Individual acts cannot be generalized in India
Late last year, a young physiotherapy intern in New Delhi was brutally gang-raped after boarding a bus by six men, according to The Washington Post. The attackers included the driver and one minor. The woman died soon after due to her injuries. Recently, a 22-year-old photojournalist from Mumbai was gang-raped in an abandoned textile factory, reports The Guardian. Additionally, Michaela Cross (otherwise known as Rose Chasm), published a now famous CNN iReport, in which she describes in horrific detail the way she was stared at, groped and harassed daily by Indian men during a study abroad trip to India in 2012.
As a young Indian man, I feel an uneasy mix of shame and indignation when I think about these incidents. The fact that Indian men can perform such acts is shameful, but at the same time, these isolated incidents result in the creation of broad stereotypes and incorrect generalizations. The really heart-breaking part about Michaela Cross’s CNN piece is the thousands of comments that accompany it. Some implore people, especially women, to stay away from India. Some apologize to Michaela on the behalf of Indians everywhere. There is ignorance, but also fear in what people wrote. As I read the comments, I found myself getting defensive and thinking, “We’re not all like that.”
India gives a whole new meaning to the word diversity. With 1.2 billion people, over 500 languages and dialects, and more than ten widely practiced religions, one simply cannot speak about every Indian citizen in one breath. I’m convinced that most Indian men are actually very helpful and warm people.
There were 75,744 reported cases of sexual violence (including rape, molestation and harassment) in India in 2011, according to crowdvoice.org. The equivalent figure for the United States is 207,754 cases, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. India’s population is approximately four times that of America’s population, yet the United States’s rate of sexual violence is greater. Isn’t it a little unfair to generalize the negative tendencies observed in 75,744 people onto the 655.8 million males in Indian society?
Admittedly, the entire issue is bigger than just the number of sexual violence cases. According to Delhi-based psychologist Rajat Mitra in India Today, a substantial portion of sexual assault cases in India go unreported. It is even more depressing that a small minority of sexual offenders can poison India’s culture and create an atmosphere of fear. The average Indian woman longs for freedom from a society that has very strict expectations for her.
Society may not hesitate to blame sexual assault on the victim, if it is believed that these expectations were disregarded. Especially in rural India, a girl must take certain necessary precautions, such as dressing conservatively, largely avoiding male company, and staying indoors after dark. Even in the urban and fairly liberalized setting of Mumbai, most of my female friends wouldn’t wear shorts on the streets, or dare to step out alone after 10 p.m.
However, things are getting better. There is room for optimism. The New Delhi rape led to one of the largest demonstrations against sexual violence the world has ever seen. Massive protest rallies populated by both women and men engulfed the city for weeks. The Mumbai case led to similar, albeit comparatively smaller rallies. Michaela Cross’s piece probably wouldn’t have gotten the massive response it did if it came out a couple of years ago.
A critical mass of people are talking about change — the kind of change that rarely comes along — in the privacy of their homes and in the public forum. People are tired of a small population of men distorting reality for the rest of us.