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The Delhi Rape: In USA, UK, China

The shocking gang-rape has been making news not only in India. In London press, Libby Purves writes in the Times: Indian women need a cultural earthquake :

Britain, in particular, tends to sentimentality about India and it has been easy, despite brave voices from within the country, to ignore the ugly faultline in the world’s biggest democracy. For murderous, hyena-like male contempt is a norm here too. Despite its modernisations, the country has taken little care to promote serious cultural change where women are concerned. A newspaper editorial there charitably describes a “twilight zone” where traditional social and religious norms are fading “while modern values based on individual liberty have not yet gained acceptance”.

But as a corrective for just this sort of view, Owen Jones had pointed out in the Independent a couple of days earlier: Sexual violence is not a cultural phenomenon in India - it is endemic everywhere:

But, in the West, Damini’s death has triggered a different response: a sense that this is an Indian-specific problem. “The crime has highlighted the prevalence of sex attacks in India,” says the Daily Telegraph; “India tries to move beyond its rape culture,” says Reuters. Again, it’s comforting to think that this is someone else’s problem, a particular scandal that afflicts a supposedly backward nation. It is an assumption that is as wrong as it is dangerous.

This is what is echoed in Emer O'Toole's widely cited article in the Guardian where she offers a critique of the press coverage ("commentators here are using the event to simultaneously demonise Indian society, lionise our own, and minimise the enormity of western rape culture"): Delhi gang-rape: look westward in disgust

Neatly excised from her account however is the relationship between poverty, lack of education and repressive attitudes towards women, and, by extension, the role of Europe in creating and sustaining poverty in its former colonies. Attitudes towards women in the east were once used by colonialists to, first, prop up the logic of cultural superiority that justified unequal power relations (the "white man's burden") and second, silence feminists working back in the west by telling them that, comparatively, they had nothing to complain about...

Elsewhere, the message is subtler, but a misplaced sense of cultural superiority shines through. For example, this BBC article states, as if shocking, the statistic that a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours. That equates to 625 a year. Yet in England and Wales, which has a population about 3.5 times that of Delhi, we find a figure for recorded rapes of women that is proportionately four times larger: 9,509. 

Heather Timmons and Sruthi Gottipati in the New York Times: Indian Women March: ‘That Girl Could Have Been Any One of Us’

The government does not keep statistics on gang rape, but over all, rapes increased 25 percent from 2006 to 2011. More than 600 rapes were reported in New Delhi alone in 2012. So far, only one attack has resulted in a conviction.

Sociologists and crime experts say the attacks are the result of deeply entrenched misogynistic attitudes and the rising visibility of women, underpinned by long-term demographic trends in India.

After years of aborting female fetuses, a practice that is still on the rise in some areas because of a cultural preference for male children, India has about 15 million “extra” men between the ages of 15 and 35, the range when men are most likely to commit crimes. By 2020, those “extra” men will have doubled to 30 million.

“There is a strong correlation between masculinized sex ratios and higher rates of violent crime against women,” said Valerie M. Hudson, a co-author of “Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population.” Men who do not have wives and families often gather in packs, Ms. Hudson argues, and then commit more gruesome and violent crimes than they would on their own.

Others point to the gains that women have made as triggers for an increase in violent crimes. “Women are rising in society and fighting for equal space, and these crimes are almost like a backlash,” said Vijay Raghavan, chairman of the Center for Criminology and Justice at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. If poverty and unemployment were the only reason for these crimes, rates would already be much higher, he said, because both are constants in India.

Meanwhile, in the Hindu, Ananth Krishnan writes: In China, Delhi gang rape spurs online debate, then censorship:

The incident and the protests in New Delhi in recent days have received wide attention in China. While the brutal attack was initially highlighted by Communist Party-run outlets as indicative of the failures of India’s democratic system to ensure stability, the following protests in New Delhi triggered calls from pro-reform bloggers for the Chinese government to learn from India and to allow the public to express its voice.

The rape case was one of the most discussed topics in Chinese microblogs over the past week, prompting thousands of posts and comments. By Sunday, however, the authorities appeared to move to limit the debate: on Monday, a search for the topic triggered a message on Sina Weibo – a popular Twitter-equivalent used by more than 300 million people – saying the results could not be displayed according to regulations. The message is usually seen as an indicator of a topic being censored by the authorities.

06 Jan 2013, 12:15:18 AM | Buzz

BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi recalls other prominent cases which made the headlines, then faded from public memory: The rapes that India forgot

05 Jan 2013, 11:38:19 PM | Buzz

And now, in the Washington Post, Miranda Kennedy blames—surprise surprise— western culture and migrants for the recent surge in rape cases: How India’s rapid changes are putting women at risk:

...the city is not nearly as open as advertised. Because it is filled with migrants who speak dozens of languages and represent every caste and religion — people who are united only by a traditional, rural background — the city seems conflicted about what is acceptable.

...The social expectations of the village have not been replaced by civic values in India’s big cities. Nationwide, rape conviction rates have decreased from 44 percent in 1973 to 26.5 percent in 2010.

...India’s entrance onto the world stage has led to confusion about sexuality, morality and tradition. The rules are in flux, and no one is quite sure what is acceptable. “Sex and the City” reruns play on one Indian channel, half-dressed Bollywood divas pant into the camera on another, and a swami leads a fervent Hindu prayer on the next. None of these cultural influences were available even a generation ago: Until 1991, the only TV channels were state-run. Few Indians traveled outside the country for vacation or work or interacted with non-Indians.

...Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has recognized the conflict between India’s rapid globalization and its slowly changing culture, saying this past week that “the emergence of women in public spaces, which is an absolutely essential part of social emancipation, is accompanied by growing threats to their safety and security.”

05 Jan 2013, 08:58:08 PM | Buzz

Jason Burke in the Guardian: Rape protests spread beyond India

Protests against sexual violence are spreading across south Asia as anger following the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi courses through the region.

Inspired by the rallies and marches staged across India for nearly three weeks, demonstrations have also been held in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh – all countries where activists say women suffer high levels of sexual and domestic violence.

03 Jan 2013, 06:19:35 PM | Buzz

Sonia Faleiro in the NYT: The Unspeakable Truth About Rape in India:

I LIVED for 24 years in New Delhi, a city where sexual harassment is as regular as mealtime. Every day, somewhere in the city, it crosses the line into rape.  As a teenager, I learned to protect myself. I never stood alone if I could help it, and I walked quickly, crossing my arms over my chest, refusing to make eye contact or smile. I cleaved through crowds shoulder-first, and avoided leaving the house after dark except in a private car. At an age when young women elsewhere were experimenting with daring new looks, I wore clothes that were two sizes too large. I still cannot dress attractively without feeling that I am endangering myself.

Things didn’t change when I became an adult. Pepper spray wasn’t available, and my friends, all of them middle- or upper-middle-class like me, carried safety pins or other makeshift weapons to and from their universities and jobs. One carried a knife, and insisted I do the same. I refused; some days I was so full of anger I would have used it — or, worse, had it used on me.

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