Two Years After the Delhi Gang Rape, Is India Losing Its Moral Moorings?

07/12/2014 6:17 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
An activist places a candle on a pavement during a candle lit vigil to protest against the gang rape of two teenage girls, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, May 31, 2014. Police arrested a third suspect and hunted for two others Saturday in the gang rape and slaying of two teenage cousins found hanging from a tree in Katra village, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a case that has prompted national outrage. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

A young girl traveling on a bus in India is verbally and sexually harassed by a group of men. The dreadful crime that happens next becomes national and international news as outraged Indians share, re-post and tweet about the incident thousands of times in a matter of hours. Does this story sound at all familiar?

In December 2012, the heinous gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student -- dubbed the Delhi gang rape by the media -- shocked a nation and led to days of protests and forced the authorities to introduce tough new anti-rape laws.

Just two years after the Delhi gang rape, two sisters on a bus in the state of Haryana, India were harassed and molested by brazen young men in full view of numerous other passengers. Not only did the other passengers not intercede, they sat and watched as the two girls courageously fought back.

A pregnant woman who was also targeted by these men allegedly filmed the episode on her mobile phone that has gone viral. Women's safety in India has topped headlines, and once again outraged the nation.

First, the bus driver and conductor apparently threw the young girls out of the bus for being a disturbance, rather than their male attackers. Second, after the harassers were traced and arrested, residents of their village apparently issued a warning to government officials to release them or face their wrath. These villagers also went on to claim that a 'false' complaint had been lodged against these men, and that they had not molested anybody. Third, the girls and their family are now reportedly under pressure to withdraw their complaints.

Such incidents test the resolve of all those who believe that India is slowly but surely changing for the better.

A whole two years after the shocking Delhi gang rape, why have things not changed? If even such a horrific act could not change the situation, what will it take for India to adjust its attitude towards its women? Why do patriarchal outlooks, which led to the girls in Haryana being asked to get out of the bus and then withdraw their complaint, continue to persist even as women in India make enormous strides in education, business, arts, sports and politics?

Unfortunately, no quick solutions are at hand. Even after promising fast track courts for crimes against women, legal progress for women seeking justice has been slow to be delivered. Families of women that approach law enforcement officers to file complaints are harassed, threatened and hounded, especially in rural areas. While incidences of women reporting complaints have gone up, such crimes remain significantly under-reported.

It is imperative that actions, incremental or monumental, take place continuously at all levels. The government, parliament, courts and police must continue to increase and expand their efforts to deliver justice to these women and make it easier for them to report crimes.

Public places must be made safe for women across the country, regardless of time of day. The media must remain cautious and sensitive while covering this issue, as it is important that crimes against women be covered extensively but the women themselves should not be further victimized by the coverage. NGOs and local organizations must act on their own and in collaboration with civic bodies to empower women, especially about their rights in instances of assault or rape.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first Independence Day speech took on the topic of rape. He told parents, "to do a better job of raising their sons." As a culture, Indians continue to value their sons over their daughters. Boys are taught that girls are subordinate to them. They are shown that girls do not deserve the same amount of education, do not enjoy the same rights and do not matter as much as boys.

There is an urgent and compelling need to create positive social norms that value girls and uphold their human rights. It is vital in order to improve the protection and empowerment of girls. Therefore engaging men and boys is critical to help them review their skewed understanding of masculinity and gender inequalities.

In September 2012, in an op-ed in The Hindu I wrote that, "A society that is unable to respect, protect and nurture its women and children loses its moral moorings and runs adrift." Has India begun to lose its moral moorings?

Unless there is a fundamental and tectonic shift in the values of the Indian populace, our sisters and daughters will remain threatened by a system that is designed to keep them subjugated.

A commitment to creating this shift cannot, in good conscience, be put off any longer or that loss of India's moral moorings may never be salvaged.

These are personal views of the author. Follow him on twitter @sidchat1

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