THE year started with sadly familiar stories of sexual assault and rape coming out of India, a country that has long been plagued by its reputation for abuses against women.
Widespread attacks on New Year’s eve in Bengaluru were followed shortly by the revelation that police beat, sexually assaulted or raped at least sixteen tribal women in central Chhattisgarh state.
In both cases, immediately following the attacks, no action was taken by the authorities to bring the accused to justice. In fact, quite the opposite seemed to happen.
The brutal attacks in Chhattisgarh occurred back in 2015 and yet it is only recently that an investigation has been opened.
It was only after a news report exposed the crime that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was prompted to investigate. Prior to this there was no investigation initiated by the police. Surprising, considering it was their own people who perpetrated the crime.
Not only did the police show an entire lack of desire to investigate, but lawyers for the victims have slammed them for deliberately shielding the culprits and slowing investigations.
In the instance of Bengaluru — at the time of the attacks and despite photographic evidence and eye-witness accounts — city police officially claimed that they had not registered a single case of molestation or harassment and denied that the attacks had even happened. It was only on the release of CCTV footage showing a woman being assaulted that they were forced to concede.
Reluctant to place blame at the feet of the men guilty of the attacks, Indian ministers looked to an all too familiar party to blame – women.
Karnataka’s state home minister, blamed the victims for dressing in Western clothing.
“They try to copy westerners not only in mind set but even the dressing … some girls are harassed, these kinds of things do happen.”
The Samajwadi Party leader, Abu Azmi, a man who has previously said women should be punished for being raped, also jumped on the victim-blaming bandwagon.
“In these modern times, the more skin women show, the more they are considered fashionable. If my sister or daughter stays out beyond sunset celebrating December 31 with a man who isn’t their husband or brother, that’s not right.”
“If there’s gasoline, there will be fire. If there’s spilt sugar, ants will gravitate towards it for sure,” Azmi continued.
So where does this leave Indian women?
The pervasive patriarchy that permeates through the leading and law-enforcement authorities leaves them few places to turn.
They are not only abandoned by the very people put in place to protect them, but are openly blamed and shamed by them for falling victim. It is made clear that justice will not only not be served, but purposely avoided as victims are dismissed and the accused protected.
When all official routes are dead ends and their voices cannot be heard, women will take the one path available to them – they will turn to each other.
Women share their personal stories of abuse and assault. Every story, whilst galvanising, is also a badge of the biology that binds us, a biology that cannot be escaped. They take solace in each other and band together in solidarity.
Women in India are doing this now.
Women’s groups are planning nationwide rallies on January 21, to coincide with the “Million Women March” in Washington, to protest the mass molestation and the subsequent comments by politicians.
The call to action and the overwhelming response is always encouraging and empowering to see, but seeing the finally realised attention that a march of thousands can draw is a stark reminder that just one women’s voice is still not loud enough to be heard.
Still today, it takes mass movement and global action for the voice of the victim to be listened to.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent