Today is International Women’s Day. I dedicate this post to all women in the world but above all to Jyoti Singh, the young woman I will remember as strong, brave and compassionate.
“It is very difficult to understand why in this country [India] so much difference is made between men and women, whereas the Vedanta declares that one and the same conscious Self is present in all beings. You always criticize the women, but say what have you done for their uplift? Writing down Smritis etc., and binding them by hard rules, the men have turned the women into manufacturing machines! If you do not raise the women, who are living embodiment of the Divine Mother, don’t think that you have any other way to rise” – Swami Vivekananda
“If you do not allow one to become a lion, he will become a fox. Women are a power, only now it is more evil because man oppresses woman; she is the fox, but when she is no longer oppressed, she will be the lion.” (CW vol.7,p.22) – Swami Vivekananda
I recently watched a documentary aired by the BBC called India’s Daughter. It tells the horrific story of Jyoti Singh, a medical student who was gang raped in December 2012 by 5 men and a juvenile on a bus in Delhi on her way home with a male friend following a movie. The documentary exposes unspeakable detail of her brutal and humiliating ordeal which can only be described as pure evil and sadly highlights the culture of repression, inequality and violence deeply ingrained not only in India but across many cultures in the world. The documentary by Leslee Udwin features shocking interviews including Jyoti’s parents, one of the convicted rapist, their families and defence lawyers. The prosecution lawyer has not been featured in the documentary.
The documentary highlights a silent revolution of change rising amongst young aspiring women in India who are striving to coexist in a culture which privileges boys and turns a blind eye to the abortion of female foetuses. Yet the film is awash with women of all calibre emphasising the backlash constantly received from their male counterparts. Many state how India is unequipped to cope with a young and fast growing generation of emancipated women, a position brutally confirmed by the defendants’ lawyers. “In our society, we do not allow a girl to leave the house after 6.30pm with an unknown person”, one of the more sober points made by the lawyers. The defence lawyer, A.P Singh in the case was filmed stating “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight”. Later, when questioned if he stood by those comments, he insisted that he did. Such comments stress the nature, mindset and culture of the society in which women live across India and across the world.
One of the convicted rapist currently serving a life sentence, Mukesh Singh was interviewed for the documentary. He highlights the chilling attitude towards women within India today, he said in his interview “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy”. He later added, “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy; a decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night; housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes”. This rapist demonstrates no regret or any level of understanding of the inconceivable gravity of his barbaric actions. This is perhaps what India has to offer in terms of protection for women and a ‘son’ for India. Such comments send a icy chill down my spin and anger rages within me like a volcano, it is almost unbelievable to hear of such levels of repression towards women and in this case Jyoti being a woman with great potential for achievement. The sheer bravery of the girl fighting back made a mockery of the rapists, something which male’s within such societies do not tolerate. Whether such attitudes and levels of discrimination are taught or learnt is a matter India needs to ask itself. The repetitive notion of India’s sons being the products of poverty, poor education and violence has a narrow gap for conviction; Jyoti Singh, whose background was one of poverty and poor education, proved that despite the many hurdles a ‘woman can do anything’.
The film ignited mass protests and riots throughout India, leading to the demand for changes in attitudes towards women. Little has changed since the heinous attack and the protests and riots have dispersed but Jyoti Singh’s parents live on in unimaginable pain not to say backlash from a male orientated society. The banning of this document by the Indian government may have done more harm than good as it portrays a message of ignorance as well as embarrassment on the part of the Indian government for the illusion it has created of democracy, equality and the development of the country. Can the fourth largest democracy in the world play its part in being a leader when its women receive little justice and protection from its own people? India must retain its core cultural values towards women of respect, equality and protection in order to remain in line with world leaders of the developed world or reap the consequences of being associated with countries where gender equality is unheard of. Surely, the Indian Penal Code 509 (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and of the Information Technology Act 2000 Section 66A (Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service) are applicable to people like defence lawyer A.P Singh, convicted rapist Mukesh Singh and defence lawyer M.L Sharma and is a starting point for India in its move towards gender equality?
The documentary merely hints at the roots of the problem of gender inequality and gender violence. Furthermore, the documentary depicts Jyoti Singh in the light of a ‘helpless woman’ rather than her true humble self. Jyoti Singh was a fierce, upstanding and compassionate citizen of Delhi with a promising future in medicine. She carried a fearless character and rose up against her perpetrators who would eventually robbed her of her life purely because she would not be dictated to or tolerate bullying. Jyoti Singh was a woman of conviction, she was a self made person and pitifully India cannot claim to have played any hand in developing this young 23 year old into the woman she was. Despite ‘India’ and the many obstacles placed in the paths of women like Jyoti, they strive to success and make a name for themselves. What did India give Jyoti Singh? Certainly not a society which respected, encouraged or developed her. Certainly not an education for which her family were not compelled to sacrifice their life savings. And certainly not a mode of safe transport home following a movie with a friend. The bravery of Jyoti’s parents is worthy of nothing less than an applaud. They spoke of their beautiful daughter with pride and joy and spoke of their daughter by name, defying the cultural norms of society who chose to call her Nirbhaya – under the context of protecting her identity as if she had something to hide away from or feel shame for.
It would be a gross injustice to India to proclaim it consists entirely of rapists. It does not. However, more that 75% of Indian women are subjected to domestic violence, most of which go unreported. What price will India pay for accepting this fact? There are rapists all over the world of course, yet this cannot and certainly does not alter or lessen India’s issue of gender violence and inequality. The banning of the documentary in India only highlights the issues further and sheds light on the notorious nature of India to shy away from controversial and incriminating domestic problems. India is A.P Singh, the defence lawyer standing by his narrow minded statement. India is the government concerned about the possible backlash, embarrassment and tainting of its image in the international community through the depiction of a brutal truth of Jyoti Singh rape and murder. India in M.L Sharma whose slimy description of women is contradicted by his one sentence “We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no space for a woman”. India is the police officer congratulating his team of officers and himself on the capture of the culprits and provides a false guarantee of Delhi being safe once again “even for women”. India is the men and women encouraging the betterment of the sons of India under the notion of him being the heir of the family at the cost of many innoccent women and girls. India is the many elderly men and women living in poverty or in ashrams while their sons live in mansions and bungalows. India most certainly not Jyoti Singh.
“All the darkness in the universe cannot extinguish the light of a single flame. As long as we believe in ourselves, we will keep this flame alight.” – The Inflectionist