A few years ago, I stayed in Delhi alone for a month where I was recording an album with producers Karsh Kale and Gaurav Raina. A driver picked me up every day and took me to Gaurav's music studio. When I finished working, he would then take me to back to the apartment I had rented not too far away. My mother, who had organized a trip to India to coincide with mine, stayed with me for a week. During that time, she warned me nearly every day about the dangers that lurked for a woman alone in India, especially Delhi.
I was never to travel on a bus, a train or any public transportation unless it was a private car approved by a reputable company. I was never to travel late at night without male companions (she meant relatives). Actually, it was better that I just stay home and not go out at night because Delhi was dangerous. Her assessment seemed incredibly restrictive and unreasonable since I was in a "New India." A more global, open India that wasn't as misogynistic and backwards as the one my parents had known while living there. Or was I?
The gang-rape murder of 23-year-old woman by six men makes me think that perhaps my mother was right and India has just gotten worse for women. This gang rape is not an insolated event. Men molest, cackle and constantly disrespect women in public places all the time in India. Unfortunately, this is a known fact to a lot of Indian women who have either traveled or live in the country.
The reality that any woman has to fear getting onto an overcrowded bus or train filled with men because she feels she will be touched inappropriately says something about the lack of protections, legal and otherwise, for women in Indian civil society. Men are not punished for sex crimes or sexual harassment. Instead they are protected by a corrupt unsympathetic system. The Washington Post reported that a government panel had been compiled to deal this problem and "the panel suggested removing the "marital rape exception" -- in Indian law, husbands can't be accused of raping their wives."
Had the explosive international attention not shamed India for its twisted politics and lack of policies protecting women, this 23-year-old gang-rape victim would have died quietly, like all the others whose attacks have gone unnoticed. If there are no real consequences as a result of a lack of leadership, corruption, cronyism, sycophancy due to class and caste and all around lawlessness, then obviously there will be men who wield their power by abusing and assaulting women.
The wider problem is the one that needs resolution. How do you change deep-seated societal misogyny? The 2011 census in India made obvious the level of female feticide, citing 914.23 girls were born for every 1000 boys. Indian attitudes about what it means to have a girl have not changed. Men and women inside and outside of India still feel disappointment when a girl is born. Now there is the real rub. Killing a girl just for being born a girl is both the beginning of preferential treatment for boys and the beginning of a misogyny that is sure to break down all levels of respect for all women. If there is no respect for the life of a female infant, then surely there is no respect for the life of the woman who gave birth to her. It's cyclical.
Evidence shows the sex selection law is broken because everyone seems to believe the same thing from doctors to government. "The use of ultrasound and abortion for sex selection has been banned since 1994 in India." There is no enforcement of these types of laws intended to protect either baby girls or adult women from those who want to harm or kill them. It seems that public institutions like hospitals and schools that are supposed to protect often are just as corrupt. There is no equal treatment under the law because in practice, India has no law. The laws are peppered with so much corruption that it is only public outcry and shaming of India can change what's happening to India's women and girls.
It will remain to be seen if India can truly get its act together and make the country safe for all women. Right now, I don't think I would feel safe traveling in Delhi, which is known as the rape capital of India. And after the multiple rape incidents that almost seem back to back throughout India, it's hard for me to imagine any woman feeling truly safe there.