Four Years After The Death Of Nirbhaya, Here’s What I’ve Learned About Rape Culture In India

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By Tara*

Nirbhaya. Fearless and strong. As the 4th anniversary of the brutal gang rape of the 23-year-old medical student in Delhi, India, came and went, I flashback to December 2012.

Jyoti Singh was a human being. Whether she was a man or woman, pretty or ugly, conservative or liberal is irrelevant. But what happened on December 16th, 2012 would lead to a change in my perception of gender equality forever. Jyoti and a male friend caught a bus home after watching a movie in South Delhi at around 9 o’clock at night. The six men on the bus beat up the friend and raped Jyoti. The following days were like the eruption of a long held back fury. Candlelight vigils were held, demonstrations performed and protests erupted. Nirbhaya became a common name everywhere.

Apparently, the movie she saw that fateful day was ‘Life of Pi’, a movie I saw only a day earlier, making me relate to and empathize with her on a weird level. It was like the chances of me meeting someone like her were good, and that was what utterly terrified me. The normality of the situation.

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According to the director of ‘India’s Daughter’ Leslie Udwin, it was the remorseless behavior and normalcy of their statements that chilled her most. They weren’t estranged and psychotic people – the outliers of society, they were a part of society itself. This mindset of female inferiority is not something that can be corrected by self-defense classes or women’s helpline numbers alone. Slogans such as the one above show how there needs to be a change in the boundaries that exist between male and female in society.

Equality must be taught in homes and in schools. Right from when kids are born. When sweets are distributed only when a boy is born, when a girl is told not to go out of the house after a certain hour, when a mother has no say in family decisions, and when the boy sees these restrictions his father places on the women of his family, he will absorb his father’s mentality and generations to come will not respect women. This respect is the stem for all gender-based violence.

If feminism is a bad word, then ‘rape’ is a bigger one. Indian culture has a strong taboo on discussing sexual harassment. The irony is that when crimes like murder and terrorist attacks were being condemned, rape wasn’t even being acknowledged – TV volumes were lowered when a rape case came up on the news and my friends’ voices would hush down even after looking around to make sure no one was listening.

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Some of my teachers felt uncomfortable talking about the Nirbhaya case in front of boys at my co-ed school. Talk about political correctness. The first step of awareness has been put into effect, but the second step of acknowledgement is far from becoming a reality. Gender-based violence cannot be tackled unless people can freely address it and lift the taboo placed on it.

A few months after the crime, (the case is still going on today), The Times of India decided to refer to those who had survived sexual assault as survivors as opposed to victims. This was a good step against the victim blaming mentality being practiced. Parents of a rape victim ask, “The girl’s life is spoiled, what will you do now?” showing the stigma that rape survivors have in society.

However, positive actions are underway. Women have raised their voices against the barriers placed on them and some baseless notions that some people believes causes rape: dressing in jeans, mobile phones, ‘western culture’ and working late into the night. Slogans such as ‘My voice is taller than my skirt’, and ‘Real men respect women’ became common on social media.

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Growing into my teenage years, the Nirbhaya case really influenced me as a girl shaping into a feminist. I watched men and women protesting in the streets during winter, calling for gender equality. I was blessed to be born in a family where equal importance was given to both genders, making me capable of voicing my thoughts in this article. I made my opinions evident in class as well. And when my male classmate sighed and complained, “But most men aren’t rapists, right?”, I reply, “Well then, we should both work on clearing the name”.

It has been four years since December 16th, 2012.  A lot of change has come about especially in terms of awareness. Since the Delhi case, there has been a 200% increase in the number of sexual assault cases being reported to the police. Many scholars say that it wasn’t only the horrific nature of the crime itself but also the protests after it that made this case so iconic.

India is one of the only countries to launch such a massive movement, protesting gender violence. The case shed light on the effects of years of patriarchy on gender roles. The case has really opened a door to a fresh wave of the gender equality movement and a refreshed interest in backing away from societal stigma. And as for Nirbhaya, through her fearlessness, she will continue to stay alive in our hearts.

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*Tara is just another chocolate-loving, feminist teenager who spends her time reading books, writing short stories and dealing with the perks of high school. Her goal is to become a doctor and help rural men and women in India get better access to healthcare. You can see more of her writing on her blog: https://fromfictiontoreality.wordpress.com/.

(*name changed for privacy and security)

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