Skip to main content

Victims blamed in India's rape culture

By Ruchira Gupta, Special to CNN
August 28, 2013 -- Updated 0828 GMT (1628 HKT)
Indians in Siliguri protest violence against women on July 26, calling for stricter punishments for rapists.
Indians in Siliguri protest violence against women on July 26, calling for stricter punishments for rapists.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruchira Gupta says the rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai is not surprising
  • Gupta: Women don't report rapes because they will be stigmatized and traumatized
  • When Gupta appeared in court to report an attack, lawyers held her responsible
  • Gupta: Culture of rape is ingrained in misogynistic society where men in control don't care

Editor's note: Ruchira Gupta is the president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an Indian organization dedicated to ending sex trafficking. She is the 2009 recipient of the Clinton Global Citizen Award for her work with victims and survivors of sexual violence.

(CNN) -- When I read about the rape of a 23-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai, I thought, here we go again. On December 6, 1992, when I was a 29-year-old reporter covering the demolition of a mosque in northern India, I was attacked. I wasn't raped, but my attackers sexually assaulted and then tried to kill me.

Someone dragged me to a trench outside the mosque and pulled my shirt off. But a passerby jumped in, fought off my attackers and saved me.

When I appeared in court to testify against the attackers, their lawyers asked me questions that implied I was responsible. How could the daughter of a good family have gone to cover the demolition? Did I smoke? What kind of clothes was I wearing? Did I believe in God?

Ruchira Gupta
Ruchira Gupta

The judge did not stop them. It was a demoralizing and toxic experience, but one that is not unknown to women in India who choose to speak out against sexual attacks. They are silenced by a process that heaps shame, fear and guilt on them.

Indian women feel sorrow, anger at U.S. student's harassment

In rural Rajasthan in 1992, a judge dismissed charges filed by a low-caste, or Dalit, grassroots social worker, Bhanwari Devi, who said she was gang raped. She had been campaigning against child marriage. A judge said, "a middle-aged man from an Indian village could not possibly have participated in a gang rape in the presence of his own nephew."

A judgment like this not only deters other women from testifying against their rapists, it also emboldens the attackers, who know that they will get away with it.

Most women say they would never tell the police about an attack, afraid that they would be ignored or even abused by the cops themselves.

Keeping chivalry alive in India: Men respond to rape crisis

Mumbai's working women want more security
4-year-old girl dies after rape
Remembering New Delhi gang-rape victim
American allegedly gang-raped in India

In June, 13 anti-rape protesters were arrested outside the home of the West Bengal chief minister and detained for more than eight hours. Ironically, they were protesting the lack of police protection for women in the state following the rape and murder of a 20-year-old college student whose body was found lying near a river near the outskirts of Kolkata, and that of a 14-year-old girl who was raped and killed in the town of Gede, 90 miles away, only three days later.

Few women want to appear in court only to be stigmatized and traumatized -- unlike treatment of the suspects. While India's legal framework has improved for women over the past 20 years, the people implementing it are mostly male cops and lawyers who live in a deeply patriarchal society.

Incidents of rape have gone up by 873% in India in the past 60 years. On average, each day, three Dalit women are raped in some part of our country. The conviction rate for rape cases in 2011 was 25% -- although some estimate only one in 10 rapes is reported. The conviction rate for men accused of raping Dalit women is almost nil.

The National Crime Records Bureau's annual report of crime statistics also reports disturbing findings: A woman is raped somewhere in India every 20 minutes, and the number of children raped has increased by 336% in the past 10 years.

This culture of impunity is certainly one of the reasons rape has too often become the weapon of choice for frustrated young men who blame women, increasingly visible in the workplace, for their unemployment, and who hope to regain jobs by frightening women back home through sexual violence.

The desire to blame women is fed by a cult of masculinity promoted by corporate and political leaders who serve as role models for the rest of society.

Harassment in India: 'The story you never wanted to hear'

In the course of my work with Apne Aap Women Worldwide, I have seen the steady creeping of a rape culture into the fabric of India. We work to organize women in prostitution to resist their own and their daughters' rape. The biggest challenge we face is the attitude of politicians, senior police officials, heads of foundations and even policy makers who view rape as a normal part of society. Many have told me: "Men will be men."

Recently, when National Crime Records Bureau pegged West Bengal as the state with the highest incidence of crimes against women, the chief minister contested the bureau's statistics rather than tackling the problem.

Continually, budget allocations to the Ministry of Women and Child Development are reduced. Debates to ensure equal power sharing between the sexes through the Women's Reservation Bill have gone nowhere.

But no amount of violence and intimidation is going to force women back into their homes. In fact, homes are often the places where females are in the most danger -- from the time they are conceived to old age. An average Indian female could likely be a victim of foeticide, infanticide, malnourishment, dowry, child marriage, maternal mortality, domestic servitude, prostitution, rape, honor killings and domestic violence -- simply because she is female.

Equipped with better education, women are courageously taking their place in the public sphere as doctors, lawyers, journalists, bankers, politicians, farmers, teachers and more. They are signing up for social justice movements to end the growing inequality and unemployment in our country.

As yet another gang-rape victim suffers in a Mumbai hospital in India, we have to recognize the need to overhaul the criminal justice system.

In December 2012, India and the world were shocked by the brutal gang rape and beating aboard a moving bus of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, who later died of massive internal injuries. It prompted desperate calls for reform, protests and close examination of India's attitudes toward rape.

But after the initial outrage, it seems that the law has only changed on paper. The rape in Mumbai might not have happened if the culture of rape was truly overcome and sexual assaults were taken seriously.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruchira Gupta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT