"India: The Story You Never Wanted to Hear" is a painful account posted on CNN iReport, of the sexual harassment experienced by Michaela Cross, an American student at the University of Chicago, during her study abroad trip to India last year, during which she says she experienced ongoing sexual harassment. After coming back to the US, Michaela tells us that she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and is now on a mental leave of absence from the school.
Michaela’s story has caught the attention of the world with over one million page views as of Monday August 26, 2013, and a variety of responses from Indian readers— some feeling sympathy for her plight, that is also shared by millions of native Indian women, on the streets of India, and others asking the world to refrain from making generalizations about India or its people.
In December last year, world attention was transfixed on the deadly gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, which happened to be a few days after Cross left India. Protests erupted in cities across India, by the common people coming out on the streets, demanding tougher laws for crimes against women, and solutions to police inaction in such cases. The intensity of these protests, echoed the protests against corruption and the demand for an anti-corruption legislation (Janlokpal Bill), led by Anna Hazare and his team, under the banner of ‘India against Corruption’, a year before. Millions of Indians had come out on the streets demanding change. These protests had forced the government to promise to bring into law the anti-corruption bill, but had later reneged on this promise. The Janlokpal Bill has yet to be passed.
The country has continued to see several shocking cases of rape and sexual violence against women. Many brutal rape cases of little girls, as young as 4-5 years of age, were brought to world attention. In April, Delhi witnessed the gang rape of a 5 year old who was kept captive, raped and subjected to the most heinous torture. Far from getting justice for the victims against the perpetrators, the police themselves harass the victims and their supporters. In the case of the 5 year old victim mentioned earlier, it was only under pressure from common citizens, among them volunteers of the recently launched Aam Aadmi Party, that the Delhi police finally registered the case, and shifted her to a better hospital, that eventually saved her life. While the current Chief Minister of Delhi, Mrs. Sheila Dixit, who has been in power for over 12 years, said that she was helpless to do anything as the Delhi police did not report to her, the common people of India launched a protest and got her the support she needed.
In December 2012, under pressure from the people of the country, the Justice Verma Committee was constituted to recommend amendments to the criminal law to provide quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of sexual assault against women. The Committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013. However, most of the substantive recommendations of this committee were not adopted by the government. The recent brutal gang-rape of a young photojournalist in Mumbai has once again brought the issue into national headlines.
The fact that these reprehensible acts of violence are happening in India with alarming and growing frequency is only part of the story. The full story that needs to be told is about the nexus of corruption, crime and sexual harassment of women in India. The root cause is the unprecedented level of corruption in the Indian administration, and the unbelievable number of criminals in positions of power. India may be called the largest democracy in the world, but it has failed to give accountable governance to the people. This has led to a complete breakdown of law and order.
Every citizen in India knows that the existing system has failed to provide security to women, and criminals have no fear of the law. Why should they, when India’s parliament itself has become the refuge of criminals? Currently, there are over 160 members of parliament in India with serious charges of murder, extortion and rape. Recently, the Supreme Court brought a ruling to bar people with criminal charges from parliament. What did the existing political parties do? They banded together to quickly oppose, challenge, and try to scuttle this judgment. Recent reports show that the cabinet has already given its nod to proposals that will allow people in jail to contest polls and convicted MPs and MLAs to retain their membership till pendency of appeal while being barred from voting and drawing salary. In fact, a bill to this effect is already in the Rajya Sabha now.
The citizens of India, it would seem, have no hope left from the current administration to improve the state of affairs, and it is this state of affairs that impelled the anti-corruption crusaders to form the Aam Aadmi Party, about whose founder a recent 'Letter from India' in the New York Times said, “If virtue alone were to decide elections in India, the two major parties in Delhi, the governing Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, would not stand a chance against Mr. Kejriwal”.
This valiant effort of the common people of India to rise up and assume the responsibility of cleaning a powerful and corrupt system against insurmountable odds, to ensure accountable governance, law and order, and most importantly, security for women, is the other half of the story that needs to be told.
Shalini Gupta, lives in Chicago Illinois and supports the efforts of the Aam Aadmi party to bring clean and accountable governance to India.