By Roohani Deshpande
NEW DELHI, India – The city and the entire country are outraged at the brutal gang rape and horrific torture of a 23-year-old young woman at the hands of half a dozen men.
The December 16 attack, covered widely in news accounts, triggered both fury and fear in the heart of citizens throughout India.
On Sunday, 16th December, the victim, a medical student and her male friend boarded a private bus after watching a movie, believing it to be a safe mode of transport, according to reports.
News accounts say the assault began after the driver's friends began to harass the woman, verbally abusing her for the fact that she was outside with a man at night. When the male friend tried to resist, the six men used an iron rod to attack him.
The attackers turned on the woman as well, beating her and taking turns raping her and with unimaginable violence and hatred. News reports quoted doctors saying the rusted iron rod was inserted into the woman and taken out with such force that her intestines were pulled out, her genitals suffered irreversible damage and she sustained severe head injuries.
Though both the woman and her friend were subsequently thrown out of the bus and left to die, she is in the hospital, still alive.
Sexual and physical violence against women is considered an ordinary thing in India, but such hideous violence takes place rarely.
This incident is just reminding us how normalized sexual violence has become across the nation. What does this say about the place of women in our society?
The act of rape continues to be perceived as personal shame for the victim, and victim-blaming is the norm in India. Instead of criminalizing the men who take advantage of innocent women walking on the street, using public transportation or wearing what they like, this nation routinely harasses the victims a second time by pushing them to take responsibility for what happens to them.
Our society fails to acknowledge sexual and physical assault against women as a violent crime and refuses to punish criminals.
Women's “place” continues to be fixed in society, as evident from this incident where this woman was attacked for merely being outside with a man at night.
Basic human rights, like having the freedom to walk on a street, wear the clothing they like, use the transportation they like, choose their friends or marriage partners, etc. do not apply to women.
Complete strangers feel entitled to control women who express themselves freely. It is shameful to be a part of such a nation where men are considered the default humans while the humanity of women is seldom acknowledged.
A certain poll conducted by experts declares India to be the worst country for women due to female feticide, child marriage and rising dowry deaths.
Since the attack, Indians, especially young people, have taken to the streets in protest, demanding harsh punishment for the rapists and a safer nation for women.
Strengthening of laws and regulations is the first step to stop this overwhelming gender based oppression, but without a shift in society's mindset regarding women's humanity, any measures to protect women are doomed to fail.