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