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India's problem with rape: Do women feel safe?

A series of brutal rape cases ...

Posted: May 8, 2018 12:07 PM
Updated: May 8, 2018 12:07 PM

A series of brutal rape cases in India has shocked the country to its core, placing the issue of sexual violence firmly back on the national agenda.

The incidents, including two alleged unrelated attacks on girls aged 16 and eight, have given rise to protests comparable to the rallies that followed the highly-publicized gang rape of a female college student in Delhi in 2012.

As with the events six years ago, the attacks have prompted demands for stricter rape laws.

Responding to the outrage, India's Cabinet has passed an executive order introducing the death penalty for rapists of children under the age of 12. The change in law is awaiting approval from parliament.

But in a country of more than 1.3 billion people, where women make up about 48% of the population, what do Indian women want?

CNN spoke to five women in the capital, New Delhi, and asked them for their views. Some of their responses have been lightly edited for style and flow.

'The entire country is pigeonholed into a rape country'

As a woman, do you feel safe in India?

Honestly, I am slightly skeptical and I don't want to generalize it, but no, I don't feel safe in India, considering that every moment there is something happening. Not exactly rape, but there are so many cases of molestation and sexual harassment. It's basically the male gaze. It's sort of brutal. You are going out, you are wearing short clothes, people are going to check you out from head to toe. I think that's the basic thing that makes you feel unsafe.

How do you think those who have been sexually violent towards women should be punished and why?

Castrate them. I don't think I need to add to that.

What is a woman's place in India compared to a man's?

I think they are subordinated in a lot of ways, not just in the workplace or at home. There is some sort of subordination happening at every moment. You wake up, you go out, you are subjected to those rules and regulations, and I don't think they are equal in any sense.

There is about 5% of the population that has surpassed or transcended those regulations, but there is still a large population that needs to break from that shell.

What do you think the Indian government should do to protect women?

Fast track trials. I think that is the main thing right now. If you talk about the rape of the 8-year-old, or the case in Uttar Pradesh, everything is so laid back, so lackadaisical. They really need to have a hands-on approach to rape and sexual harassment.

Following the global coverage of the recent rape attacks, what do you want to say to the world about how India treats women?

Undoubtedly, it's really unfortunate because in so many ways we have come forward and presented ourselves in a completely different light. And when cases like these happen, the entire country is pigeonholed into a "rape country." People who visit here, women are given explicit instructions to "wear the right clothes" and "not look around." I think that's unfortunate because there's more to India.

'I only feel safe in this slum'

As a woman, do you feel safe in India?

I only feel safe in this slum, at least we know each other here.

The women do not feel safe because the crime has increased so much and they have increased in way that there is no hearing for them and especially during this government's reign. Nobody is safe in Modi's government [Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bhartiya Janata Party].

How do you think those who have been sexually violent towards women should be punished and why?

These things have been happening for a long time, but nothing like how it is happening today in this government. Every person is tense; be it a young girl or an old woman who steps out of the house is not safe.

If all countries follow the example of the Middle Eastern laws, then there will be no crime, but they cannot do this here, because this is not a Muslim country.

I saw in the news, a politician from BJP [the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party] said, in such a big country like India, if one or two incidents like these [eight-year-old girl raped and murdered in Jammu and Kashmir] happen, we should not make an issue of these things. If your daughter or sister, or your granddaughter faces these things, what will your heart say then? You do not consider someone else's daughter your own, and say do not make an issue out of these things.

You take Delhi, Uttar Pradesh or the whole of India, justice is not being delivered and no one is ready to say the truth or to even accept the truth, and no one values what we say. No matter what the religion of the person is, be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, a guilty person will be guilty and there should be no mercy for that person.

How do you explain these issues to young girls?

The young girls do not [know] what will happen with them in the future. The girls are small [and] as they grow older we will explain these things to them. They do not know the difference between good and bad.

See what happened with the eight-year-old Kashmiri girl, I feel sad that no matter whoever she was, she was the daughter of a human and look at what these monsters did to her. My heart cries and I cry with tears filled with blood. And people are standing with her, and it is not that she was the daughter of a Muslim family, people from every religion are supporting her [and her family]. I say they [the culprits] should be hanged.

'I am very, very uncomfortable with the death penalty for rape, even if it's for victims under the age of 12'

As a woman, do you feel safe in India?

I feel as safe or unsafe as the city makes me feel. But there are certain points where I definitely do feel safe and there are times when I do feel that it would be unsafe for me to be in certain places in the city. It's subjective.

How do you think those who have been sexually violent towards women should be punished and why?

So there are two parts to the question. As far as punishment is concerned, it is more of a reaction that comes in later. I'd much rather focus on how we can make it safer for all kinds of people to exist.

More than punishment, I would say a certain kind of reform, knowing that women can access public spaces and do what they want to do, loiter and take risks.

I feel rather than punishment, we should have gender sensitization to make public spaces more equitable. And if you are referring to punishment, I am very, very uncomfortable with the death penalty for rape, even if it's for victims under the age of 12.

What is a woman's place in India compared to a man's?

This is a very loaded question, because this is a very inter-sectional question. An upper class woman's place in India is a better place, and has more access to a public space, than a lower class man.

An upper caste woman has a greater voice and participation in the economy, democracy and politics as compared to a lower caste woman.

There is a lot of segregation with different castes, different classes with respect to the social background that you come from. There's differential access, there's differential positioning available to different kinds of people, not just between genders but also within genders.

What do you think the Indian government should do to protect women?

"To protect women" is a very paternalistic and patronizing attitude. While I understand where that question is coming from, rather than protection, it should be allowing women to take risks [that] we need to stress on. Because when we say "protection," we are also saying that there is something from which they need protecting.

While I agree that there needs to be a legal framework that gives women the right to exercise whenever they feel like they have been marginalized, at the same time, a culture of protection will always tell women that: "This is a safe space. You need to be here," and "Don't do this, this is unsafe for you."

So rather than protection, I'd say equitable access to both men and women and other genders also is more important, not just protection.

Following the global coverage of the recent rape attacks, what do you want to say to the world about how India treats women?

This idea of "India treating women" makes for good stories, optics and headlines. It's not that India is not trying to fight. India is struggling with gender issues as much as any other country is.

We are struggling with it much more, especially with men who can't deal with women in public spaces. Men don't know how to deal with their masculinity. A lot of rape cases in India are happening with men who are known to the victim, not strangers so there is something else at work here. India is struggling as much as anyone else is. I hope to see a better future.

'Media is showing it a little too much'

As a woman, do you feel safe in India?

Yes. Based on what I have felt, I have not gotten a bad impression till now. I am traveling in the metro [Delhi subway network] -- it's safe. My work environment is clean, too.

How do you think those who have been sexually violent towards women should be punished and why?

Because they do wrong things to girls. Recently, with what happened to the 8-year-old in Jammu and Kashmir -- she is a kid and such bad things were done to her. Indian law, when compared to others, are not strict enough, is a very long process. More needs to be done and they need to be thoroughly punished.

In foreign countries, things like this don't happen, people are afraid. People don't even look at women that way. That should happen here as well. People should be made afraid.

Comparing a woman's place to a man's place in society, do you think there is any difference?

In my house, as far as I have seen, education is the most important thing where girls get more opportunities to move upwards.

My parents don't know how to read and write. I am the first graduate girl in my family. My father really encouraged me to study and work. In the Muslim community that I live in, I am the only woman that works. I didn't have any problem. Thinking has changed.

My father is very proud of the fact that I studied and I am working. I am married and I am working after getting married. My husband and his family are also happy.

Following the global coverage of the recent rape attacks, what do you want to say to the world about how India treats its women?

Everyone knows what the situation of women is in India. For a few women it's fine, but if you talk about lower categories or in villages, then the situation is really bad. No one is literate.

Media is showing it a little too much. Take the case of the eight-year-old. No one was doing anything for her. Everyone put hashtags on WhatsApp. That day, I was going in the direction of India Gate [a monument in Delhi]. People weren't there to show support but to take selfies with Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi [India's opposition leader and his sister]. Everyone took banners and went thinking they will be on TV and become famous. No one felt the pain. Everyone enjoyed it and it felt like gossip.

'There is so much fear inside me'

As a woman, do you feel safe in India?

It is a matter of disgrace for us.

They [government] say "beti bachao, beto padaho" [save the daughter, educate the daughter]. Tell me one thing: Where are the daughters safe?

There are young girls who are working and for that they will have to go out, then people say they move out in the middle of the night and this happened because of that, then what is the mistake of these little girls?

Even I am a mother and I can totally feel what the parents of the eight-year-old victim are going through. And tomorrow it can happen with me as well. Even I am the mother of a 10-year-old girl, she goes to school, till where will I follow her?

How do you think those who have been sexually violent towards women should be punished and why?

There is so much fear inside me, and I feel that this is all wrong and it should never happen. The punishment should be delivered hand to hand, there should not be any delays and the cases should not go on for years. People like these [the culprits] should be hanged.

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