me.

When I appeared in court to testify against the attackers, their lawyers asked me questions that implied I was responsible. How could the daughter of a good family have gone to cover the demolition? Did I smoke? What kind of clothes was I wearing? Did I believe in God?

Ruchira Gupta
Ruchira Gupta

The judge did not stop them. It was a demoralizing and toxic experience, but one that is not unknown to women in India who choose to speak out against sexual attacks. They are silenced by a process that heaps shame, fear and guilt on them.

Indian women feel sorrow, anger at U.S. student's harassment

In rural Rajasthan in 1992, a judge dismissed charges filed by a low-caste, or Dalit, grassroots social worker, Bhanwari Devi, who said she was gang raped. She had been campaigning against child marriage. A judge said, "a middle-aged man from an Indian village could not possibly have participated in a gang rape in the presence of his own nephew."

A judgment like this not only deters other women from testifying against their rapists, it also emboldens the attackers, who know that they will get away with it.

Most women say they would never tell the police about an attack, afraid that they would be ignored or even abused by the cops themselves.

Keeping chivalry alive in India: Men respond to rape crisis

Mumbai's working women want more security
4-year-old girl dies after rape
Remembering New Delhi gang-rape victim
American allegedly gang-raped in India

In June, 13 anti-rape protesters were arrested outside the home of the West Bengal chief minister and detained for more than eight hours. Ironically, they were protesting the lack of police protection for women in the state following the rape and murder of a 20-year-old college student whose body was found lying near a river near the outskirts of Kolkata, and that of a 14-year-old girl who was raped and killed in the town of Gede, 90 miles away, only three days later.

Few women want to appear in court only to be stigmatized and traumatized -- unlike treatment of the suspects. While India's legal framework has improved for women over the past 20 years, the people implementing it are mostly male cops and lawyers who live in a deeply patriarchal society.

Incidents of rape have gone up by 873% in India in the past 60 years. On average, each day, three Dalit women are raped in some part of our country. The conviction rate for rape cases in 2011 was 25% -- although some estimate only one in 10 rapes is reported. The conviction rate for men accused of raping Dalit women is almost nil.

The National Crime Records Bureau's annual report of crime statistics also reports disturbing findings: A woman is raped somewhere in India every 20 minutes, and the number of children raped has increased by 336% in the past 10 years.

This culture of impunity is certainly one of the reasons rape has too often become the weapon of choice for frustrated young men who blame women, increasingly visible in the workplace, for their unemployment, and who hope to regain jobs by frightening women back home through sexual violence.

The desire to blame women is fed by a cult of masculinity promoted by corporate and political leaders who serve as role models for the rest of society.

Harassment in India: 'The story you never wanted to hear'

In the course of my work with Apne Aap Women Worldwide, I have seen the steady creeping of a rape culture into the fabric of India. We work to organize women in prostitution to resist their own and their daughters' rape. The biggest challenge we face is the attitude of politicians, senior police officials, heads of foundations and even policy makers who view rape as a normal part of society. Many have told me: "Men will be men."

Recently, when National Crime Records Bureau pegged West Bengal as the state with the highest incidence of crimes against women, the chief minister contested the bureau's statistics rather than tackling the problem.

Continually, budget allocations to the Ministry of Women and Child Development are reduced. Debates to ensure equal power sharing between the sexes through the Women's Reservation Bill have gone nowhere.

But no amount of violence and intimidation is going to force women back into their homes. In fact, homes are often the places where females are in the most danger -- from the time they are conceived to old age. An average Indian female could likely be a victim of foeticide, infanticide, malnourishment, dowry, child marriage, maternal mortality, domestic servitude, prostitution, rape, honor killings and domestic violence -- simply because she is female.

Equipped with better education, women are courageously taking their place in the public sphere as doctors, lawyers, journalists, bankers, politicians, farmers, teachers and more. They are signing up for social justice movements to end the growing inequality and unemployment in our country.

As yet another gang-rape victim suffers in a Mumbai hospital in India, we have to recognize the need to overhaul the criminal justice system.

In December 2012, India and the world were shocked by the brutal gang rape and beating aboard a moving bus of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, who later died of massive internal injuries. It prompted desperate calls for reform, protests and close examination of India's attitudes toward rape.

But after the initial outrage, it seems that the law has only changed on paper. The rape in Mumbai might not have happened if the culture of rape was truly overcome and sexual assaults were taken seriously.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruchira Gupta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT