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Analyzing the Public Outrage at the Delhi Bus Rape Inspired Fashion Shoot

August 11, 2014

Raj Shetye’s fashion photo shoot (see below), which appears to be motivated by the brutal 2012 gang rape and assault on a woman on a Delhi bus, has angered many in India and around the world.

click hereIn an interview with The Voice of the Cape (South Africa), the 50 Million Missing founder, Rita Banerji explains why she is not surprised by Shetye’s project. However Rita also says, it is equally important to analyze the public rage and question what it really represents. She observes that rape seems to touch a public nerve in India in a way that no other form of lethal violence on women or girls does, and goes on to discuss why this is because it’s still seen through a prism that views women as sexual resources owned by men. Synopsis below [To hear the full 15 min. interview click on the box above].

There are millions of women and girls murdered in India each year. About 17 million girls were killed between the ages of 1-15 years in India (click here) in one year (not feticides!), and about 106,000 women were burnt alive, mostly for dowry in one year (click here.) Hundreds more are killed in so-called ‘honor killings’ and witch lynchings, or in lethal rape cases. That is, at least, 35-40 girls and women are killed in India every minute. EVERY MINUTE!

Each of these killings involve a gang – where the family or community gangs up, to plot, torture, terrorize, and kill the victim in the most barbaric ways. In 2012 a woman and her baby daughter were locked up in a box by the husband and in-laws who wanted more dowry from her, and the box was doused with kerosene and set on fire. Their dying screams were heard out in the streets (click here).  The terror, the brutality, and the heinousness of these crimes are no less than that of the Delhi bus crime, and maybe even worse in that these are being committed in these women’s own homes by family members.

Then why do these brutal, lethal violent crimes against women and girls not evoke the same public outrage?

In her interview Rita explains that this is because the outrage towards rape related crimes still stem from the idea that women are men’s sexual resources. The outrage is more about the violation of a man’s  ‘sexual property’ than about gender related violence on women as a human rights crime.

Rita points out that this becomes clearer in how all brutal and lethal rapes do not evoke the same public outrage.  She explains with examples that the cases that have caused public furor in India, and have spilled into the international media, are inevitably about an individual man’s ‘woman’ or a community’s ‘women’ being ‘violated’ by another man, or by men of another community.  Rita emphasizes how brutal rapes within a family or gang rapes within a community do not cause the same public outrage, because it is perceived in some way as a man or men’s right over their ‘own resource.’ So for e.g. the gang rape of a teenager by men of a different caste will cause an uproar as in the Badayun case (click here), but not if the men are from the same community (click here and here).

Indeed even rapes that should have India storming the streets and government offices like the systemic rape and sexual torture of little girls by the police in orphanages (click here), or the rapes and murders of women in women’s shelters (click here) evoke little or no public response. The same is true with the rapes and/or killings of divorced women and widows. These women after all are no man’s “property.” Perhaps, in some way, seen as sexual resource for anyone to ‘use?’

South Africa, from where The Voice of the Cape broadcasts, like India in recent years has seen an explosive, out-of-control rise in sexual crimes against women. However, another significance of this interview for Rita personally, was that it was her involvement as a student, in the anti-apartheid movement, that inspired her to found The 50 Million Missing Campaign. To read about that click here.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2014 6:05 pm

    Reblogged this on iheariseeilearn.

  2. August 12, 2014 9:46 am

    I always wanted to work to protect human right whenever I saw such brutality on women. Till now I am just reading, writing and discussion about it. But no constructive step towards this. I want to join your group for this work. Please let me know if its possible.

  3. August 13, 2014 4:18 pm

    Reblogged this on REVOLUTIONS IN MY SPACE: A BLOG BY RITA BANERJI.

  4. Diane Croft-Beasley permalink
    August 13, 2014 5:14 pm

    I am outraged about all violence against women.

  5. August 19, 2014 3:17 am

    I am not an expert on sexuality and definitely not an expert on India. However, it seems to me that all these crimes are perpetuated by the lack of women’s empowerment in the vast majority of Indian society.
    Morals and customs, including sexual ones, change when the financial structure of society is altered. For instance, the empowerment of women in the West was a direct result of their getting jobs and financial independence during the two World Wars.
    It seems to me that the dowry system and women’s financial dependence on their male relatives produces a system of values and social norms that fosters their abuse. First daughters are seen as a burden, a view that certainly colors the way they are regarded by their male relatives (who assume the burden) and by women themselves. In such a context, avoiding or getting rid of a burden may seem justifiable to some, especially during times of need.
    On the other hand, when a woman has no claim over any assets, no power of her own and no protection from a family that considers her a burden, she is practically left at the mercy of her relatives. The numbers you quote prove beyond doubt that many are not merciful, not even well disposed toward the women who are born in their families or enter them through marriage.
    It seems to me therefore that a legal approach that would foster women’s financial empowerment and independence would go a long way towards changing their objectification and status of dependence.
    I would propose, if not a complete abolition, a change of the dowry system, where a woman would have control of her own dowry, which, in case of death should be inherited only by her children (and held in trust until they reach adulthood) or, if childless, would have to be returned, in full, to her family.
    Such laws would create an incentive for the woman’s second family to keep her alive and hopefully stem the tide of dowry murders.
    Other measures might include the passing down of the family name through the mother or reciprocal dowries. The second would relieve some of the burden on the family of the bride, as grooms would have to give as much as they ask for, under penalty of social shame.
    As for the rapes themselves, then perhaps, as a stop-gap measure until morals do indeed change, the law might allow for perpetrators to be sued by the families of the victims for compensation. Thus, it would not be a woman’s word against a man’s in a courtroom full of misogynist males, but a man against a man (victim’s father or husband against perpetrator) who would demand a return of his investment on the woman assaulted. I know the latter sounds demeaning for women, but I think such claims are less likely to be dismissed by a court of men. After all, such laws will be nothing more than temporary measures. Their aim will be to ensure some sort of penalty for the perpetrator so as to stem the wave of rapes for a generation or two until morals that allow for its existence change.
    I am sure many must have had thoughts along these lines. If not, I hope my ideas will spark some of your own, surely better suited to the situation.
    Wishing you every success in your efforts,
    MsD

  6. Sara permalink
    October 17, 2014 1:59 pm

    I think there is one more important point to note. *Only* incidents that have got a male witness receive media/public support – Nirbhaya’s case had a male friend who was accompanying her during the crime, shakti mills/journalist case had a male colleague accompanying the victim, Bangalore/Frazer town case too had a male friend accompanying the victim, Badun case had male relatives witnessing (from a distance, though)the girls being dragged (though the case is being twisted in all sorts of different shapes each day, of late.. But if the male relatives were closer to the spot at that time, it would have been more difficult to dole out twisted stories to the public like they are doing now), etc etc.
    Not one of the incidents where the victim was alone or had no male witness standing by her has *ever* received this level of sympathy/outrage from the media or the general public. Such cases, even if they appear in the news, instantly receive comments from trolls that they are completely concocted.

    There was an incident in Assam (Lakhipur or some place like that) where a mother who was on her way to pick her child from school was brutally gang raped & her eyes were gouged out. The local people had protested, but the media coverage wasn’t much. There was one small report one day, and the next report on the incident was a police statement which claimed that nothing had happened to the victim (just like they are claiming in the Badun case now?). The multiliations on the victim’s body don’t matter – all that matters is the presence or absence of a male witness. There was a rpae-and-murder committed by a cab driver & his accomplice on a lone commuter (no male relative/friend along) in Hyderabad. Many readers blamed the victim for being stupid enough to get into an empty taxi instead of waiting for a bus or walking. And media didn’t follow this case that much (may be some circles in facebook might have discussed this for a little longer time, but not the media/common public). There are several more incidents which never see the light of the day due to the lack of the ‘one-and-only-proof-of-credibility’.
    So.. even rapes (which are, as you said, seen as an assault on the rights of the victim’s ‘owner’) seem to have two sub-classes..

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