It has been just over two years since the brutal rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey in India. Although certainly not the first of its kind to have occurred to a girl in that country or any other country, it was the first to shed international light and criticism of the poor treatment of women in India. The horrific details of this woman’s last weeks of life, abruptly and violently taken from her, have made headlines across the globe. Men and women alike banded together in protest, demanding not just equal treatment of women, but the just and humane treatment of women.
It deeply saddened me to learn that so many people (not just men, I might add), think what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey was deserved, and was her own fault. It was her punishment for being out past an arbitrarily set curfew with a male friend. I myself have felt fairly restricted whenever I visit India in terms of my womanhood. I always knew not to bare too much skin below my neck or above my ankles, not to go out in public alone, and not to leave the house once the sun began to set. Growing up in America, these were simple rights that I grew used to, but I understood and respected the dichotomy of expectations once I stepped foot on Indian ground. Nonetheless, times are changing all across the world, especially so in India. Depending on what part of India you are in, you may still have to abide by these rules. But it shocked me that even in a large scale modern city such as New Delhi, where girls and women wear Western clothing (by that I mean jeans and t-shirts), enjoy street food at the bazaar, and go out with their friends freely, such mindsets about gender roles are still so prevalent.
Filmmaker Leslee Udwin has created India’s Daughter, a documentary of these events which ignited worldwide focus on women’s rights. It was supposed to air this Sunday on International Women’s Day. However, it has been pushed ahead of schedule to be aired in the UK tonight on BBC4. Unfortunately, India is currently banning the airing of the film there. Excuses range from it being a “conspiracy” to defame India to concern that it could create social unrest. In my opinion, the film is being banned in India for the simple reason that these dark, inner prejudices that are so pervasive in Indian culture would be exposed and thus questioned, leading to great demands in equalizing the treatment of women. There are already numerous news articles detailing the chilling perpetrators’ viewpoint that they were doing the right thing, that Pandey deserved what happened to her, and that she should not have fought back. Another interviewee who had raped a five year old child stated that because she was a beggar, her life did not matter. India should feel embarrassed that these viewpoints are being brought to the limelight, not justified. At least embarrassment would indicate some form of introspective criticism.
Women are seen as the lesser of the sexes in any country you may visit. It just may not be as obvious on the surface in so-called “first world” nations. One may truly believe that paying women less than men and objectification of women in American society is far better than what goes on in other nations, but these are all on the same spectrum of hatred towards women. India is known for female infanticide because of the social and financial constraints a girl child brings to her family. She is thought of as an object to be rid of as soon as she is born, not as a human being deserving of love and respect. Although dowry is illegal in India, many still follow this archaic custom, and families may spend their entire life savings to marry off just one daughter. In its true essence, dowry was supposed to remain the bride’s property as she left her own home and joined her husband’s. However, over time this was corrupted into serving as gifts for the groom’s family in exchange for a bride. The value of the material goods often determines whether the marriage will take place or not. This is utterly inexplicable to me, for in Hinduism, material things are not to be cherished. They, like the body itself, do not matter. But as we know, religion is readily warped to suit individual needs. Not only that, but there are so many contradictions between this effort to squash love and affection in a country known for the Taj Mahal, the epitome of romantic expression, not to mention the Kama Sutra and the Khajuraho monuments.
Additionally, there are groups in India who oppose any progress whatsoever of young girls and women into independent beings (financially, emotionally, physically). The Kiss of Love campaign was organized in my own family’s state of origin, Kerala. When I first heard about this, I was taken completely by surprise. To me, Kerala was one of the last states I would expect young men and women to openly go out for a show of public affection, albeit in protest. Kiss of Love was meant to be a peaceful protest against the moral policing that occurs in India. It was thwarted by conservatives who turned violent, and people were even arrested for the simple act of kissing (or attempting to kiss) a loved one in public. Along these lines, last month I heard about a group of religious men who planned to go out on Valentine’s Day, seek young couples, and force them to get married if they were seen holding hands or showing affection. Check out the almost laughable, but nonetheless chilling, ideals of certain religious groups in India on this short BBC program.
It brings me hope that there have been many positive responses to bring awareness to these issues around the world. From One Billion Rising and International Women’s Day to International Day of the Girl Child and The Abused Goddesses campaign, word is spreading faster than ever. I commend the Indian celebrities who are taking a stand against violence against women as well because the industry is idolized by Indians even more than Hollywood stars are in America. I hope to watch India’s Daughter once it airs in the United States. In our age of technology, it is only a matter of time before it is disseminated in India, the very country in which it really needs to be seen and heard.