The rape in Delhi has shocked India. Has it really? Or was it the sight of thousands of young students, male and female, demonstrating on the streets and being assaulted by the police for daring to demonstrate that made some Indian citizens think seriously about the problem? As for the Congress government that has, like most of the opposition parties, tolerated this for decades, it was the bad publicity abroad that finally did the trick, but only as far as this case is concerned.
Rape takes place in police stations, in military barracks, in the streets and occasionally in some provincial parliaments. The feminist Communist parliamentarian Brinda Karat, who has long campaigned on the issue, pointed to the assault of a member of the Trinamool assembly by a male oppositionist on 11 December last year. ‘Women were not safe even inside the assembly,’ she said.
Legal activists in Kashmir and Manipur, occupied by the Indian Army, have produced report after report highlighting cases of women raped by soldiers. Response from the top brass: nil. In a country where the culture of rape is so embedded, only a determined effort on every level can change things. This will not happen if this case and others are forgotten.
In 2004, a group of middle-aged mothers were so enraged by the military raping their daughters and sisters that they organised a protest unique in the annals of the women’s movement. They gathered outside the Indian Army barracks, stripped, and held up a banner that read ‘Indian Army Rape Us.’ That image, too, shocked India, but nothing changed. Only a few weeks later another rape scandal erupted in Manipur. If the Indian state is incapable of defending its women, perhaps the world’s largest democracy should seriously consider a change of name. Rapeistan comes to mind.