Comment: Battling India’s rape culture

The outrage in India following the high-profile Delhi rape case more than a year ago was unprecedented.

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It also left the international community shocked – shocked at the brutality of the crime and the rape victim’s story – as a modern, upwardly mobile urbanite.

As the physiotherapy intern fought for her life in hospital in Singapore, thousands around India protested, demanding justice for the victims of sexual assault who have long suffered in silence.

The movement – largely supported by the country’s robust media – was seen as India’s watershed moment; an opportunity for women to finally get the dignity and security they deserve.

But more than a year after the case, many of those expecting sweeping changes in the country have been left grossly disappointed.

Just days ago India woke up to the news that a 16-year-old girl had died after she was set on fire after she was gang-raped twice in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta.

She was raped on two separate occasions, first on October 26, then when she was returning from filing a police complaint the next day.

On December 23 the girl was admitted to hospital after she was set on fire by two of her alleged rapists. She died of her injuries on New Year’s Eve.

The latest high-profile brutal attack not only demonstrates how little India has come since the Delhi attack, but also highlights a wider problem.

It’s a problem that will not be solved by the media, tighter laws and harsher penalties, or more police presence on the streets.

In India, women are taught how to not get raped, rather than teaching men not to rape. Change won’t come until that equation is reversed.

We should not be told what not to wear, nor should we fear for our safety travelling at night, or even during the day. We should not be afraid to look someone in the eyes, nor should we be touched inappropriately on the streets.

A few days ago I was on board a bus in rural India.

Suddenly I found myself to be the only woman on the bus with three men.

It was dark, but it was early – only about 7pm – and I can honestly say I was scared for my safety. I clutched my bag and made sure I didn’t make eye contact with any of the men. In my head, I was planning my escape route, should it be necessary.

I got off safely and one of the men actually helped me with my bags. I felt a fool for feeling the way I did.

It shouldn’t be like this, but this is the reality for women in India today.

While the reporting of rape has increased dramatically in the last year, which is an encouraging first step, many have been lured into a false sense of security, believing they will get justice.

Statistics suggest that their chances aren’t good. Of 706 rape cases filed in New Delhi in 2012, only one ended in conviction.

In addition, police recently claimed to have “solved” 90 per cent of last year’s reported rape cases. Somehow that seems very, very unlikely.

In India, patriarchal traditions prevail. Until women are valued just as highly as men, there will be no justice. Until lawmakers decide to criminalise marital rape, there will be no justice.  And until India rids itself of corruption, which has gripped the nation for decades, there will be no justice.

Misogynistic attitudes will take generations to change. But change can happen, it just has to start at home.

Sophie Cousins is an Australian journalist based in Beirut and Delhi.