India isn't the only nation where rape is a problem

Amrit Dhillon calls for an end to self-flagellation amid Western hypocrisy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 8:42pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2014, 2:18am

Indians need to regain a sense of perspective on rape. More than a year after the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi, nine out of 10 Indians think rape is a "very big problem", a survey by the Pew Research Centre in the US revealed recently.

No sane person would doubt that the levels of sexual violence in India are unacceptably high. But Indians have to stop behaving as though the average local male is uniquely evil and Indian culture is uniquely misogynistic.

This self-flagellation was visible after the Delhi rape when Indians became hyper self-critical. Western commentators also joined in, adding their sermons to the general hysteria.

But why single out India? The results of a European Union survey released last month highlighted one fact that was ignored during the Delhi gang rape debate - namely, that violence against women is not peculiar to India, nor is it more common than elsewhere.

For all the efforts of the feminist movement, one in 10 women in EU countries has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15; one in 20 has been raped; one in 10 women has been stalked by a previous partner; and about one-third who report being raped by a partner have been repeatedly raped.

It would seem that European commentators were so busy pointing to the problems in India that they failed to pay attention to the crisis on their own doorstep.

Amid the commentaries in the British press, for example, how many agonised over the 80,000 rapes that take place in England and Wales every year, according to Home Office figures?

Of course, the frightening inhumanity of the Delhi rape probably explains the extraordinary amount of media coverage it received across the world.

However, while citing the EU figures to expose the hypocrisy of the Western media, it is not my intention to make light of, or mitigate, the cruelty often meted out to Indian women.

Whether it's in India or Denmark (which comes out badly in the EU survey), violence against women is repugnant.

Still, the Pew survey shows that Indians need to realise rape is a problem everywhere. If nine out of 10 say it is a "very big problem", why don't Europeans say the same?

I doubt they perceive the situation to be as catastrophic as Indians appear to, despite the fact that Europeans can claim no extenuating circumstances for the sexual violence in their countries. After all, they have been exposed to the ideas of the feminist movement and the campaign for gender equality for more than 40 years. European culture has absorbed these concepts, and levels of awareness are now high.

Compare this with India, which is still relatively new to non-patriarchal ways of looking at the world. Compare also the different reactions when outsiders pass comments.

Indians accepted all the criticism that poured in after the Delhi case. But sections of the British media reacted very differently when UN special rapporteur Rashida Manjoo, who is investigating violence against women, visited the UK recently. She said Britain had a "sexist culture" that was very "in your face", while the media was responsible for "negative and over-sexualised portrayals" of women.

The response in one Daily Mail column was: "Sexist? Nonsense. Britain is the best place on earth to be a woman."

Talk about double standards.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi