Public admonishment of the brutal cases of gang rape in India could be the sign of changing views towards women in the world’s largest democracy, some experts say.
The torture and eventual death of the 23-year-old university student who was gang raped in a moving charter bus on Dec. 16 in New Delhi has sparked public indignation and raised questions over the root of violence against women in India.
Less than one month later, reports detailed a similar ordeal of a 29-year-old mother of two who was taken by the driver of a private bus to a remote location where she was raped by seven different men.
As other accounts of women and girls throughout India being gang raped emerge, demonstrators have taken to the streets to decry the violence against women and show support for the victims.
Although the public outcry over these crimes “is encouraging...given the history of how such cases have been treated in India,” author Mara Hvistendahl told CNA Jan. 17 that “unfortunately women are still valued less than men in many parts of the world.”
Hvistendahl, who is a former journalist for “Science” magazine and author of the book “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men” said that part of the solution to brutal violence against women is “getting rid of sex-selection.”
While her book details the implications of the practice in countries throughout the world, she said that that sex-selective abortion in India simply “perpetuates violence against women.”
“As men have trouble finding wives, they turn to trafficking and bride-buying to obtain women from still poorer regions,” Hvistendahl said. “It's a vicious cycle.”
She pointed to reports from Indian non-government organizations which show that regions with “severe sex ratio imbalances” have “an increase in the incidence of violence against women.”
“What is more certain is that the sex ratio imbalance directly leads to the trafficking of women for sex and marriage, which is also a form of violence against women,” she said.
A large part of the problem has to do with the way women are viewed in some parts of Indian culture as a burden due to the need for a dowry in order to be married.
Jeevaline Kumar, director of Operation Mobilisation’s Anti-Human Trafficking Project in Bangalore, said that this perception is still a prominent fixture of Indian culture.
“When girls are born, nobody is excited because they are looked upon as a liability,” she told CNA in a recent interview.
Laura Sheahen, a freelance writer for a humanitarian aid group, explained to CNA Jan. 18 that although the dowry tradition is “ingrained” in both urban and rural India, many people are striving to rid the culture of it.
Sheahen said she sees “a lot of hope” in the “great women and men in India who are fighting the dowry system” and “who are fighting to educate girls.”
For its part, Sheahen said, the Indian government has set forth incentives to help alleviate the burden of the dowry tradition such as providing funds to families for the purpose of educating their daughters.
The protests in response to the crimes are a “positive sign,” she said, noting that “a few generations ago, people just would have remained silent.”
However, “until people realize that having an educated, healthy, happy daughter is of value in itself” – regardless of a girl’s marriage will bring to a family – “women are not going to be treated well in a lot of areas of India.”